What's hot: Excellent Pearl E-Ink screen with touch that doesn't degrade display quality. Works with public libary books and Google books, great dictionary selection, intuitive user interface.
What's not: No wireless, more expensive than Kindle and Nook.
Reviewed October 31, 2010 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Editor's Note: Sony has dropped the price of the PRS-650 to $199 for the 2010 holiday season.
The third time's a charm, and that adage proves true with Sony's third generation touch screen ebook reader, the Sony Reader Touch Edition PRS-650. The first try, the PRS-700, was a failure due to a murky display and the second attempt, the PRS-600 Touch Edition was an improvement but still not quite there. For their third gen devices, the Sony Reader PRS-350 5" Pocket Edition, the PRS-650 and the Sony Reader PRS-950 Daily Edition, Sony went with an ingenious new design that uses infrared beams to detect your finger rather than a glare and murk-inducing resistive touch screen layer on top of the E-Ink display. It's sensitive, works like a charm and is invisible to the eye. Better yet, like the Amazon Kindle 3, Kindle DX Graphite and Sony Reader PRS-350, the PRS-650 has the new Pearl E-Ink display with markedly better contrast. The only thing missing from this otherwise winning recipe is wireless-- for that you'll have to get the $299 $249 Sony Reader Daily Edition PRS-950.
The 3 Sony Readers for 2010, key differences
The Sony $229 PRS-650 is functionally and cosmetically a near twin of the $179 Pocket Edition PRS-350, and as such, the reviews will share some words. The Touch Edition PRS-650 differs from the PRS-350 in the following ways:
1. 6" vs. 5" display (both have the same resolution, Pearl E-Ink and touch technologies)
2. The Touch Edition PRS-650 has both SDHC and Memory Stick PRO Duo card slots while the Pocket Edition has none.
3. The Touch Edition has a basic music player that supports MP3 and AAC files, and it has a 3.5mm stereo jack (the Pocket Edition has no audio capabilities).
The Sony Reader PRS-950 Daily Edition varies from the Touch Edition in the following ways:
1. The PRS-950 has a 7" display with higher resolution (same E-Ink and touch technologies)
2. The $299 PRS-950 Daily Edition adds both WiFi and 3G via AT&T 3G (3G is only for book shopping on Sony's ebook store).
The Sony Reader comes with a stylus but you can use your finger too.
Deals and Shopping:
The Sony Reader Touch Edition is available in two colors: red and black. It's the lightest and smallest of the big name ereaders, and it weighs 7.68 ounces vs. the heavyweight Barnes & Noble Nook that tips the scales at 12.1 ounces. Sony goes for quality over price, and as such the casing is mostly metal and the build quality is superb. The reader has a music player with volume controls and a 3.5mm stereo jack but no speaker, a large stylus that lives in a silo at the top right corner, and a few buttons on the front bezel. These buttons handle page turns (you can also swipe your finger across the screen to swipe), text size changes and options. At the center there's a home button that takes you back to the finger-friendly home screen with its large icons. All front button features are accessible via the touch screen as well.
The reader has a micro USB port and the ebook reader both charges and syncs over USB. Sony sells a charger separately, and the old barrel-style PSP charger won't work with the fall 2010 line of Sony Readers. We found that many recent micro USB smartphone chargers worked fine, including HTC and Samsung chargers. Since the Sony Reader lacks wireless, you'll use the USB cable or a card reader to load books onto the Touch Edition. Sony's desktop software and ebookstore application works with Windows and Mac OS X computers. It's come a long way since the early days and we had no trouble using the software on either platform. If you want to see Sony's selection of books and get an idea of the software's look and feel, visit the Sony eBookstore website. Sony's software will automatically authorize with Adobe Digital Editions should you wish to check out public library books in ePUB or PDF formats.
Should you prefer to get your reading material from other sources like kobobooks.com, google books or public domain material, you can use Calibre to manage your library and load books. Since you can load over a thousand books using the reader's 2 gigs of internal memory, and even more with expansion cards, it's not like you'll run out of reading material while on the road as long as you load those books before you leave. If you're the spontaneous type or loathe using USB peripherals and memory cards with your computer, then Sony's Touch and Pocket Editions aren't for you. There's no way to access Sony's ebookstore directly from these readers since they lack wireless of any kind. How's Sony's selection?? It's quite good and you'll find most current bestsellers there as well as a broad selection of non-NY Times headliners. Amazon still has the largest selection of books overall, and we suggest you visit Sony's ebookstore site to see if the selection suits your tastes. Prices are similar across bookstores these days thanks to price competition and agency model pricing for bestsellers.
As with prior Sony Readers, the Touch Edition supports ePUB including standard Adobe Adept DRM, PDFs (including Adobe DRM PDFs), Sony's own BBeB format, text and RTF. You can also load MS Word files, but you must use the Sony desktop software to do so since it converts Word files before loading them on the reader.
Sony Readers are compatible with Sony eBookstore books (ePUB), Kobobooks.com and other sites that sell standard Adobe Adept DRM eBooks. It is not compatible with Kindle books (those are a completely different format that's pretty much exclusive to Amazon) and it's not compatible with Barnes & Noble eBooks because those use a different type of Adobe DRM.
Touch Screen, Pearl E-Ink Display Quality and PDFs
I was skeptical that Sony finally found a way to make a touch screen reader that didn't significantly diminish display quality. Their track record starting with the short-lived PRS-700 and even the more recent PRS-600 Touch Edition and PRS-900 Daily Edition (both replaced with the 2010 models) wasn't good. These readers had glare and contrast was weak; the background was a darker shade of gray compared to non-touch readers. But Sony surprised me and removed the touch layer that caused these problems. Instead, IR beams sense your finger's location and touch-- and this makes for an even more responsive touch experience than prior Sony Readers.
The display looks as good as the Kindle 3 and Nook's. In fact, text is a bit darker than the Nook and Kindle 2 thanks to the new Pearl E-Ink display that boasts better contrast. The background is a similar shade of gray as the Kindle 2 and Nook, but it's not quite as light as the Kindle 3 and Kindle DX Graphite. But we're talking very small, nuanced differences. The net result is the Sony ereader looks as good as any E-Ink reader on the market, rather than falling far short as did the older Sony touch readers. The PRS-650 offers contrast adjustment as well (press the Options button to find it). Contrast increases sometimes look better, but some fonts look more jaggy when contrast is raised. This means you'll get different results depending on the ebook and fonts it uses. Test it out on a per-book basis to see what works best.
As with all ereaders, you can change the font size, from very small to absurdly large. You can't change the typeface, however. Page turn speed is good and swiping with a finger works easily and reliably to turn pages (you can set your preferred direction for the page turn motion). PDF handling is impressive, though I'd choose an ereader with an even larger display if PDFs were a large part of my reading regime. You can change the font size at the expense of layout, or you can use the on-screen zoom controls to zoom the page (both text and graphics). This maintains the layout, and you'll have to scroll using on-screen controls to move around the page. The new zoom lock feature holds the selected zoom level even when you turn a page. Well done, Sony.
Dictionaries Galore, Note-taking Too
The Sony comes with 2 English dictionaries (The New Oxford American and the superior Oxford Dictionary of English) and a nice collection of translation dictionaries that allow you to translate French, German, Spanish, Italian and Dutch to and from English. You can switch dictionaries by visiting settings.
You can create highlights, written notes and typed notes using your finger or the included stylus that lives in a silo in the Sony's upper right corner. Notes sync to the Sony desktop software, and are of minimal use there. You can use the on-screen keyboard to search for words and phrases or enter a page number.
Here's our 10 minute video review of the Sony Reader PRS-650 Touch Edition. We demo the touch interface, note-taking, PDF handling and more:
There's a lot to like about the Sony Reader Touch Edition; it has a responsive and high contrast Pearl E-Ink display, is easier and more intuitive to use than the Kindle and Nook thanks to the very good touch UI and it has a classy, compact design. This is the easiest 6" E-Ink reader to stow in a pocket or bag and it's quite light, yet the casing is mostly metal. Sony Readers work with Adobe Adept DRM ePUB and PDF documents and that means you can shop at other ebookstores that sell standard Adept Adobe DRM eBooks, check out digital library books and make use of Google's million public domain classics. The price is a bit higher than the 6" E-Ink Kindle and Nook, though not so much to cause us concern. However, the lack of wireless detracts, at least in the US market, where would-be buyers are tempted by the Kindle and Nook's easy on-device buying experience and automatic periodical delivery. If you don't mind using your computer to get content on the Sony Reader, it's worth a look thanks to the top-notch touch experience, Pearl E-Ink display, excellent build quality and the relatively open ePUB standard it supports.
Display:6”, 16-level grayscale display, E-Ink Pearl Electronic Paper technology. 800 x 600 resolution. Touch screen that works with finger and stylus, 6 font sizes, PDF zooming and note-taking features.
Media formats: Unsecured Text: BBeB Book, ePUB, Adobe PDF, TXT, RTF, Adobe Digital Editions, Microsoft Word (Conversion to the Reader-requires Word installed on your PC). DRM Text: BBeB Book, Adobe Digital Editions ePUB and PDF.
Storage:2 gigs with 1.4 gigs available.
Battery:940 mAh Lithium Ion battery (not user accessible). Battery life: up to 2 weeks.
Dimensions:6.61 x 4.68 x 0.38 inches. Weight: 7.58 ounces.
Expansion:SD card (SDHC) and Memory Stick PRO Duo card slots.
Audio: Has MP3/AAC music player and 3.5mm stereo jack (no speaker).
Dictionaries:2 English (Oxford English and Oxford New American) and 10 translation dictionaries.
In the Box:The Sony Reader, stylus, USB cable, Quick Start Guide.
Desktop Software: Versions available for Windows and Mac OS X. Must load books via USB or memory card since the reader lacks wireless.