If big things truly come in small packages, then Sony's petite PRS-300 Reader Pocket Edition has a lot to live up to.
With a 5-inch E-ink display, the Pocket Reader is the smallest offering so far from the major eBook Reader manufacturers. But don't let its small stature fool you. While I approached the device with a healthy amount of skepticism, I came away pleasantly surprised.
Below are some of my key observations about Sony's PRS-300 eReader.
Excellent portability: As someone who has a 63-inch TV and uses an Archos 5 as my main portable media player, I'm usually in the "bigger-is-better" camp when it comes to screen size for my electronics. That being said, I found myself quite happy with the PRS-300's compact stature.
This reader's small size makes it perfect for carrying around when you're out and about. There were many times when I just put the device in my jacket or jeans pocket and took it with me while waiting for someone at the store or going out to grab a bite to eat. I even brought it to a college basketball game for my halftime amusement — no offense to mascots and cheerleaders.
All in all, the PRS-300's portability makes it a natural fit for traveling. And although it's small, it's still big enough to allow for comfortable reading. It's like reading a paperback.
Good design: The PRS-300 sports a nice, clean look that doesn't look "plastic-ish" or cheap. From its shape to its weight, the Pocket reader just has a comfortable, solid feel. The buttons and interface are also pretty intuitive for a device that doesn't have a keyboard or touchscreen. Numbered buttons, for example, can be used with corresponding tabs on the screen and to skip directly to a specific page number. Even tech-averse folks should be able to figure the controls out easily.
Nice display: The Sony PRS-300 has one of the nicer E-Ink displays I've seen in an eReader, featuring good contrast and crisp text. Even under indoor lighting, which tend to make E-Ink pages look more gray, page backgrounds for the PRS-300 look whiter compared to some readers. Use it in soft natural light and the display truly excels.
Formats and extra features: As someone who had a Sony camcorder that had features gimped when connected to a non-Sony computer, I was never a fan of Sony's tendency to force its devices and proprietary formats on consumers. So Sony's decision to go the non-proprietary route with its eBook reader formats is a welcome development. While Amazon is basically forcing its own AZW format on people, Sony's PRS-300 directly supports the more open EPUB format, along with PDF, TXT, RTF and BBeB. This means better compatibility with services such as Google Books. The PRS-300 also supports eBook checkout via local libraries and free RSS downloads from your favorite Internet sites.
Price: As much as I like eBook readers, I think the devices as a whole tend to be priced too high. At $199.99, the PRS-300 has a price tag that's easier to swallow and is one of the more affordable eBook readers out there.
UPDATE: Pricing has been lowered on this eReader since this review originally ran. New pricing for the Sony Reader Pocket is $149.99.
Loading lag: Loading menus with the PRS-300 can take more time compared to, say, Sony's own Touch reader. While the refresh rate for regular eReader formats is fine, PDFs tend to take longer to load, including while changing pages (once again, Sony's own Touch reader doesn't have the same issue). The way E-Ink pages refresh can also be a bit disconcerting for people not used to it. Then again, that basically applies to all E-Ink readers.
No Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi would have been a natural fit for the PRS-300 given how its size makes it a great travel companion. I'm sure keeping costs down factored into the decision not to include the feature. But it still would have been a nice option to have.
Power options: The device doesn't come with an AC adapter, which means you have to charge it via your computer's USB port, which takes longer (about 3.5 hours vs. 2 hours with an AC adapter). Using a charger with a USB slot such as an iPod charger doesn't work (trust me, I tried). But the charging indicator did light up when I used my PSP's AC adapter so that's one option if you happen to have it. The battery is also non-replaceable unless you open up the PRS-300 case, which Sony doesn't recommend. So when your battery ultimately dies, you'll have to send it in for replacement, which can be costly.
Non-expandable memory: The PRS-300 doesn't come with a slot for a memory card. That means you just have to live with its 512MB internal memory.
The Sony PRS-300 Reader Pocket Edition is ideal for folks looking for a no-nonsense eBook reader that's easy to take on the go.
It features an excellent E-Ink display and good battery life at about 6,800 to 7,500 page turns depending on the format. Extensive format support also means you can take advantage of several eBook sources and services.
The device is pretty basic. It doesn't have Wi-Fi, it can't play music, it doesn't have a keyboard and it doesn't have a touchscreen. But that simplicity can also be a selling point for folks who just want a device for reading books and nothing else.
Combined with its price and portability, the PRS-300 is a solid eReader that fills a niche in the increasingly crowded eBook segment.