Tuesday, September 21, 2010
I've been anxiously awaiting the new Sony Reader models since they were announced on Sept 1. I'm hoping to replace the Nook and Bookeen Cybook Opus with a single device. Even though I really wanted the PRS-650 to have WiFi, I figured I would give it a shot until the PRS-950 came out. But the 650 appears to have been under-stocked or more popular than Sony expected, so it's not available in the US right now. When the PRS-350 showed up at Best Buy this weekend, I bought the only one they had (hiding in the backroom). Since I really enjoyed the Sony PRS-300 and Opus 5" size and weight, the PRS-350 seems a no-brainer. Perhaps all the anticipation set the bar too high, but I'm ambivalent about this e-reading device.
My take on the Pocket PRS-350 after using it for for several days:
I enjoy the quality of the design - the metal front and back, responsive buttons that make nearly silent clicks, the perfect centering/balancing of the navigation buttons, make it a joy to hold and use.
The new infrared touchscreen is very responsive. In some cases, almost TOO responsive - just brushing a piece of lint off the screen turns the page. Like the PRS-700 and PRS-600, the Sony software has been configured specifically for touchscreen navigation, and it pleasant to use, especially compared to navigating on the Nook's LCD screen. This also allows the Pocket to have note-taking abilities, although the few times I tried, it wouldn't let me highlight more than 100 characters (annoying publisher limitation that Amazon seems to have worked out). The stylus is an option for note-taking, but I found using a finger was just as easy in most situations, even the tiny on-screen keyboard.
The contrast is fabulous on this screen. The white background is the same as the Nook, but the blacks are noticeably blacker. My Opus looks vaguely washed out in comparison, and I considered it perfectly acceptable until 2 days ago. Highly readable in any lighting. Both letters and artwork appear very crisp, and there is no glare.
There is no built-in lighting, which is standard for an e-Ink device. I have used it with the eBook-Lite, which lights the screen perfectly, but it made the PRS-350 top-heavy and uncomfortable to balance. This same light balances just fine on the Opus, so I think the Opus is a little more bottom-weighted because of the buttons, where the PRS-350 is light all the way around. (Note: I have ordered a Octovo Solis, which was originally designed for the Kindle 2. The PRS-350 is almost identical in depth to the Kindle 2, so I have hopes that it will fit.)
Sony does offer a lighted cover option (in boring blue and obnoxious pink), but I no longer use stem lights because there is a tendency toward hot spots that give me a headache.
Page turns are exactly the same as the Nook, a bit faster than the Opus. There is a noticeably, but quick, screen flash as the e-Ink refreshes, and ghosting is non-existent. Turning on the device is nearly instantaneous, since it really goes into sleep, not off (unless you force it off by holding the power button for longer). I love being able to flick the switch and start reading in less than 2 seconds - a major weakness of the Nook.
No WiFi or 3G on the Pocket, my biggest complaint. Keeps the cost down for a no-frills, get it done device. This is probably also one of the things that helps keep it speedy and good battery life. I really wanted WiFi for the the convenience of impulse purchasing and looking up things on Wikipedia.
I would rate the Sony as above average, for the eReading device market. It doesn't do everything I wish it would do, but it does a lot more than all the others do in terms of organization. Books can be sorted by Title, Author or Collections. They can also be sorted by (loaded) Date, which I haven't found particularly useful, but it's there. The best feature remains the Collections feature - the ability to utilize my meticulously tagged series from Calibre is awesome.
It includes 2 English dictionaries by Oxford and it is easy to switch between them, which I put to the test as I read a lengthy tome by a British author. because I often read literature by British authors. There is now a Go To page feature, which was missing on earlier models. My other former complaint, lack of a clock, has been partially solved - pushing the Options button in reading mode will pop up the clock on the bottom. Still too easy to get lost in a book, but then, that is the point!
You still can't have more than one book in the Continue Reading option - I often have 2-3 books going at one time, so I have to tag them in Calibre so they show up in my custom collection - Reading. Sony should make this a menu, and you can select from the last 5 books opened, or up to 5 books that are open to midway pages, not the end.
The reading software reads ePub and PDF DRM formats, and LRF, but I have not tried that format. The standard font is a serif named Dutch 801. There are 6 sizes - XS is useless, Small is almost useless, Medium is too large, and anything above it is not usable for me. While I'm pleased they added more options, the old medium on the 700/300/600 was more usable. A major complaint I have is that the line spacing for fonts seems off - it's too tight for the size of the font. I can't tell if it is a problem with the specific ePubs I've tested, but I suspect the font.
The desktop software is Sony Reader. I haven't even bothered with it, even though they did a recent upgrade. The last version was buggy and slow on a Mac, so I switched to Calibre and haven't looked back. The only reason I can see to try it now is because there are System Collections that can be filled using the desktop.
I really enjoy using the new Pocket one-handed. It feels great in hand, well-balanced, and with the touchscreen, you can hold it any way you want and still turn the page. It weights 5.73 oz according to Sony's website, and that seems about right - a few ounces heavier than my iPhone, essentially the same as my Opus, but not the overwhelming 12 oz of the nook.
I did use it in a propped position on a pillow last night and as long as the pillow is firm and as tall as the Pocket, it was doable to use the touchscreen when needed, for (nearly) handsfree reading.
While it is advertised as have 2GB of storage, there is only 1.4GB of internal storage available to the user, and no SD slot. With my ~900 e-book library, I'd prefer to carry it all, and the Pocket is right on the edge of that right now. I don't want to have to think about what is on a device, I want to search and read (or reread).
I read in bed, I read in the car, I read at work, I read on the couch. All told, I think I have spent 10 hours reading on this device over a three days.
If it would have only had WiFi, it could have been my perfect reader to entirely replace my iPhone in all situations. Although the Pearl screen is lovely, and I like the silence of the touchscreen, I'm not sure its worth $179US (includes local tax). For the price tag, it should have included WiFi.
If I can get custom fonts working on the PRS-350 without too much work, I might hang on to it. If not, I'll go back to my Opus and Nook.