If you read my Sony PRS-600 review, you’ll know that I entered the dedicated ebook reader world with the Sony PRS-500. After we upgraded to the PRS-505 readers, we passed along our old readers. All three of these old 500s still work fine, but after a couple of years Sony stopped issuing firmware updates for them. This wasn’t a problem at first, because I could still connect to the reader I handed down to my niece and share my purchased books with her. As Sony introduced new models, they updated the library software to add new features and they issued firmware updates for some of the readers. In the summer of 2009, I finally hit a snag with the 500.
I had a couple of different Windows operating systems (XP and Vista Home Premium) during the years I had used Sony ebook readers, but I had always had 32-bit systems. Early in 2009, I bought a new laptop with 64-bit Vista Home Premium. I had the latest version of the Sony library software on my computer. It had been a while since I had added any books to Steph’s 500 reader, so I wasn’t surprised when I saw the computer was adding a driver when I connected the 500 via USB. I was surprised when I got a message that there was no driver available. After a little digging around, I found that Sony had stopped updating firmware and drivers for the 500. Stephanie was a little disappointed I couldn’t add new books for her, and she wasn’t the only PRS-500 user who was disappointed to learn that Sony was leaving them behind.
There was a lot of grumbling from the owners of the 500s when Sony announced they were abandoning their proprietary ebook format and switching everything over to ePub. The old 500s didn’t support ePub, and people with a 500 wouldn’t be able to buy new ebooks from Sony after mid-December 2009, as all Sony offerings would be ePub exclusively. Eventually Sony listened to the complaints, and they announced they would do something for the 500 owners. If you wanted to trade in the 500 and buy a new Sony reader, you could get $50 off the price of a Pocket reader or $75 off a 600 Touch reader. If you wanted to keep your 500, Sony was offering a firmware update – but you couldn’t update the 500 yourself.
The update was complicated enough that Sony decided that you’d have to send your 500 in to them for the firmware update. However, Sony decided they’d pay postage both ways if you wanted the update. The only cost to the owner was being without a reader for a few days. This sounds like a good deal, but only if it doesn’t take too long, right?
I asked Stephanie if she’d like me to have her reader updated. She was game, so she handed off her reader to me. I visited the Sony web site to see what I was in for. I was pleased to see I didn’t have to dig around in the customer support area to learn how to return the reader for the update. The SonyStyle store had a link in the reader section to information about updating the 500.
I began the return process shortly before midnight on January 19. The “request for firmware upgrade” form required me to enter my name and address, home and daytime phone numbers and select a time they could call me if they needed, an email address, and the serial number of my 500 reader. They also cautioned me to backup my reader content; I decided I’d erase everything from the reader. Once the form was completed, I continued to a page where I was told to print out two copies of the return form – one to keep and one to include with the reader. I also printed out a pre-paid UPS return label. I was surprised to see that Sony was springing for overnight delivery on my return. I made a note of the tracking number on the label and had my husband drop the package off at the UPS Store on his way to work. It was dropped off at 8:00 AM on 1/20/10. Tracking information showed that it was delivered in Laredo, TX at 7:43 AM on 1/21/10.
I had no way of checking the status of the upgrade. However, on 1/25/10, I received a UPS Ship Notification email telling me that billing information had been received for my shipment. Another email on 1/26 said my package had been received by UPS, and that my package was scheduled for delivery on 1/27. Sony was also returning the reader by overnight delivery. I received the package at exactly 9:00 AM on 1/27.
The 500 reader looked no worse for wear. I checked the serial number, and I had gotten back the same reader I had sent. The reader battery was completely drained, so I charged it. When I connected it to my computer, I was happy to see there was now a driver for 64-bit Vista. I was able to connect to the reader and copy over some content. I copied over some files in the old Sony proprietary lrf format, a pdf (text only), and an ePub file. Naturally, the lrf files opened and were readable. The 500 could always display pdf files, and the updated reader seemed to handle them much the same way as it did before the update. Using the reader’s small font, the entire page filled the screen. The 500 still isn’t capable of zooming-and-panning in pdf files like the 600 is, but you can make the document more readable by changing the reader’s font size to medium or large. Increasing the font size makes the text more readable, but it didn’t retain the formatting. Lines wrapped to fit the screen, and page numbering is affected. Turning the pages didn’t always change the displayed page number. For example, you continue to see “page 6 of 264” until you have paged through all the text that is on page 6 of the original pdf document. This page numbering artifact is not unique to the updated 500; the Sony 600 does the same thing with pdfs.
I’m happy to report that the upgrade process for the Sony 500 is quick and easy. My reader was returned in a week, I can connect it to my computer with the 64-bit operating system, and the reader can now use ePub files. Best of all, since I already had a suitable box and packing materials, the update was completely free. Stephanie shouldn’t have anything to worry about until the original battery needs replacing.
Edited to add: At Claire’s request, I am including some pictures to show how PDF files are handled on the 500. The color picture is a screen shot from the Sony software running on my comuter. It is showing all of the page that I can fit in the page display area. The other pictures show that file on the reader. Using small font, you can see the entire page displays. When the font is enlarged to medium and to large, the font gets larger and easier to read. With both larger fonts, you can page through and see all of the text, though the page number always stays the same. You do not see all the pictures, though. I see the pictures at the top of the page, and the big picture at the bottom of the girl wearing the poncho. I do not see the little pictures at the bottom right showing assembly – they have been replaced by only the caption for those little pictures.