(Head Honcho)
09/04/10 11:45 AM
Hands on with the new Sony Reader PRS-350 and PRS-650 eBook readers

If you've been into ebook readers, you know that Sony's Daily and Touch Edition had wonderful touch user interfaces but somewhat murky displays with less contrast and increased glare. Why? The touch screen layer on top of the E-Ink display caused the problems. We're pretty impressed that Sony brought a completely new engineering design to the table and tossed the touch screen layer. Now on their just announced Pocket, Touch and Daily Editions (PRS-350, PRS-650 and PRS-950-- pay attention to the model numbers since the product names are the same as the last gen), there is no touch screen layer, yet they all have touch screens that work with your finger as well as a standard (non-proprietary) EMR pen.

The Sony Reader Touch PRS-650.

They have the new Pearl E-Ink display like the Amazon Kindle Graphite and Kindle 3 we recently reviewed. The Pearl display has higher contrast and notably deeper blacks. The new touch technology uses infrared sensors to figure out where your finger is. And touch is indeed very responsive, in fact more so than the last gen resistive touch screen layer on top of E-Ink. All 3 devices have the same intuitive user interface and we really like it.

Do they look much better? Yes. We had a chance to the play with the Pocket and Touch Edition models here at IFA in Berlin (the Daily Edition isn't ready yet). The screen looked like a standard E-Ink display, and that's a good thing. Is it as contrasty as the Kindle 3? Unfortunately I didn't have mine in my bag so I couldn't test them side by side. And I feel I'd really have to place them side by side to see any difference because the new Sony models look that good.

Above: The Sony Reader Pocket Edition PRS-350 in pink.

Only the Daily Edition 950 has wireless access to Sony's ebookstore, and we think that's unfortunate for the US market where buyers seem to love the convenience of buying and downloading wirelessly using Amazon and Barnes & Noble's ebookstores. And for the US market, the prices are a bit high with the 5" Pocket Edition starting at $179 and the 6" at $229 (considerably higher than the competing Kindle 3 and Nook both with wireless). In the Euro market, the pricing difference isn't as painfully apparent between Kindle 3 and PRS-650. We'll just have to see if a touch screen, smaller sizes and widespread bricks and mortar availability help Sony stay competitive with Amazon's readers.


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