Sony Reader: Part 2 (of 4)

Continued from Part 1.

At SonyStyle

Not long after my encounter with the Sony Reader at Digital Life, I went to SonyStyle to get more, and concentrated, time on it.

I brought along an SD (well, actually the same one I use in the jWin!) with a sample TXT file, a sample RTF file, and sample BBeB files.

For text and RTF, I discovered that typesizes tend to look smaller on the Reader screen than they do when printed. Some experimentation with sizes and typefaces will be necessary for the best results. (More on RTF later.)

Of course, anyone who has read my past writings just knows I’m going to find a way to torture a device! And I did. I went to Manybooks and got a BBeB-formatted version of the Project Gutenberg text for Victor Hugo’s unabridged monster-sized classsic novel, Les Miserables. This is a 1.4MB file! Fun!

It’s important to note that most BBeB files will share these common elements in their main (individual book) menu:

Continue Reading
Begin
End
Bookmarks
Table of Contents
History
Info
Utilities

This isn’t seen until after an individual book has been selected from the Books menu. Those who download a book and use the included Sony Connect software on their PC to transfer a title to the Reader will have just about instant access to the book.

Since I didn’t have the Connect software for this test, I just dumped the Hugo book onto an SD. This made a big difference in how the Reader initially handled it. It had to paginate it. This took quite a while. I didn’t time it, however, because I didn’t expect it to happen. Once the book’s main menu — as described above — appeared, I selected Begin.

No fun followed. Gutenberg texts all begin with a huge wad of text describing the Project, the license for the text, its creation, et al. Even with the small font, I had to Page and Page and Page before I got to the contents of the book itself — the Table of Contents — which was a simple text list, not interactive.

I exited to the book’s menu and chose Table of Contents. Nothing there. Apparently Gutenberg texts, even in Reader format, are still just texts despite being tarted up in BBeB form. Like I said: No fun.

I went back to the book’s menu and selected Continue Reading to pick up where I’d exited.

In Small type, Les Miserables was 4,109 pages.

In Medium type, it was 5,781 pages.

Switching from Small to Medium was not instant. This is because I opened the book direct from SD. I didn’t use the Sony Connect software to prepare the book. So there was a pretty big delay. Since I hadn’t expected this, I didn’t time it. But I did decide to time the next size change.

In Large type, Les Miserables was 8,523 pages!

And to go from Medium to Large type took an incredible three minutes and thirty-seven seconds (3:37)!

After all three sizes had been used, switching between them did not introduce any more delay. Les Miserables acted like any other BBeB.

I tried a second Gutenberg/Manybook file: Self-Help by Samuel Smiles. This was a 386.3KB BBeB.

Opening the book for the first time took a few insignificant seconds.

In Small size, it was 800 pages.

In Medium size, it was 1,178 pages. It took fifty seconds (0:50) to switch size.

In Large size, it was 1,804 pages. It took fifty-six seconds (0:56) to switch size.

Remember: Both BBeBs were placed straight on an SD that was popped into the Reader. The prep such files would go through on a desktop PC using the Sony Connect software had to be done on the Reader itself.

The RTF file could also switch through type sizes. No prepping of the file was needed for the Reader to use it immediately. It was a 150.7K RTF. I did not add any formatting of paragraphs or include any text attributes (Bold, Italic, etc). It used the Times New Roman TrueType face (bundled with Windows XP) at 10-point and was created in WordPad.

In Small size, it was 63 pages.

In Medium size, it was 80 pages. There was no delay in switching sizes.

In Large size, it was 100 pages. There was no delay in switching sizes.

Looking at the cache.xml file later revealed it be to 308KB! That was for, I believe, just the two BBeBs I had tried. That’s about one-sixth of their total size!

There’s a glaring bug in the Reader software that I want to see a firmware upgrade exterminate: listing books by author sorts them according to the first letter in an apparent Author field.

So, instead of being sorted like this:

Mike Cane
Andy Hardy

These two names are sorted as such:

Andy Hardy
Mike Cane

That’s bad.

There’s been speculation that the Reader is using a 200MHz Dragonball CPU (mobileread’s wiki says it’s a Dragonball too). I don’t know if this is true. We’ll most likely have to wait for some curious EE to open his unit and share the autopsy photos.

What is known for sure — because it’s right there in the User Guide on the Reader itself! — is that the OS is MontaVista Linux Professional Edition.

Additionally, it states “Application Software designed and implemented by Kinoma.” (An email inquiry sent to Kinoma about this got no reply.)

Also: “Bitstream is a registered trademark, and Dutch, Font Fusion, and Swiss are trademarks of Bitsream, Inc.”

Then: “Portions of this software are Copyright 2005 The Freetype Project (www.freeetype.org)”

There are also credits for OpenSSL, CryptSoft, and a web page in which Sony, under the GPL agreement governing portions of the Linux OS, offers source code for utilities/modules used in the Reader.

Add these various credits — some of which are open source — to Sony’s use of non-Sony technologies (combo SD/Memory Stick slot, standard mini-USB port, MP3 and AAC file support — notice: no ATRAC!), and there’s a very big statement being made here: This is not a typical Sony product!

Despite my excitement for the Reader, I still have some concerns and questions:

1) The Reader can use up to a 2GB card (4GB is a real possibility). I’m a madman when it comes to text. My MemosDB on my (now-dead) Palm TE was 16MB (on a device with 32MB of RAM!). How long will it take the Reader to build a directory of hundreds of files?

2) How large is that cache file going to get on an external card that has hundreds of files on it?

3) Is the E Ink screen refresh rate governed by CPU speed? Will some wizard find a way to overclock the CPU?

So what was it exactly that makes me retract my original statement about the Sony Reader? That’s revealed in Part Three.

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