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UPDATE: Sony has just announced that Readers will soon be compatible with Macs , beginning as soon as the end of the summer. Original post follows.

I started using my Sony Reader about six months ago, and a lot’s happened in the world of ereaders since then. I figured it was about time for an update. If you’re thinking about getting a Sony, or you’ve got one and want a few tips, read on.

Sony Reader v. Kindle: Library books still take the prize

When I was first shopping for an ereader, I kind of assumed I would get a Kindle. But since the Kindle was forever back-ordered, I started shopping around and eventually decided that a Sony Reader suited me better.

I didn’t like the idea of being locked into Amazon’s proprietary, DRMed format, and I wanted to borrow library ebooks, which the Kindle can’t do.

Since that initial decision, the Kindle 2.0 and the Kindle DX have come out, but neither allows library ebooks, and neither has made real strides toward a game-changing ereader. The Kindle franchise still seems to be trying to do things (like highlighting and textbook support) that E-Ink technology is simply not yet advanced enough to do satisfactorily.

As for Kindle’s Whispernet, it seems like a cool idea, but I generally stock up on books about once a month, so it’s not that much of a hassle to plug the Reader into my computer. I don’t think it’s worth it to be lashed to Amazon ebooks (and pay an extra $100 up front) for a minor convenience.

While the Sony Reader works very well for me, there are two caveats: I use Windows, and I primarily read casual novels (i.e., no enewspapers, no emagazines, and no ebooks for class). If you’re a Mac user, or you burn through a lot of newspapers, the Kindle’s abilities in those departments outweigh the format lock.

Sony Reader tip: Get one of these PSP chargers. They work with the Reader, and let you charge it at an outlet (and while reading) for less than half the price of the Reader’s dedicated charger.

Sony Reader PRS-700 v. PRS-505: The 505 is cheaper and has a much better screen

I started out with the PRS-700, and while I liked touching the screen, I never warmed up to reading off it. It was dim and prone to glare, and an anti-glare screen protector didn’t work very well.

Not long after I bought it, the 700 suffered a catastrophic screen breakage, while it was inside its cover in my backpack. I had a bad experience with Sony support, and wound up returning the 700 for a full refund. After a lengthy debate, I stayed with Sony and got a PRS-505. After that, I built my own hard case (I use the cigar box), and I’ve been happy since then.

Further reading: here’s my full review of the PRS-700.


Sony Reader PRS-505 v. BeBook: The Sony is prettier, easier to use

After my 700’s meltdown, I got a BeBook as well as a 505, to compare the two. The 505 has a metal body, a much better navigation system, and a slightly better screen. The Bebook, however, has a non-evil company backing it, more formats, a slightly more open design, and much better customer service.

I liked the BeBook well enough; if it had been $100 cheaper than the 505, it would be a great value ereader. But since the Bebook is actually a little more expensive than the 505, its cheaper build quality and problems getting library ebooks make the 505 the better choice.

The BeBook 2 is coming out soon, and could be a great device (although if it’s even more expensive, it might not be worth it—rumors have it that it could be nearly $500).

Further reading: BeBook v. 505 full comparison

Sony’s eBook Library software: Surprisingly easy to ignore

By far the worst part of using a Sony Reader is the eBook Library software that comes packaged with it. I had a whole lot of trouble using it, and there are no advantages to it. Luckily, you almost never need the software.

I use Adobe Digital Editions to get both library ebooks and all the ebooks I buy. Unfortunately, you still need a Windows machine because you have to use Sony’s software to introduce your Reader to Adobe once before you can put books on it through Digital Editions.

After that once, though, I’ve used eBook Library maybe half a dozen times in the past six months, to adjust the collections on my device. That means that I haven’t been able to use Google Books through Sony’s eBook Store, but I haven’t missed it.

Getting books for the Reader: Buying as a last resort

Whenever I want some new books, I go to the library first. You can search for a library near you that supports the OverDrive lending system at OverDrive’s website. Only if I can’t find a certain book there do I then go to an ebook store (not Sony’s) and pay for the privilege.

I certainly don’t mind paying for books, but until publishers wise up and abolish DRM, I’m going to avoid buying DRMed books as much as possible.

Over the past six months, I’ve read about 20 books, and paid about $100 for them. That’s $5 per book, even better than Kindle’s price line. For curiosity’s sake, of the three best books I read during that time, I bought two (The Gone-Away World and The Believers), and found one at the library (Serena).

Further reading: Here’s a complete breakdown of how I buy books for my 505. And here’s our list of good places to find ebooks.

Conclusion: PRS-505 is a phenomenal casual ereader

Sony’s PRS-505 has some sizable drawbacks. It’s impossible to use without a Windows machine, and it doesn’t do newspapers and magazines well.

However, I think we’ve got a long way to go before we see a perfect ereader, or even one that can satisfactorily handle “serious” books.

If you want an ereader primarily for novels, the 505 is the best option out there, and also one of the cheapest, which doesn’t hurt.