Speaking of Sony's desktop software, it's much improved and both the Mac and Windows versions are stable and reasonably quick. The PRS-350 has a partition with the desktop installers pre-loaded, or you can simply download the latest version for free from Sony's website. You don't have to use Sony's desktop software unless you wish to purchase books from Sony's online bookstore. You can use Calibre or just drag books to the reader when it's mounted as a USB drive on your computer. If you use Sony's desktop software, it will automatically authorize the reader with Adobe for DRM eBooks (nearly all ePUB books have DRM as do library ePUBs). If you choose not to use Sony's software, you'll need to download Adobe Digital Editions and authorize the reader if you wish to load Adobe DRM-protected ebooks.
Sadly, the PRS-350 and its 6" bigger brother the PRS-650 lack wireless. That means you can't buy and download books over 3G, you must use USB. Given the popularity of wireless ebook delivery, we can't imagine why Sony left this feature out. If you buy the top of the line 7" Sony PRS-950, you'll get WiFi and 3G, but that model costs $299.
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. The PRS-350 also works with Google's million public domain books and with public library ebooks. Sony's ebookstore has a solid selection of books and you'll find most current bestsellers there, but they don't have as many books as Amazon. Still, I've rarely had trouble finding the book I was looking for (I read mostly literature and fiction). Prices are similar for most online bookstores these days since Apple and the publishers introduced the agency pricing model for ebooks.
As with previous readers, the Sony also supports text, RTF and PDF format including Adobe DRM protected PDFs. PDF rendering and viewing features are improved over previous models, and we'll cover that later.
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 2 and Nook's. In fact, text is a bit darker 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 Pocket Edition PRS-350 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-350 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 a 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.