Review: Sony PRS-600 Touch eReader

Sleek, easy to navigate, touch screen eReader from Sony. (October 6th, 2009)

Sleek, easy to navigate, touch screen eReader from Sony with five zoom levels. eBook Library software make syncing with a desktop easy. A perfect fit for iPod/iPhone users.

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Product Manufacturer: Sony

Price: $299.00 US

The Good

  • Desktop software for easy sync.
    Wide array of file formats supported.
    Useful Notes functions.
    Touch screen and stylus.
    Good battery life.
    Good form factor and build quality
    Easy to use home-screen.
    Public library access.

The Bad

  • Screen has more glare and not as crisp as non-touch screen eReaders.
    Slow text input via touch screen keyboard.
    Paltry instructions in package.
    Optional case with built-in light is expensive addition.

My impressions of the new Sony eReader PRS-600, are good, but it deserves a peek into the history of Kindle and Sony eReaders, before we take a closer look.

eReaders

A Brief History of Sony vs. Kindle

In November 2007, Amazon introduced the first generation Kindle, with an electronic ink display (eInk). eInk technology, which spawned from Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center in the 1970s, is a different type of display than the backlit LCD/LED displays found on most desktops/laptops. eInk displays are meant to mimic paper, without the need for electricity, once the screen has been drawn with text and images. The screens are crisp and clear, and you can read them in direct sunlight. This technology is what defines eReaders.

eReaders make sense because they help preserve precious space in our overcrowded dwellings. All of those books you own can reside on one small, slate device that you can take anywhere. The Amazon Kindle has defined the eReader market, since they have linked their bookstore to the Kindle over AT&T's 3G network for free. Many believe that linking books to eReaders over a cellular network has finally put eReaders on the map. Thus, Kindle users can easily purchase and load books in minutes, without connecting to a computer or needing to find a WIFI hotspot.

Amazon's Kindle DX with a 9.7" screen and 4-GB internal storage provides a solution to reading full-page newspaper spreads and complex PDFs. The DX's large screen meets the needs of students who wish to abandon their textbooks and store all of their materials in one device.

Kindle DX


Amazon Kindle DX


Kindles also shows up as a mounted drive when connected to your computer via USB. Putting files on the Kindle is as simple as drag and drop. However, no syncing software is included, so there is no automation once you connect the Kindle to the computer.

For those of us who would rather use your computers to manage your eBooks, rather than being handcuffed to Amazon's eBook gateway over 3G, Sony's eReaders fit the bill.

New Sony eReaders: PRS-300 and PRS-600

While the currently available Sony eReaders are devoid of 3G modems, both their design and desktop syncing software raise the bar for eReaders. Plus, they are available to consumers outside the US.

Interestingly, Sony, and not Amazon, was the first to successfully commercialize a large scale, eInk display eReader, the Sony LIBRIť e-Book reader in April, 2004, although eInk eReaders were available as early as 1998. Sony replaced the next unit, the PRS-500, at the end of the summer of 2007 with the PRS-505. The PRS-505 came with a more streamlined design, better screen, and more functionality. Alongside the PRS-505, Sony released the PRS-700 in October 2008, their top end touch screen eReader with stylus and built-in display side lighting.

Although it has an array of features, the PRS-700 has not been as successful as the non-touch screen PRS-505. The reason is that the PRS-700's screen seems blurry when compared to the PRS-505. This is the result of a raised touch screen layer, which accounts for the side lighting; required for touch screen functionality.

This summer Sony released the PRS-300, Reader Pocket Edition, and the PRS-600, Reader Touch Edition. The Reader Pocket Edition sports a 5" screen, whereas the Reader Touch Edition comes with a 6" screen. The Reader Pocket Edition does not have a touch screen.

Reader Pocket Edition


Sony Reader Pocket Edition


This new line of eReaders offers several improvements over previous models. The sleek design includes a rubber, non-slip backing, along with a host of features such as a built-in dictionary and faster page turns. The Internal memory is bumped to 512 MB, up from 256 MB. Battery life, measured in page turns, is rated at 7500 (estimated 2 weeks) accomplished by the built-in, advanced Lithium-Ion battery.

Sony PRS-600 Reader Touch Edition

Now that you have a brief history of past products, let's take a close look at the Sony PRS-600.

eReaders

File Formats

With an array of formats supported, Sony's new line of eReaders are the most open and flexible on the market. Whether it is a text, MSWord, an Adobe PDF file, or another popular format, the Sony eReader can handle it. This is most welcome since the Kindle does not support as many file formats. See the specifications below for a list of the file formats that the PRS-600 supports.

Desktop Software

Sony's eBook Library software make syncing with a desktop easy. The software is not only a gateway to Sony's eBook store with reduced priced eBooks, such as New York Times bestsellers at $9.99, it also offers access to over a million free Google Books. Moreover, it serves as a medium through which to manage the eReader. Synchronize downloaded books, transfer RSS feeds, create collections, which are similar to iTunes playlists, but for books, and more. I found the software very easy to use.

 ebookstore


Sony eBook Store Gateway


Unlike previous iterations of the Sony eBook Library software, it now runs under both Windows and Mac OS X 10.6. On the left hand side, there are icons for Books, Audio, and so forth. You can see that I have created some Science, Philosophy, and Politics collections. Collections are simply ways to organize your books, and are copied over to eReader when you sync the device.

 ebookstore


Sony eBook Library List


To test it out, I dragged and dropped some PDF books that were already on my computer over top of the Books icon, and it quickly copied them into the software. I then plugged in the PRS-600 and pushed the sync button. Within a minute, all of the books I had copied to the software, including my collections, were copied over to the eReader.

You also have the added benefit of access to Sony eReader optimized free books from Google Books. No file conversion is necessary, although the option is available within the software should a book not be pre-formatted for the Sony eReader. Up to six devices can be authorized to sync content. Thus, you can have the same book(s) on up to six different devices at any one time.

The software also backs up your eReader in case information is lost. You can manage both internal stores and memory card stores with the eBook Library software. The software has been, so far, devoid of any bugs and fun to use.

Audio and Pictures

The PRS-600 also has the ability to play MP3 files and display pictures. These are two features that I have not used extensively.

Most people use iPods for audio and computers for pictures. Displaying pictures on the eInk display is not that great an experience, but I mention these features because you may find them useful. One thing to keep in mind, should audio be used, battery life will no doubt be less than the rated 7500 page turns.

Keyword Searching

What makes digital documents so much better than paper is that you can run a find command quickly in association with a keyword. This is just not possible with paper.

You can search books keyword in the title, which is nice if you have a large number of books on the device. In addition, search is available within a book, which works just like the find command on a standard computer. I have found that this has worked quickly and easily, without any glitches. This functionality is one of the main reasons why I prefer reading digital documents over paper.

Memory

The ability to increase the PRS-600's memory capacity by 32 GB is also compelling, since it has two memory card slots: one for the Sony Memory Stick Pro DUO (up to 16 GB) and the other for a SDHC card (up to 16 GB). The PRS-300 is bereft of memory card expansion.

Notes

Notes are an important feature, second only to the touch screen. If you are serious about research, then the built in notes application has you covered. You simply highlight some text, then input the note from either the onscreen keyboard or by scribbling in a note window with the included stylus. All notes are automatically collected and listed in a master notes section of an associated book.

Additionally, all notes are itemized, and, by default, are listed in the order in which they were created. When you click on a note it takes you to the page in the book where the note resides, with a pop up window overlaid on that page. You can also highlight a chunk of text without leaving a note. Those are listed under the master notes list. You can also scribble over text with the stylus, and just like a typed note, it appears in the master notes list.

 ebookstore


Scribbled circle and associated Text Note


What is so great about all this is the automatic organization of the notes. Each note is linked to the page in which the note was taken and stamped with the page of the book upon which it resides. You can transfer the Notes to a computer via the eBook Library software, which makes it easy to view and print them. Compare that with the handwritten notes most of us take when doing research or the scribbles in the margins of pages; this is much clearer. I can't read my own writing so I don't miss the old way of reading and taking notes.

The one thing that is lacking with text input is speed when using the onscreen keyboard. The eInk display is quite slow to respond. I wish this was faster. At any rate, scribbling a note does not have much delay. Overall, the notes functionality is excellent.

Menus and Navigation

The well laid out home screen makes books easy to navigate. The following can be accessed from the home-screen: Book collections, RSS feeds, a master list of titles, short cuts to music and memos or drawings, as well as pictures, the last book you're reading, and device settings. Overall, the home-screen is well done, and is easily customizable.

 ebookstore


Home Screen


Battery Life

So far, battery life has been decent. The battery drains on a daily basis, even when the device is not in use. However, if you power down the unit, the battery does not stay in a state of use, as it is when in sleep mode with a very slight, constant power draw.

To completely shut the device down and save on battery life, the power button must be held for three seconds. With the amount of reading I do, the battery life is more than enough for over a week worth of reading, if the device is put in sleep mode between reading sessions.

I had to track down the PRS-600 manual in order to find out this information, because it is not listed in the quick start guide. You can download the PRS-600 manual from Sony's support web page. I suggest you download it, because it only comes with the Quick Start Guide.

Touch screen

The touch screen has positive and negative aspects. Positive because, for most of us that now use touch screen smartphones, using the device feels natural: It receives familiar, iPhone-like finger gestures. Negatives include extra glare on the screen when compared to the Kindle 2. The reason is that the touch screen requires an extra layer over the glass to make it function as a touch screen.

I did compare three units side-by-side, and noticed that the PRS-505 and the PRS-300 have slightly clearer screens. It was not so significant as to disqualify the PRS-600 from purchase though. Compared to the PRS-700, the screen is much improved.

Reading in low light is a challenge, since there is no backlight. Sony does offer a leather case with a built-in reading light. I feel that the case is a necessity for any serious reader. Unfortunately, it is quite expensive at $59.99 US ($79.99 CAD).

Sony PRS 600 case


Sony PRS 600 Case


The limitation of the size of eReader screens presents another challenge. For instance, reading complex PDFs with diagrams is difficult in portrait mode. Luckily, you can change the screen orientation to landscape mode with just a few clicks. This helps a great deal when you need that extra width to properly view charts and diagrams.

Also, there are now five different zoom levels, compared to only three with the PRS-505. I have found that the large, third level zoom is the most fitting for my eyes, not too big and not too small.

Build Quality and Design

Sony gets high marks for build quality and design. The well-constructed PRS-600 does not have much plastic. The device is made of aluminum with a shot of rubber covering the back. It is light and feels solid and comfortable in the hand.

Sony PRS 600 back


Sony PRS 600 Back


Further, the minimalist design, thanks to the touch screen engendering the omission of several buttons, is excellent. For Apple users, it's a natural fit. The PRS-600 is a much better way to read than manhandling a large book.

Sony eReader and Public Libraries

Since the Sony eReaders now support so many different formats, they make the perfect companion to your local public library. I tested the Sony eReader with the Vancouver Public Library, and successfully signed out and transferred a book from the library to my Sony eReader.

OverDrive (www.overdrive.com) powers all of the online content and access. OverDrive's website has a list of all participating libraries, which includes links to those online portals. Once logged in, you can search all electronic content available for sign out from your local library. This includes audiobooks and eBooks in various formats.

For those in the US, you can sign out books within the Sony eReader Library software, since OverDrive is integrated with Sony's software. In Canada, it requires juggling both the eBook Library software and Adobe Digital Editions desktop software. A bit more cumbersome, but not overly difficult.

I have yet to see what happens after the 21-day loan period ends. The books are supposed to disappear from both the eReader and the desktop software, but you can also renew these books online.

Wrap Up and Final Thoughts

Overall, my experience with the PRS-600 has been excellent. The screen is clear and readable in most lighting conditions, the eBook Library software works well, and the device is sleek, light, and compact.

With a touch screen and stylus, Sony has differentiated themselves from most other eReaders currently on the market. Not only can you scribble notes on the page while reading, you can use the touch screen for gestures via finger input, such as swipe the screen to turn the page. These feats are not possible on a Kindle or any other eReader for that matter, but are pivotal in providing you with a real book-like experience.

If you are in the market for an eReader, the Sony PRS-600 is a persuasive product. In fact, I would call it the best eReader currently available. The only problem is finding one available in the color of your choice. Sony is currently having trouble keeping up with demand on a global scale.

Sony PRS 600


A third Sony eReader will be released in December. Sony's answer to the Kindle DX, The Daily Edition (PRS-2121), sports a 7" touch screen and a built-in 3G modem with free access to book stores over AT&T's 3G network.

Specifications

  • Formats supported: BBeB Book (LRF), PDF, TXT, RTF, ePub, Adobe Digital Editions and Adobe DRM protected PDFs, DOC, DOCX, LRX, JPG, GIF, PNG, BMP, MP3, and AAC w/o DRM.
  • Display: 6 inch touch screen
  • Resolution: 800 x 600 pixels
  • Gray scale: 8-levels gray scale
  • Internal Memory: 512MB (380 MB useable)
  • Expanded Memory: Sony Memory Stick Pro DUO and SDHC
  • Font Size: 5 adjustable font sizes
  • Battery: Sealed internal, Lithium-Ion - 7500 page turns (~2 weeks)
  • Power: USB 2.0 (AC adapter optional)
  • Software: Sony eBook Library (Windows/Mac OS X)
  • Available case colors: Black, Silver, Red


Edited by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor

by Ryan J. Vetter


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