Sony Reader x50 w\ Hacked Firmware: Review & How-To

Earlier this week eBook Applications, the indie ereader developer, released their latest alternative firmware for Sony’s PRS-x50 ebook reader.

These 3 models were released last fall and they have since been replaced by the new Sony Reader Wifi. But they are still quite common and still quite functional, so I was pleased to see that eBook Applications put their time into an alternative firmware.

My review is at the end of this post, with the basic info and installation instructions coming first.


First, a word about the company.  I call eBook Applications an indie ereader developer because they don’t have their own ebook reader. They don’t even have a publicly available brand stuck on someone else’s ereader.  They are software developers who specialize in ebook readers, and they’ve been in this niche for at least a couple years now.

The eBA firmware adds support for a number of ebook formats but it also lacks a number of features found in the original firmware. For example, my 950 doesn’t have use of the Wifi or 3G. (I’m told that Wifi support will be added later.) The eBA firmware also lacks the extensive annotation abilities found in the original Sony firmware.

Supported Formats

Not all of these ebook formats are usable on the Sony Reader, but I have to say that the diverse selection of supported formats is rather stunning. And that includes the image and audio support. (I’ve never actually needed to play an ogg or flac file but it’s nice to know that I can.)

BTW, some of the ebook formats are unusable, in my opinion. Namely, the CBR and CBZ just weren’t worth the bother of using on my 950’s 7″ screen.  They worked, but scrolling around the screen and zooming in and out simply took too long. But that’s okay; Epub, PRC, and PDF worked just fine.

  • Books: PDF, DOC, EPUB, RTF, HTML, CHM, TXT, DJVU, FB2, PDB, PRC, TCR, ZIP, RAR including multi-file ZIP ? RAR compressed files
  • Comics formats: CBR, CBZ
  • Image formats: JPEG, PNG, GIF, BMP, TIFF, PSD, PICT, PCX, PGM, PPM, SGI, TGA
  • Music: MP3, WAV, FLAC, OGG, AAC

Included Apps

The eBA firmware comes with a couple games (Chess, Sudoku) as well as a calculator, dictionary app, and a Schultz table. I’m enjoying the chess game, and the Sudoku has a number of difficulty levels. Both should provide some distraction when needed.

Reading App

It looks to be using CoolReader (more info here), and that’s both good and bad. It doesn’t offer as many formatting options as FBReader, but it does do a decent job as a reading app. For ebooks you can choose from 3 fonts (and you can install them), 5 font sizes, and you can have the entire text in bold, italics, and so on. It also supports the external TOC in Epub and PDF, bookmarks, but it lacks any annotation features.

Installation

The process is fairly simple and it doesn’t look like there’s much of a chance that it will go wrong.

  1. Download the installer from here.  It’s Windows only, and that might be a problem for OSX and Linux users.
  2. Turn off your Sony Reader, and then plug it in to your computer.
  3. Run the installer.  It will take some time to set itself up. Read the menu prompts and respond.
  4. Restart your Sony Reader after the installation process is complete.

DeInstallation

The proper way to remove the eBA firmware is to run the installer again. It will detect the eBA firmware and offer you the option of removing it. There’s also a quick and dirty method.

The quick and dirty way to uninstall the eBA firmware is to delete all the files on the internal Flash storage and reboot.  The Sony Reader will find the original firmware and boot from that.

I really don’t recommend the Q&D method. It runs a high chance of breaking your Sony Reader. It may have worked for me, but I’m not sure that it will also work on the other models.

Review

The eBA firmware has its strengths and its weaknesses.

I like the extra format support and the font options, and I’m quite happy with the reading app (the bold font option is useful). The page turns for the reading app are about as fast on the original Sony firmware, and I do like that CoolReader supports taps for page turns (Sony only supports swipes). The games are also a nice bonus and I do prefer the menu layout.

But the original Sony firmware has so many more features and menu options. I’m not sure how much you’re going to miss the annotation, Wifi, or the web browser. To be honest, I’m used to ereaders that don’t have nearly as good annotation as the Sony Readers, so I’m not used to having it, as nice as it is.

I have to say that it’s a toss-up. If you’re in love with your Sony Reader then you will probably miss the features you lose when you install the eBA firmware. But do you know what would win me over? I’d like a note taking app or a sketchpad app.  The Sony firmware has both, and now that I think about it those extras are enough to get me to stay with the original Sony firmware.

Addendum

I didn’t want to mention this before, but there’s a hack for the Sony firmware. It’s a low risk extra that costs you nothing but adds several useful apps and features. It was originally made so some Sony reader owners could add support for Russian, but it also does a lot more.

I’ve just reinstalled the hack after going back to the Sony firmware. The hack adds 8 games, a calculator, calendar, folder support, and other features. It’s definitely worth installing.

P.S.

Have you tried the alternate firmware from eBook Applications? What do you think?

9 thoughts on “Sony Reader x50 w\ Hacked Firmware: Review & How-To

  1. I checked it out yesterday on my PRS-950. And like you I ended up uninstalling it and going to original Sony software. There are some very nice features in it (the most notable ones are: ability to change font either to one of the provided fonts or permanently add your own font; support for certain formats – DJVU and FB2 are of particular interest to me; games; Russian language support). However, there are some significant shortcoming which ultimately turned into “show stoppers” for me:
    1. Slow page turns . While the difference (comparing to original software) may not be too huge for ePubs, it is very slow for PDFs and some other formats. Unbearable. I also did not care for their zoom interface comparing to Sony original way.
    2. Dictionary integration (which btw they promote so much) is not convenient at all. First of all, it is geared more towards direct translation from one language to another. But more importantly to me, it seems that it is not always on when you can just double tap the word and get a popup with its definition. You need to select “dictionary: from the menu first and then pick a word – too many clicks.
    3. No wifi support. This one is a big problem, because while I do not care about ability to buy books directly from the reader or web surfing in the browser, I am a big fan of wikipedia look-up integration and utilize it quite often.
    4. It seems that there is no support for DRM books.
    5. Overall it feels more sluggish.

    Nate, I know you have touched on some of these points already but hopefully this is helpful anyway.

    1. Thanks for pointing out the lack of DRM support; I knew that it didn’t have it but I forgot to mention it.

      I’m surprised that you had slow page turns for PDFs. I didn’t notice that they were slower. Now, page turns for CBR and CBZ were incredibly slow, but those formats were already out of the running because of resolution and scrolling issues..

  2. Did you have any problem with loading ebooks? I briefly tried it on my 350 and it literally took 20 seconds to open EPUB ebooks, and I tried several. Strange that no one else has mentioned that here or at MR. It also would take just about as long to change font and make any adjustments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>