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Sony Pocket Edition PRS-350

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What's hot: Great touch experience with sharp display, extremely compact and light.

What's not: No wireless, must transfer books to reader via USB. More expensive than Kindle and Nook.


Reviewed September 16, 2010 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

You've got to hand it to Sony, just when things were looking murky (literally and figuratively) for their ereader line, they come out of left field with a clever new technology that finally gives us a touch screen that doesn't adversely affect E-Ink's display quality. Their new 2010 line of Sony Readers all feature touch screens, even the Pocket Edition that had previously lacked touch. The Pocket Edition, like all the fall 2010 Sony Readers, has the new Pearl E-Ink display with improved contrast just like the Kindle 3 and Kindle DX Graphite. But Sony went one better and added a touch screen that makes for intuitive device navigation and quicker highlighting and dictionary lookups (no pumping the navigation keys endlessly to move from word to word). Gone is the resistive touch layer over the E-Ink display that reduced contrast and added glare. The new models use infrared beams to detect your finger-- very clever and tech-chic! The readers have shed weight (not that they were terribly heavy before), and the Pocket Edition weighs a mind-bogglingly light 5.47 ounces-- about as much as a high end smartphone. Nice. What's the bad news? Sony's readers, even the 5" model, cost more than the Kindle 3 WiFi and Barnes & Noble Nook.

Sony Reader Pocket Edition PRS-350

The Sony Reader Pocket Edition lists for $179 and it has a 5" Pearl E-Ink display. It's the smallest of Sony's Readers and it's also the smallest mass market US E-Ink ebook reader. The PRS-350 easily fits in a roomy pocket or purse and it's smaller than a paperback book. It looks sleek and cute-- it's considerably smaller than the Kindle 3 since there's no hardware keyboard. Instead you enter text using the on-screen keyboard and your finger or the included stylus that lives in a silo in the reader. The front face and left edge are metal while the right edge and back are plastic. The old PRS-300 Pocket Edition d-pad is gone since there's no need for it with a touch screen, and the page turn buttons, home button, options and zoom buttons remain. You can turn pages via the buttons or a swipe of your finger across the display.

Sony Reader Pocket Edition PRS-350

What about the larger and more expensive Sony Readers? The Sony Reader Touch Edition PRS-650 has a 6" display and the same overall physical design, user interface and display technology. The 7" Sony Reader Daily Edition PRS-950 is the only Sony Reader with wireless. The PRS-350 has 2 gigs of internal storage with 1.4 gigs available to store books and other documents (enough to hold many hundred books). It doesn't have an expansion slot and you'll both charge and sync books to the reader using the included micro USB to USB cable. As with prior Sony Readers, the Pocket 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.


Deals and Shopping:




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), 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.

Sony Reader Pocket Edition PRS-350


Sony Reader Pocket Edition PRS-350


Sony Reader Pocket Edition PRS-350

Sony PRS-350 and Nook

Above: Text quality comparison up close- the Nook and Sony PRS-350.

Sony PRS-350 and Kindle 3

Above: Text quality comparison up close- the Sony PRS-350 and the Kindle DX Graphite (both with Pearl E-Ink displays).

Sony PRS-350, Nook  and Kindle 3

The 9.7" Kindle DX Graphite, Barnes & Noble Nook and the Sony Reader Daily Edition PRS-350.


Video Review

Here's our video review of the Sony Reader Pocket Edition PRS-350. We demo the touch user interface, page turn speed, PDF features and text quality.



We really like Sony's extremely portable and light Pocket Edition Reader. The display quality is top notch by E-Ink standards and the touch feature makes using the reader a breeze. If you're looking for an ebook reader that supports the relatively open ePUB standard and fits in your pocket, the Sony is it. Our only complaints are the price (though the hardware is lovely and likely justifies the price) and the lack of wireless (nearly unforgivable). It's not that hard to load books onto the reader, but for computer novices whose greatest fear is tackling yet another USB peripheral, wireless would be a strong selling point.

Pro: Great touch experience with sharp display, extremely compact and light. Supports ePUB which is a fairly open standard and allows access to public library books and Google's public domain books.

Con: No wireless, must transfer books to reader via USB. More expensive than Kindle and Nook.


Price: $179

Web Site:

Display: 5”, 16-level grayscale display, E-Ink Pearl Electronic Paper technology. 800 x 600 resolution.

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: 2gigs with 1.4 gigs available.

Dimensions: 6 3/4 x 4 1/8 x 11/32 inches. Weight: 5.47 ounces.

Battery: Rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery, not user replaceable. Up to 10,00 page turns per charge (6,000 for ePUB). Approx. 3 hours charge time via USB.

Expansion: None.

In the Box: The Sony Reader, stylus, USB cable, Quick Start Guide.

Desktop Software: Versions available for Windows and Mac OS X.


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