There’s no doubt that ebook readers are very much du jour, and Sony are keen to be part of that trend with the recent additions of the Touch and Pocket Editions to the Sony Reader line-up.
Reviewed here is the Pocket Edition (PRS-350), which is the smaller of the two models, with a 5″ touch screen. Overall, it’s about 14.5 cm tall, 10.5 cm wide and only 9 mm deep. At this size it can go in a (big) coat pocket and fits easily into most handbags. As you can see from the pictures, it comes in silver, but pink and black are also available. It’s also very light at only 155 g.
The e Ink Pearl screen is common in ebook readers but if you’ve not seen or used one, there are a couple of defining features. First is that the letters on the screen appear to be on the surface of the screen. It’s not like a laptop or tablet where you know that you are looking through glass. Second the screen doesn’t flicker at all. Not a bit. Thirdly, text is very smooth – you have to look incredibly closely to see any pixellation or “jaggies”. Fourthly, there’s no backlight so you need external light to read. Finally, when you do turn a page, the screen briefly flickers into a negative image as it morphs from one page to the next. It’s a bit odd but you get used to it very quickly.
In terms of the screen, I didn’t think that the Reader screen was any better or worse than any of the others that I’d seen. Admittedly I didn’t have a Kindle or Nook to hand to compare but all seemed normal and perfectly acceptable.
Beneath the screen, there’s a small legend and a row of five buttons along the bottom for page back, forwards, home, zoom and options. Buttons were ok but there could have been a bit more feedback from them.
Connectivity is limited to a micro-USB connection and the Reader appears as a removable drive. Consequently, all books have to be downloaded to a PC or laptop and then dropped into the folder. This is sometimes termed ”sideloading” and while it’s not as convenient as wi-fi connectivity, it’s pretty idiot-proof and you’ve a backup copy of your books on your own computer.
In use, the Pocket Reader is straightforward. Pressing the home button takes you to a screen which shows your current reading material. Having a touch screen means that most navigation can be done with by tapping on the screen, either with your finger or the included stylus, which slides into a silo on the righthand side. The device never responds quite as fast, as say, a PDA or mobile phone, but I think it’s just the nature of ebooks readers at the moment.
Tapping on the option to see all the loaded books gives a list sorted by author, title and filename. Selecting the book will open up the title and let you start reading. The zoom button allows adjustment of the font size to five different sizes (XS through XL). I found that the “S” setting was about the best. To move through the book, you can either use the backwards and forwards buttons or else slide your finger on the screen to the turn the page.
One cool feature was that double-tapping on a word brings up a dictionary and show the possible meanings of the word. Great for when you come across a word that you aren’t familiar with.
In terms of formats, the Reader can handle epub, pdf and rtf natively. I found that epub and rtf formats worked best and that pdfs suffered when being resized to fit on the smaller screen. Even with epub files, there were huge variations in the quality of the books. Of course, this isn’t the fault of the Reader but rather a reflection on the ebook industry. EPUB-based ebooks are widely available from the likes of WHSmith and Waterstones but as Amazon uses a proprietary format, you can’t get ebooks from there.
I had the Reader for just over a week and during that time I read a couple of novels and I never had to charge the battery after the initial charge. It charges through the USB connector so there’s no power brick included. I’d be confident that I could take this on holiday for two weeks and not have to worry.
However, my biggest issue is….how do you hold the device? Being used to years of paperback reading with one hand I’m having to re-learn how to hold a book.
Overall, I liked the Pocket Edition Reader. The Reader is small but the screen is clear. Battery life is excellent and there are plenty of ebooks available.
Sony currently have the Pocket Edition on sale in the UK for £159 with the Touch Edition at £199.
Thanks to Sony for providing the review unit.
[Apologies if some of the photos are a little out-of-focus. My camera had a hard time focussing on the screen]