While Kindle and NOOK seem to get the lion's share of media attention, Sony was a pioneer in the field and has been selling e-readers in the US since 2006. The company has had multiple iterations in which to perfect the e-reading experience and the latest version of the company's entry level Pocket Reader Edition (or PRS-350) sets a new standard for a compact e-reader. While other manufacturers outsell Sony, the company seems to have settled into the niche of offering a premium product and its e-readers reflect this philosophy with attractive designs and a corresponding price tag.
The previous generation Reader Pocket Edition (PRS-300) was a good compromise between portability, cost and compatibility. While it lacked the wireless capabilities of the Kindle and was limited to 512MB of onboard memory for e-book storage, its initial $199 price tag, upscale brushed aluminum case available in a variety of colors, compact size and embrace of the open EPUB file standard made it an attractive alternative. This was the e-reader that I chose to buy and it is still heavily used. Check out our review of the PRS-300 here if you're looking to pick one up used.
The newest Reader Pocket Edition is more than a simple refresh -it brings compelling improvements. The two most immediately obvious changes are inextricably tied together. Vertical number buttons and the large page navigation pad are gone. Instead, Sony has opted for a touchscreen interface. While five slim buttons remain along the bottom of the screen, touch is the primary navigation method. As a result, Sony was able to shrink the e-reader. Last year's model was compact enough to easily slip into a pocket, but the new version is positively svelte. While maintaining its 5-inch display size, the overall device size has shrunk to 5.71 inches by 4.11 inches and 0.33 inches thick, with a weight of 5.27 oz. The touch screen uses infrared technology and works with a stylus (included) that stows in a slot, or finger gestures. The touch screen also supports taking notes and highlighting text.
Other improvements are more evolutionary. The display itself has been upgraded to a higher contrast and faster refresh E Ink Pearl version, with six font sizes to choose from (the previous version had three) and 16-level gray scale capability (up from 8-level). In addition, two dictionaries are included, a new feature for this model. Image files are now supported and used for displaying a picture when the device is sleeping. Finally, onboard memory has been goosed to 2GB, sufficient to hold 1,200 books. The one thing that's been dropped is the range of colors: the case is still brushed aluminum, but the color options are now limited to silver and pink. MSRP has dropped to $179.99.
- This is the smallest mainstream e-reader out there and perfect for travellers and commuters while offering a display size that's larger than smart phone's
- display is crisp, page turns are fast, readability is great even in full sunlight
- touchscreen capability makes for a much more intuitive interface
- wide range of e-book format support, including EPUB (which means Reader Pocket Edition can access e-books through public libraries)
- 5-inch screen is slightly smaller than standard e-reader size of 6-inches
- no ability to upgrade or supplement storage with a memory card
- no wireless capability, so book purchases and collection management require a computer (Mac or PC)
- incompatible with Amazon Kindle e-books
- battery is not user replaceable
- relatively expensive
- no MP3 support, so if you like listening to tunes while reading, you'll still need to pack an iPod