Thursday, July 24 2008

Sony Reader firmware update, finally!

[Update: sample picture of a PDF with kanji and furigana below the fold]

Quite a while ago, Sony promised to update their e-ink reader (the 505 model, at least; owners of the original 500 are SOL) to support Adobe Digital Editions (emerging DRM ebook standard), as well as fix a lot of bugs and in general support the product. People have been wondering if it would ever happen, or if it would be a new model. The recent UK release of the 505 was a head-scratcher as well, since it came without any announcement about the overdue update.

It took a while, but it’s here (more precisely, it’s linked from here; there’s no direct download link). Lots of other improvements, including SDHC compatibility and… (wait for it)… kanji in PDF files! You still need to use one of the hacks to see Chinese and Japanese text in text files and menus, but now that there’s a real firmware installer for the 505, you can recover from bad hacks.

Looks good so far.

[Update: the PDF reflow works pretty well for straightforward text-heavy PDFs with sensible internal layout. That is, the order the text was generated in the PDF file is the order it will appear; it doesn’t understand “columns” as such. Unfortunately, the Microsoft Word equation editor violates this constraint, and furigana in Word is implemented as an equation. Net result: Japanese PDFs may turn into crap when you ask the reader to reflow them, so you should format them for its page size.

This also means that graphics-heavy PDF files can’t be resized at all. Maps and complex diagrams must be converted to JPG to be useful, because the PDF viewer still doesn’t scroll, and the resize button is always a reflow button now.

Generally, the UI is much faster (except the date-entry screen, which is glacial), and page-turning is slightly faster. The only EPUB-format document I’ve tried turned out to be very graphics-heavy, which basically locked up the device during rendering. I haven’t tried an SDHC card, but people are reporting very mixed results. I’m loving the kanji support in PDFs, and look forward to trying an updated version of the Unicode font hack to get kanji working in text files as well.]

Sample: This is a PDF printed from Word, formatted for the Sony’s 3.47” x 4.54” display, using Hiragano Mincho at 14pt for the body and 7pt for the furigana. The text is from the Kino no Tabi story “Watashi no Kuni”, which I typed in for my reading class last quarter. The brightness and contrast were tweaked a bit to compensate for the way the diffuse window lighting photographed; this is pretty close to how the screen actually looks.

Sony Reader 505 update PDF