my new sony reader

My first ebook reader was a Sony PRS-300, which I bought just about a year ago. There was a lot to like about it, and I never felt particularly tempted to replace it with a Kindle. It really all comes down to one thing: the size. If you compare the Kindle and the Sony Reader sizes, you can see just how much bigger the Kindle 3 is than the PRS-300. The Sony reader fit much better in my pockets, so I could take it anywhere. I’d take it on walks to 7-11, to the playground with Martha, on short car trips, or anything. The Kindle is just a little too big for that to be as comfortable.

Unfortunately, it had a bunch of drawbacks, too. Its screen’s contrast is pretty lousy, and sometimes it’s randomly really lousy and I had to squint to read a page. Its page turns are slower than Kindle’s. The only way to get content on it is with a USB cable. You can’t read it while it’s charging over USB. I don’t really worry about the availability of books, since I buy nearly no DRM-encumbered books. Making notes on the PRS-300 was impossible, but making notes on the Kindle stinks. The Kindle UI might be a little nicer, but not by a whole lot.

I bought my PRS-300 for $200, but they had since dropped in price to about $150. A few months ago, Sony introduced a new lineup of readers, including the Pocket Edition PRS-350, which replaces the old 300. I stopped into the Sony Style store and played with one and decided I wanted to upgrade, and bought the new model with reward points. (Annoyingly, I very soon thereafter learned that I could’ve traded my old reader in and ended up paying $75 real dollars instead of $175 dollars of reward points.) Anyway, my new reader arrived this week and I’ve been reading with it.

The hardware is, I think, superior in every way. It’s lighter, thinner, and has a smaller footprint. The display is much clearer, and the page turns are much faster. The user interface is much better, and there are some nice new features like built-in dictionaries. The dictionary on the PRS-350 is actually better than the one in the Kindle, because you only need to double-tap a word to get a definition. On Kindle, you must use the joystick. The PRS-350 has a touch screen.

All the previous Sony Reader touch screens stank. This one is great. It doesn’t blur the text, which is their big selling point, but what I like compared to my experience playing with the PRS-600 is that it works with a very light touch. Having used an iPhone for a long time, now, I tend to find that most touch screens require far too much force for me. I had to really drag across the screen on the PRS-600, but with the PRS-350 I can just faintly flick across the screen. (Actually, I’m pretty sure I could turn the page without making contact with the screen, if I tried.) The touch screen means that the user interface is no longer limited to a set number of rows from which to select options. There are UI widgets wherever they’re needed, and the widgets have (surprisingly!) been really well designed for finger input. I have not yet had to curse a too-small widget.

So: everything about reading on the new PRS-350 is better. The problem is everything else.

First of all, the PRS-300 came with a little neoprene sleeve that protected the case and screen when tossed into my bag. The PRS-350 doesn’t. Sony doesn’t even sell one. Instead, I’d have to buy a $25 folding cover, which means the whole unit would be heavier and bigger all the time. I found one place to buy a simpler sleeve… Etsy, from a woman in Spain, so it’s got to ship internationally. I’ll probaby buy it, but that tacks $20 onto the price. The price, by the way, for a new device that starts for more than the previous generation and more than the massively market-leading Kindle 3. I don’t mind that the PRS-350 lacks both wi-fi and 3G, but if you’re going to talk about what a primo product it is, you could at least include the essentials. How am I supposed to tote this thing around in my bag without a sleeve? For now, it’s been getting its own cargo pocket, which feels weird.

The PRS-350 uses micro-USB instead of mini-USB, which is fine. It also has no DC in, so the only way to charge is over USB. So far, this has meant that I can’t read while charging, because if I plug it into a computer, it goes into disk mode. Even if I use a power-only cable, it can’t be used as a book. This really makes very little sense. With the 300, I just bought a cable that had a DC connection for charging while reading. Now, I guess I need to be more vigilant about charging. It might help if the 350 does not lose its charge over the course of a few weeks. We’ll have to see whether that’s been fixed.

The PRS-350 comes with a stylus hidden in its housing for use in making handwritten notes. I don’t see much use for it, since taking notes on the reader stinks. I’m glad I don’t see myself relying on the stylus in the future, because while taking it out to show someone, the stylus broke in such a way that it would become lost in the housing if I put it back in. Sony is going to send me a replacement, but I wonder if this is just a horrible design flaw in the stylus’s manufacture.

Finally, there is one really nice upgrade in the 350, which I wish Amazon would include in the Kindle: you can pick the image to be displayed when the device sleeps. Sungo described the Amazon sleep screens as “pictures of authors you haven’t read and won’t be reading in the future,” and that’s mostly how I feel about them, too.

I wish the upgrade had only cost me a hundred bucks, but I’m still glad I did it. The new device is lighter and faster and easier to read. It’s also nice to support someone other than Amazon in the ereader market, although I’d rather it wasn’t Sony, for a whole host of reasons.

Written on November 20, 2010
books   ebook   hardware