Sunday, October 10, 2010
Given that there only a handful of 5" E-Ink devices available, it seemed pertinent to compare two, while I had them both. I'm not going to focus on the hardware differences as the specs are available out there on the web, but on the firmware and software setup and little details I've discovered through usage.
The Sony and Bookeen 5" devices share a lot in common. Both are incredibly light, and almost pocketable sans case (although tread carefully with unprotected glass screens). Both devices have the ability to rotate the screen, Opus goes 360 degrees via accelerometer (which can be locked), the Sony rotates 90 degrees via Options button. Their firmware have similar capabilities, although each executes it in a different way.
Both devices have the same resolution screen (200 ppi), but there are noticeable differences. The Opus uses a standard Vizplex screen, likely an early one (it's not as light a background as the Nook's newer Vizplex). The PRS-350 uses the much-vaunted Pearl screen. The PRS-350 has a lighter background and darker blacks, making for a higher contrast. The picture below has the most accurate color representation of the screens.
Both devices offer the ability to browse books by thumbnails. The Opus allows you to customize the Library view in several ways, including having 5, 10 or 20 thumbnails displayed. Here it displays 10, my preferred view. The Sony main screen offers the thumbnail of the book you last opened, along with 3 of the most recently loaded titles.
Here is the Opus displaying 20 thumbnails, and the Sony has entered the Book View and is displaying all thumbnails. The Opus navigates via the page forward and 5-way button - the Sony navigates using touch to select from the letters on the side. For both devices, you may choose to sort books by Author or Title. Sony offers an additonal sort, by Date Loaded.
In order to more accurately compare how the devices display type, I loaded the same custom font on both. (for those who care, it's ArnoPro by Adobe). The Opus is set at Size 9 (out of 12), the Sony is on Medium (out of XS, S, M, L, XL). Even with the slightly warm cast on the photos, the Sony's higher contrast screen is noticable, although it appears that the larger status bar on the Sony is taking up space the Opus can use for text. You'll also note that the Opus status bar contains the title and page numbers. The Sony's status bar contains the font size, battery meter and page numbers.
Here, both devices have loaded an ePub with an embedded font (unknown), set on Opus Size 8 and Sony's Medium. Again, the Sony's larger status bar displaces some text.
And here is the same book, with embedded font set smaller. The Opus could go even smaller (this is size 6), but this was the closest match to Sony's Small setting. At this size, I prefer the Opus because the line spacing is a bit looser - the Sony line spacing seems too tight in comparison, but the Sony font is a touch tinier here, so that is probably why the line spacing is tighter. I'm also disappointed that Sony doesn't have a wider range of font sizes - the jump from Small to Medium is pretty dramatic, and XS is essentially useless.
The major differentation in software is how the devices handle metadata for book organization. The Opus uses a folder structure, which can be handled manually with the device plugged into a computers as a USB drive, or using criteria set in Calibre's preferences. I personally use Calibre to put e-Books on the Opus in folders by Author/Series/Title, thanks to some code shared by Marcy on MobileRead forums. This makes for easy sorting, as long as you can remember who wrote what, but it can be cumbersome once you've loaded your device with hundreds or even thousands of books.
The Sony takes a different approach, using a feature called Collections. E-Books can belong to multiple collections, without having multiple copies on the device. There are several options to organize e-Books into collections: via Sony Reader desktop, via Calibre tags and series, and on the device itself.
Here is a picture comparing a screen of the Opus' folder view (with 20 folders shown - can also change to 5 or 10) and one screen of the Sony's list of Collections.
Some other details to note:
The Sony is noticeably faster at booting up, waking from standby, and loading books. The Opus isn't slow, but the Sony is zippy. Both devices allow you to "flip" pages quickly - the Sony by holding your finger on the screen, the Opus by holding down the page forward button. The Opus also does this using the page backward button to flip backwards.
The Sony has built-in dictionary, and can look up a word just by highlighting. This is a great feature that I wish the Opus had, but it would be harder to implement with a 5 way vs. touch. The Sony does have the ability to take notes, but the 5" screen is a little small to work on, either with the keyboard or the stylus. Also, you can only copy 100 characters of text into notes, limiting its usefulness. I tried it on two non-DRM ePubs, and they still had that limit.
Both devices are poor for PDF usage, in my opinion. While the Sony can reflow text PDFs, this usually leads to weird layout of text, and the 5" screen doesn't show much even in zoomed mode. The Opus can't reflow or zoom, so PDFs are a lost cause.
The Opus doesn't have a touchscreen, so I was very excited about the Sony's - one-handed, silent page turns like on my iPhone! I though my dream device would have glare-free touch and WiFi. But the touchscreen comes with two drawbacks that I hadn't considered.
1. Fingerprints. Finger oils accumulate on the screen if you use it turn pages. In daylight, the matte screen obscures fingerprints nicely. But at nighttime, with a clip light, they create glare that obscures that sharp screen just as bad as Sony's old touch layer did on the 600/700. I found myself cleaning it frequently during nighttime reading, which was distracting.
2. Accidental page turns. Because of the infrared system Sony uses now, it is very easy to accidentally turn a page on the PRS-350. Because the bezel is so narrow, your fingers sort of dangle over the screen, so even if you aren't touching it, you could trigger a page turn. Also, because the screen is recessed, fuzz and dust collects on it. I lost count of how many times I accidentally turned the page because I was trying to keep the screen clean.
3. Fingers in the way. I think this is a function of the tiny bezel and my tiny hands. In order for me to hold and page turn one-handed, my fingers dangle over the edge because there isn't much bezel to grip. YMMV with this drawback.
For book-reading, the Opus and Sony devices appear to use the same amount of power. But the Opus uses more power when in standby mode, where the Sony barely drops at all, and leaves a pretty user-customizable "screensaver" rather than the Opus' factory standby screens.
The Sony has no expandable memory, but allows 1.5GB of user storage on the internal memory. The Opus has 1GB of internal memory, and a microSD slot for expandability. Given the limitations of organization, its probably just as well.
The Opus allows a greater amount of customization of screens, fonts, font sizes and folders out of the box. The Sony can use custom fonts with hacking, but the font sizes and screens are not user-customizable.
I expected the Sony device to feel much more solid than the Opus, because previous Sony models felt like tanks. Now that Sony has shaved off the weight and used a bit more plastic, it still feels like a solid device, but not more solid than the Opus. Frankly, I think the 5" devices feel less fragile overall because they have less screen to flex and less weight for gravity to do damage in a fall. The Opus feels like you could play frisbee with it, but I worry a little about the Sony metal denting now that it is so thin.
Because the 5" devices have been less popular, there tend to be fewer third-party accessories. The Sony comes with a USB cable in-box, but an AC adapter and two case options are available. The Opus comes with a USB cable, and a pleather slip case, which is good as there is only one other case option.
sharp Pearl screen
better battery life in standby
custom standby screen
on-device organization via Collections
touchscreen a bit touchy
glare of bezel (specific to silver model)
more thumbnails per screen
more font sizes
books can only be in one folder
After using the PRS-350 for just over two weeks, I can say it is a solid device. The firmware is well-thought out, the screen is beautiful, the dictionary is fantastic, the note-taking features a bonus.
In the end, I returned the Sony and kept the Opus, for two specific reasons that impacted my reading experience.
1. The PRS-350 was hard to hold in my small hands without obscuring the screen.
2. The touchscreen became illegible at night, when I do 90% of my reading.
The other reason that was niggling in the back of my mind was that the advantages of the PRS-350 over the Opus weren't worth $90 more to me (I bought my Opus for $100). If I'm going to spend more, I really want WiFi and touch.
So I'm off to buy an iPad and try it out before the Sony Reader PRs-950 is released.