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Review: Sony Reader Touch (PRS 650)

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

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Sony's aluminum clad Reader Touch leads the pack in looks.

The Sony Reader Touch (PRS 650) in red.

Image from Sony

Many people who were interested in buying a premium, touchscreen e-reader last year were enamored with the look of Sony's Reader Touch (PRS-600). In terms of style, the Touch had it going on and the red aluminum clad model, in particular, was visually striking. Three things hurt sales of the Sony's premium touchscreen offering, though: it wasn't a Kindle, at a $249 MSRP it was expensive, and that touch screen had serious issues with glare.  

 

What's New?

The latest iteration of the Reader Touch, the PRS 650, is still not a Kindle, but people seem more accepting of that fact now. It's become apparent that Amazon.com and the Kindle are not going to obliterate all competition in e-books and e-readers any time soon, and there are plenty of sources for the EPUB titles the Reader Touch uses (it also supports PDF, BBeB, Word, RTF and TXT format files), including Sony's own Reader Store. So the abandoned format concern has been virtually eliminated from the equation. The price has dropped slightly (MSRP is now $229), but the Reader Touch remains the most expensive mass market e-reader in it's class; you can pick up a WiFi Kindle for nearly $100 less. Most importantly in terms of usability, new infrared touchscreen technology has put an end to the reflections and the somewhat grayish tinge that hobbled the old touchscreen. Features in general have progressed as expected: it sports an improved E Ink Pearl display, it's shrunk (while retaining the same 6-inch display size) and offers more granularity in font size.

All well and good, but nothing earth shattering in the new features department; this model is all about improvement and eliminating that Achilles Heel in the form of screen glare. 

 

The Good

  • E Ink Pearl touchscreen display is responsive and easy to read (including in direct sunlight)
  • navigation is intuitive and easy, whether by touch or buttons
  • includes MP3 support for background music
  • onboard memory plus dual slots (SD plus Memory Stick Duo) for memory cards means up to 50,000 books may be stored 
  • EPUB and PDF support (along with multiple other formats) offers wide range of e-book options, including borrowing form public libraries
  • light and easy to hold in one hand

 

The Bad

  • no Kindle e-book support (not the end of the world, but does somewhat limit choices)
  • no wireless support (PC or Mac computer required to manage library and buy e-books)
  • most Expensive e-reader in its class

 

Hands On With the Reader Touch

I really liked last year's version of the Reader Touch, and if hadn't been for the fact that screen glare made it virtually unreadable in many lighting situations, it would have been my personal choice for an e-reader. The new Reader Touch doesn't just improve on the glare situation, it eradicates it. I spent two weeks testing one under every kind of light condition possible and could not find fault with it. Glare is gone and contrast is excellent, with no sign of that faded gray tinge that last year's display suffered from. Not only that, but the touchscreen was far more responsive than last year's -whether using a finger or the included stylus. Fingerprints were not an issue either and for purists, page navigation and other essentials still have dedicated buttons. All of the improvements help to make for a more enjoyable reading experience. Sony boosted onboard memory to 2GB (from 512MB) so you can load the Reader Touch up with over 1,000 e-books at a time without even thinking about making use of the dual expansion slots. With support for non-encrypted MP3 and AAC music files, you can take your tunes with you, although the interface and size are hardly a replacement for a standalone MP3 player -and you'll drain the battery much faster playing music. 

 

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