Large touch screen
Memory card expansion
Adjustable text size
Good battery life and large internal memory storage
Decent LED lighting, but not good enough for very dark-room use
No Mac support
The Amazon Kindle has been taking off recently, but Sony has answered with an e-book reader of their own, the Sony Reader Digital Book PRS-700. Their model features a touch screen, a sleek design, a fast processor, and a fantastic interface. Although a little pricey, it might be worth at least looking at over the Amazon Kindle, especially since the Kindle is so hard to get due to its popularity.
In all, the Sony Reader Digital Book PRS-700 weighs 10-ounces and measures about 7 x 5 x 0.5-inches, which is comparable to a paperback novel. The display measures 6-inches (diagonally), but more on that later. We liked this compact size because it’s large enough to read comfortably, but small enough to throw in a purse or small bag. Along the top side of the reader, there’s a power switch, memory card slot (SD and Memory Stick Pro). Along the bottom of the device is a volume control, headphone port, and mini-USB and power port.
The most impressive feature of the Sony over the Kindle is the 6-inch touch screen. Like the Kindle, it’s a monochrome display and it suffers from the same problems as other e-book readers, which is the lack of a pure-white background and higher contrast. The resolution is 800×600 and is very readable and comfortable, despite the shortcomings we just mentioned. Because it uses E-Ink technology just like the Kindle, it’s optimum to have bright-light when your reading a book for better visibility, but Sony put a few LED’s along the sides of the screen for backlighting that you can turn on in low-light conditions. Although a good idea, they aren’t quiet bright enough to read in very low light conditions, so be warned. Touch sensitivity allows for more advanced user control of their book, including the ability to turn the page by simply swiping a finger across the screen. Along the bottom of the device are a few buttons for access to a few other features, including book navigation (page back, home, etc.), text size (5 different sizes), and a button that allows you to search the book by using the on-screen virtual keyboard. If you feel like you need a stylus, Sony has graciously included it for you hidden in a slot along the top-right edge of the device.
There are a few shortfalls we need to mention, including the lack of an included AC adapter when you purchase it, but you can buy one separately for $30 from Sony.com. If you elect not to get the AC adapter, you’re only option to charge the device is via USB from your computer. In addition to that, the Sony Reader Digital Book PRS-700 is also PC only and does not support Macs at all. To use the device, you have to install the included Sony Reader on your PC, which registers your device and allows you to access the Sony e-book online store.
In regards to Sony’s online e-book store, they have done a pretty nice job in organizing it and making it useful. To access it, you’ll need an Internet-connected PC (again, not a Mac) and from there you can easily browse and search for any book you want. When you purchase a book from the online store, it comes as a DRM encrypted e-book format, which makes it so it can only be read on your registered device and the PC that is associated with your Sony Reader Digital Book PRS-700. This prevents you from sending it to your friends to read on their own PC and e-book reader. Sony’s online store currently has around 60,000 titles and they say that will expand to 100,000 by early 2009. Unlike the Kindle, you cannot purchase e-books wirelessly because the Sony device doesn’t have a built-in cellular modem. There are a few file formats that are supported as well, including PDFs, Microsoft Word docs, RTF, ePub, and BBeB Book files. You can also subscribe to RSS feeds from Web sites online and have them downloaded to your e-book when you sync with your computer.
Sony has increased the processor speed on this e-book model, which means there is minimal delay when turning pages, but it’s still noticeable. As with all other E-Ink e-book readers, the screen flashes when you turn pages due to the way the screen refreshes when it has to display something new, but this is a symptom with all e-book readers, including the Kindle. Sony claims that the rechargeable battery will last you around 7,500 page turns or about two weeks of reading, but if you use the LEDs, that will decrease. There’s also 256MB of memory built into the device, which means you can store up to 350 average-size books, according to Sony’s specs. If you need to expand that memory, you can use memory cards as mentioned earlier.