Read This

There's something about the electronic book that holds a lot of appeal. When Sony launched its first-edition Reader at the Consumer Electronics Show a few years ago, reporters flocked around the device - to the surprise of the Sony PR team, who undoubtedly viewed big-screen SXRD TVs and music systems as far more intriguing products.

Now the second-edition PRS-505 Sony Reader has hit stores, doubling the capacity from 80 to 160 average-length books and packing Pro Duo Memory Stick and SD card slots to hold even more books.

Changes to version two? It's thinner--thinner than a 30-gig iPod--and the joystick from the first edition has been tossed. Numbered buttons along the right side of the book correlate to menu items, which you can use to jump to a specific page number. Hit 1 and 6 and you go to page 16, although you have to read the manual to figure that out.
You can select bookmarks from the front panel of the book for easy recall, and the device packs an MP3 decoder and photo viewer, although neither is anything to write home about. It's nice to have background music while reading but the music is several menu pages away. Same with the photo viewer, which shows pictures in the same monochrome  "color" as the reader. A magnifying glass icon on the front panel allows you to switch between small, medium and large font sizes. Good idea!
The next-gen panel is faster, although still not as fast as I'd like, and offers 8 levels of gray scale versus 4 for better contrast. USB mass storage capability enables you to drag and drop files, and auto-synch does its own thing without prompting when the Reader recognizes new books on a PC. Battery life is measured in page turns and Sony says you get 7,500 on a single charge.
Those are all nice adds, but I have my own wish list for future editions. In my book, there should be a built-in dictionary allowing you to tap on a word and get a definition instantly. I'd like the music functions to be more accessible, and I'd like a place to scribble notes.
The $300 Reader is available in silver and blue. More than 20,000 titles are available for download from Sony's Connect website. --Rebecca Day