Blast From the Past: Sony PRS-500 – How Much Has Changed?

Sony PRS 500

The Sony Reader PRS-500 was the first dedicated E Ink ebook reader to be commercially available in the United States.

It was released over ten years ago now back in 2006, a full year before the first Kindle was released.

The PRS-500 was only on the market for a year before it got replaced by the much more popular PRS-505.

Despite being off the market for nearly a decade, there’s still a listing for the Sony PRS-500 over at Amazon.

It caught my attention and I had to take a closer look because I never actually saw one in person since it was discontinued a couple of years before this website launched in 2009.

The Sony PRS-500 is actually a pretty good-looking ereader considering how old it is, even by today’s standards. The 1st gen Kindle on the other hand was one of the most awkward-looking gadgets ever invented.

I find it interesting to look back at the PRS-500 to see how it compares with current ebook readers.

At first glance it doesn’t look like a whole lot has changed in ten years. Although a little thicker and heavier, the overall size is about the same (it’s nothing like comparing the first cell phones with new ones, for example).

The PRS-500 also has a familiar 6-inch E Ink screen, with a resolution of 800 x 600. That’s the same as the current entry-level Kindle.

However, the quality and speed of E Ink screens has improved a lot since then so the differences are greater than they would appear. For instance the PRS-500’s screen only showed 4 levels of gray and current E Ink screens display 16-levels of gray scale.

Back then battery life was measured in page-turns (7,500 for the PRS-500) instead of “weeks” but overall that’s the one thing that’s probably changed the least.

The available storage space for ebooks is one thing that has changed a lot. The PRS-500 only came with 64MB of internal storage space, enough to hold up to 80 ebooks! Luckily it had a memory card slot for expansion.

The biggest change since 2006 is the number of ebooks that are available now. Back then Sony advertised a library of over 10,000 titles to choose from.

Sony sold ebooks from their own ebook store and they used a proprietary BBeB format that didn’t last long before they transitioned to ePub. The PRS-500 also supported PDFs and it had a headphone jack to listen to music, something most newer models lack.

Looking back, ereaders have changed a lot over the past ten years in some ways but the core concept remains unchanged. 6-inch E Ink screens are still the standard. They still have integrated ebook stores and long-lasting batteries. It’s makes you wonder what ebook readers will be like in another ten years—probably not much different than they are now.

10 Responses to “Blast From the Past: Sony PRS-500 – How Much Has Changed?”

  1. If ereaders last….the changes will be few…but amazing (in my opinion). At least, i hope so. I love ereaders!

  2. Oh boy I remember owning these back in the day and I thought it was so cool. Once the Kindle got popular everybody asked me if I was using a Kindle and eventually I gave up explaining it wasn’t one. Replaced it with a PRS-T1 which I rooted and used for a few years before just using my iPad now. Shame those Sony eReaders were always quite nice.

  3. Sony e-readers were popular primarily because of possibilities to root them and side load the books. Sony were selling them practically everywhere across the globe while having no or limited support with e-book store outside of major markets. I believe that’s the reason of closure of this business by Sony while being one of the pioneers in this industry. And that’s a shame. Devices were great indeed for that period of time.

  4. I would still be using my Sony if I could figure out how to change the battery 🙁

    I read on an Android Nook now, but keep hoping for an e-reader in the 11″ range so I can reasonable read PDF files. Reflowing text doesn’t work well most of the time.

  5. My first e-reader was a Kindle DX. The first book I read on it was Isaacson’s Steve Jobs.

    The juxtaposition of reading about a great perfectionist who was able to achieve his dream for what computers could do for people, on my brand-new crappy-in-countless-little-ways Kindle DX was… remarkable. There’s a lot to dislike about Jobs and Apple, but why they are the only ones that feel compelled to bother with user experience and industrial design, I’ll never understand.

    Actually, that’s not entirely true. Sony does right by themselves and their customers in that regard (well, most of the time anyway). Though, they never get any credit for it when they do get it right. Maybe because they charge such princely sums for their trail-blazing products very, very few regular people ever buy them? I don’t know, but it’s always bothered me to no end that the product-reviewing press only bothers to give credit to Apple in this regard. If they would be more critical to companies that get it wrong, and more praiseworthy to companies that get it right, more companies might bother to try, and more customers might learn to demand more.

    • All a long way of saying, too bad Apple never decided to make an e-Ink device. Any kind of device. Even if their price point was beyond my level of interest, I’m sure they would have forced everyone in the space to up their game, not least the e-Ink screen manufacturer.

      PS. Great blog. Thank you for hosting.

  6. I still have my PRS-500 although I don’t use it anymore. It is better built than any of its successors. It worked well. My one complaint was that it did not have Wi-Fi for downloading books. The synching with a computer, a Mac in my case, was rather laborious and haphazard. Still, I enjoyed reading on it. After a succession of Sonys, Kindles, and Kobos, I’m using a Kobo Aura One. But, I nostalgically look at the PRS-500 wishing there was a way to modernize it.

  7. Never had the PRS 500 but I did have (and still have) the PRS 650, a nice little reader, one of the first to have a touch screen and one of the last to be made of metal instead of plastic. I still prefer the feel of it, but the screen is outdated and the battery life is pretty poor now. I’m using a Kobo Glo now, or read on a tablet.

  8. Bought the Sony PRS-T1 in 2011. Still running strong. The battery used to give me 6 weeks, but now it’s down to about 4 weeks. I figure in a few more years I might have to replace the battery. Awesome e-reader. That’s one thing — I wish the batteries were easier to replace in e-readers. I don’t know of any e-readers though, that have batteries you can just swap out easily though.

    Probably not as rugged as the PRS-500 series and PRS-650 series but the PRS-T series was still extremely well built.

    Really wish Sony was still making e-readers.