For a lot of reasons, I'm on the hunt for an e-reading device. After much research, I decided the best option for my needs would be the Sony PRS-700, a discontinued device. The PRS-700 was originally listed at $399 new, and then eventually discounted to $350 before being discontinued in August 2009.
It took a little while on eBay, but I won an auction for a gently used PRS-700, with box and all included accessories, for $180 shipped.
Why did I target the PRS-700, especially given that it is one of the most-criticized eInk screens? Built-in lighting. No other e-Ink device offers built-in lighting, and I am worried that a clip-on light would be too bright and keep the baby awake, or not sturdy enough to withstand said baby when he gets grabby. Or my curious toddler, for that matter.
It arrived, I loaded it up with books from my existing eBook collection (via Calibre) and started reading.
I enjoy the quality of the design - the metal build feels sturdy and solid - no flexing like you get with plastic. But that same solidity comes at price - it's heavy. Remember, I usually read on an iPhone, for hours at a time. Although the ridging in the left side gave a good grip, the weight kept making my arm and wrists tired. I tried it with and without the leather case. The case itself is nicely designed - it's slim enough that it barely adds to the PRS-700's depth, the clips are sturdy but still easily removed, it folds behind easily, and there is a magnet that holds it shut.
While it certainly wasn't as touch-responsive as the iPhone screen or MacBook Pro trackpad, that I'm used to -- it was respectable. There was a noticeable pause, but not a true lag like I've seen with other devices. I'm looking at you, TomTom GPS! I didn't have a reason to use the note-taking feature, but the keyboard for searching was very useful.
I know that the PRS-700 has received poor reviews for screen contrast, compared to its predecessors. Perhaps because I am used to doing most of my reading on iPhone and computer screens, but I didn't see this as an issue. In fact, I found the e-Ink screen to be a huge improvement over those other screens. My eyes thanked me after 5 hours with the PRS-700 - none of the eye-watering I get with my iPhone after after 90 minutes. And none of the bloodshot I see in my eyes that I get after hours looking at spreadsheets on an LCD display.
I really enjoy the sidelights for night time reading. The illumination is strong, without being overwhelming in a almost black room. For example, I don't close my eyes and "see" the outline of the lights. I would prefer if it more evenly covered the screen, but the entire screen is legible without straining my eyes.
Page turns were as quick as can be expected given the limitations of e-Ink - I generally find that I press the button or swipe the screen at about the second last line, and the screen refreshes just as a I finish. I think each person needs to discover a rythym of their own depending on their speed of reading. I was slightly frustrated by how long it took to "draw" the covers in cover views, but they are graphic intensive.
This is where the Sony reader really impressed me. The software is intuitive, the buttons are nicely designed for touchscreen usage. You can customize just about everything - view by cover, view by list, view by collection. All books, whether on the SD card, or internal, show up in the book view. Collections, in conjunction with tagging via Calibre, is a joy. It is so easy to find series of books, or books by the same author. This is a huge boon if you have a large number of books on-device, or if you are likely to re-read or at least reference back to prior volumes in a series.
The reading software is provided by Adobe Digital Editions, and reads ePub and PDF formats. The font is beautiful to read, it resizes nicely (in ePubs) to 6 different sizes. I only tried one PDF and found it was quite small, so I had to do a lot of zooming and paging down, which was more work than I felt like dealing with. But the majority of my eBooks are in ePub or easily converted to ePub, so this was not of concern to me.
The desktop software is Sony Reader. I had already loaded it on my Mac before I received the device. It crashed twice when surfing the Sony ebookstore, and titles were pricier than B&N and Amazon (I think Sony is rounding up prices to include the required tax on the Big 5, but I couldn't find anywhere on the site that confirmed that). I already have my collection organized in Calibre, so I didn't have a reason to use the Sony Library software with the PRS-700.
The is where I have substantial issues. The page turn buttons are very close to the bottom of the screen, and they are the same $!@) thin little slit buttons that Sony used on the old Palm OS Cliés. But the Cliés had a jogwheel (I loved that left-side jogwheel). On a reading device, the slit buttons are beyond annoying, straight into stupidity. You literally end up with dents in your thumb from repeatedly pressing them. Luckily, there is at least the option of using the Touchscreen, but that has its own issues.
On a device as heavy as the PRS-700, holding the reader by one hand and keeping the other free for swiping the screen is tiring. My wrists were very sore the first few days I held the PRS-700, and afterwards, they would just get tired. It's just a case of bad ergonomics for a device that weighs 10 oz. When reading, you naturally shift positions and switch hands - paper or electronic books. The PRS-700's weight really only accomodates one position for safe one-handed holding - holding it at the midpoint vertically, and using the free hand to swipe the page. Pushing the button with the other hand does't work because it shifts the device. Holding it at the bottom and using a finger to swipe the touchscreen also tips the device. And it is too hard (with my child-size hands) to both hold from the bottom and push a button with one hand, which probably wouldb't be a problem for someone with larger hands.
I feel this problem could have been easily fixed by having page buttons on the left and right side of the device, instead of the bottom. I think the Kindle and nook designers probably realized that, since they weigh about the same as a Sony, but have those side buttons rather than bottom buttons. And nook still has the buttons, even with a touchscreen.
I read in bed, I read in the car, I read on the couch, I read in the rocking chair. All told, I think I spent somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 hours reading on this device over 9 days. I wanted to like it, I really did. In the end, even though I loved the sidelights and the on-device software, I decided it isn't the e-Ink reader for me if I can't comfortably hold it for hours at a time.
So now, back to the drawing board. I'm debating between the Sony Pocket Edition, Kobo Reader, PocketBook 360 or CyBook Opus with a clip on light, instead, but I'll need to sell this one first.