eBook: First experiences with Sony Reader

Almost three weeks ago I bought a Sony Portable Reader System PRS-505, also known as the Sony Reader, so it is time for a first assessment of the little gadget.

Though the actual purchase was a rather impulsive affair The choice was well informed. I already thought about buying an e-ink ebook reader for some time and read reviews on the web and forum post to learn about the pros and cons of the different available devices. The Sony Reader is one of the most reasonably priced devices available in Germany. It is light, it is robust, it is heavily advertised, and it is not my first Sony. I first thought about buying the irex iliad or even the professional. They have bigger screens (8 or even 10 inch), wireless, and you can write on them with a wacom stylus. If it were not for their price that is about twice that of the Sony Reader I would have bought one. But first, I needed to find out whether I would be comfortable with such a device. So for a test drive the cheaper one seemed to be the better choice.

The intended main purpose was to read PDFs when I am on the road, err, train track. Sometimes I carried more paper in my bag than clothes. Comes with the job. On this particular Friday three weeks ago, there were several PDFs waiting for me to read on the weekend. Instead of printing them all out I went buying the Reader before I went to the office.

The problem with PDFs is that most PDF pages are in letter or A4 format. Much larger than the 6 inch of the Reader what is just about the size of a standard paperback novel’s page. Fortunately the Reader can “reflow” PDFs when you increase the font size (There are three sizes: S-M-L.). Yet, there is no real zoom. The inconvenience with this reflowing feature is that you will loose your tables and formulas. Unfortunately most of the PDFs I read contain lots of tables and lots of formulas. Increasing the font size and reflowing is, consequently, not an option. At least not for me, most of the times. You could rotate the page by 90 degrees and read the upper and lower halves of a page separately. This helps a little. Most times the font is still too small.

Most times there is, however, a huge white margin that could be cropped. If you have a working recent LaTeX installation you already have a small script call pdfcrop that can do the job. Alas, sometimes it will choke on some files. Bigger ones, normally, like the ones I read. There is a solution. Since you need some software to manage your ebook collection, chances are you already have calibre installed. And with calibre comes a small python script called pdftrim that can help. You just need to tell it the amount of space it should trim off the edges of a page, all the pages. An easy way to do this automagically is let ghostscript decide:

gs -dSAFER -dNOPAUSE -dBATCH -sDEVICE=bbox  inputfile.pdf >bounding


pdftrim -b bounding inputfile.pdf

will then do as asked.

A last inconvenience I encountered were auto-rotated pages in PDFs, e.g. large rotated tables. Every page needs to be in “Portrait”-orientation for successful trimming. Pdftk comes to rescue:

pdftk inputfile.pdf cat 1-endN output outputfile.pdf

Ok, this is how I coped with the problems I had the very first weeks using my Sony Reader. Do I use the Reader? Is it comfortable to use? Does it feel “right”? Yes, and surprisingly its main use is not reading job related PDFs. I still read them during my weekend trips, yes. But the every day use is reading news on the train during my ride to the office. News that were fetched from the WWW in the morning using calibre. Calibre offers a nice selection of built-in scripts to fetch webpages from news sites like The Times, CNN, Science Daily, etc., and RSS feeds from google reader. And this is really a nice feature. No bulky newspaper but my personal selection of news from different sites.