Sony's latest Reader for electronic books adds audio playback and compatibility with more formats.

Sony's Reader is a leatherbound handheld device that allows you to carry hundreds of novels and reference books in electronic form. This latest version can now play MP3 music files and also recognise a greater range of file formats.

The idea of an electronic book will either catch your imagination or it won't. But plenty of people, we think, have been waiting for just such a device to come along and save them from the hassle of having to lug eight doorstopper-sized paperbacks with them whenever they pack for a fortnight in the sun.

Several companies are already producing electronic book readers. Amazon's Kindle is still rumoured to be making an imminent appearance in the UK, while the BeBook that debuted at this year's IFA show in Berlin has just come out in the UK.

Sony introduced its first eBook reader to the US in 2007. Then a revised version of the Reader was launched earlier this year, tis time made available in the UK too. With it, Sony announced some relaxing of the strict eBook retail distribution model it had started with; the upshot of which is that as well as Sony's online shop, Waterstones' online bookshop now also sells downloadable titles.

Sony supplies a CD of 100 electronic books to whet your appetite and get you started. These include The Jungle Book, War and Peace, Treasure Island and many other classics. You first need to install Sony's Reader software and can then set up a direct link from your Sony eBook Library on your Windows PC to the e-store.

You will also need to use Adobe Digital Editions to manage your electronic book library. You need to create an Adobe ID and login to manage your purchases. It utilises an iTunes-esque authorisation/deauthorisation system, which limits your use of DRM eBooks to six computers.

Transfer between the Sony PRS-505 Reader and PC is via USB. Once you have an eBook on your Sony Reader you must get to grips with navigating the device. The main menu listing resembles the index of a normal book. Small silver hardware numerals run vertically down the right-hand side of the PRS-505's display to allow selecting your options.

These corresponding buttons are your main way of getting around the Reader's library. Once you've chosen a book, the circular button at the bottom left can be used to leaf forward or backward by one page. There's a magnifying button next to this - press it to zoom in by a factor of up to three.

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Sony's latest Reader for electronic books adds audio playback and compatibility with more formats.

The text displayed is very clean, with no backlighting to strain the eyes. Batteries last for many hours before charging. Sony counts battery life by page turns - up to 6800 - and says you'd be able to read War and Peace at a leisurely pace five times over before the battery needs to be recharged. Although this is one of the titles included on the accompanying CD, we decided to take Sony's word for it.

Flitting between pages feels very natural and the next page always loads quickly. Although this is primarily a text reader, you can also view - but only in black & white - Jpeg, GIF and PNG images as well as Adobe PDFs. Sony also allows the E-Ink format, a standard used by many electronic books, excepting the Amazon Kindle.

It's only if you want to locate a particular point in a book or idly flick through to get a feel for its content that the Sony Reader falls down. Usually, the Continue Reading, manually applied Bookmarks, and the chapter headings all make it easy to find where you are. You can also enter page numbers by first using the numerical keys at the side, then pressing the central button of the four-way navipad to confirm.

As well as the USB connection, you can add music and photo files to the PRS-505 via either a Sony Memory Stick Pro DUO card or the more widely supported SD Card.

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Sony Reader PRS-505: Specs

  • 6in-screen eBook reader
  • 170ppi black & white screen
  • 200MB onboard memory, holding approximately 160 eBooks
  • PDF, Jpeg, GIF, PNG, RTF, TXT, MS Word Doc and BBeBBook format support
  • MP3 and AAC audio
  • SD Card slot
  • headphone jack
  • mini-USB port
  • 2.5V DC-in port
  • hardware volume switch
  • disc of 100 classic books
  • works with Adobe Digital Editions and eBooks bought via waterstones.com
  • 122x175x8mm
  • 260g
  • 6in-screen eBook reader
  • 170ppi black & white screen
  • 200MB onboard memory, holding approximately 160 eBooks
  • PDF, Jpeg, GIF, PNG, RTF, TXT, MS Word Doc and BBeBBook format support
  • MP3 and AAC audio
  • SD Card slot
  • headphone jack
  • mini-USB port
  • 2.5V DC-in port
  • hardware volume switch
  • disc of 100 classic books
  • works with Adobe Digital Editions and eBooks bought via waterstones.com
  • 122x175x8mm
  • 260g

OUR VERDICT

This lightweight and attractive electronic book reader will either delight or aggrieve bookworms, so sound them out if you’re thinking of treating someone for Christmas. We’d prefer to see more generous onboard memory included and Mac support, yet despite initial reservations about the concept, we enjoyed using the Sony Reader and were pleased to find so many reasonably priced books available through the Waterstones website, in stark contrast to the expense of audiobooks.

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