The Electronic Book Reader Comes of Age

With electronic readers, you can carry a whole library in your vest pocket.

ByABC News
November 14, 2007, 2:25 PM

Nov. 14, 2007 — -- For many of us, printed books are satisfying in ways beyond the words they contain. The heft of the good hardcover book, the cover art, riffling the pages, progressing through the volume as the page stack becomes smaller on the right and larger on the left.

Billions and billions of printed books have been published, read and saved in the 600 years since movable type was invented, so why mess with a good thing?

Sony Electronics is doing just that, betting that readers will be won over by the convenience of readability of its new electronic book devices.

Sony's reader, the PRS-505, can hold 160 books in its fixed memory, enough to line the shelves on a good-sized wall in the average American home. The $299 device is about the size of a paperback book, but a half-inch thick and weighs less than a pound.

The Sony book reader is revolutionary not only in its storage capacity -- which with plug-in cards is virtually unlimited -- but in the un-computerlike way it displays and turns the virtual book pages.

It displays black print on a white background, just like a book. The font is highly readable and adjustable by size. Unlike laptop computers, you can slip the Sony into your purse, read it in direct sunlight and even bookmark the pages.

Menus are easy to understand, and the device allows about 7,500 page turns on a charge. And it's connectable to your PC for downloads of books -- either free from a variety of sources or purchased from Sony's eBook Library.

In our tests, the book reader smoothly accepted a Microsoft Word version of Fyodor Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" (downloaded for free from in a few seconds). The formidable 207,117-word text was easy to view and took up a tiny fraction of the reader's memory.

Many thousands of copyright-free classics are available on the Internet, also notably on Google's book project. For newer novels, Sony's library has 20,000 titles.

Surprisingly, though the reader has liberated the book from paper, electronic books aren't always a bargain.

For example, David Baldacci's "Stone Cold" download retails for $15.19 at the Sony site, while Amazon will deliver a hard copy to your mailbox for $16.19. The electronic version of "World Without End," Ken Follett's new novel set in the 14th century, costs $28 at Sony while Amazon lists the pulp one for $19.25.