At £170, Sony's Reader Pocket Edition PRS-300 is the most affordable of the three ebook readers we've seen recently. It's also relatively basic, lacking the integrated wireless bookstore of Amazon's £220 Kindle, and the arguably pointless touchscreen of Sony's £240 Reader Touch Edition PRS-600.
Easy as A, B, C, D, e-ink
If you've been waiting for a pocketable, no-nonsense ebook reader, the Pocket is it. If the Kindle were an iPhone, the Pocket would be an iPod nano. It's simple, it does one main job and it does it extremely well.
The Pocket has the same vital organ as almost all ebook readers: an easy-to-read e-ink display that only draws battery power when loading pages. Once the screen has refreshed, it is, to all intents and purposes, switched off, so you'll suffer no more eyestrain from reading the Pocket's screen than you'll get from reading a printed piece of paper.
You can comfortably hold the Pocket in the palm of your hand, and read for hours without suffering any eyeball fatigue. Add to that the fact that it can store over 300 paperback books in its 512MB of internal memory, and you can pretty much guarantee you'll neither be bored on holiday nor troubled by trying to find recharge points. Note that, unlike the Touch, the Pocket's memory is unfortunately not expandable with SD cards.
Buying books is still a pain
Online ebook stores are still somewhat in their infancy, including the one for Amazon's popular Kindle. With the Pocket, you can buy from any store that offers books in the widely used ePub format. Waterstone's is the best such site in the UK, offering thousands of popular titles. But, as well as being a pain to navigate, the site is by no means well-stocked, and we struggled to find a number of popular titles that we wanted to buy.
You'll also need to connect the Pocket up to a PC or Mac via a USB cable and transfer DRM-protected files using Adobe's Digital Editions software. It's easy, but using the Kindle's no-computer-needed wireless bookstore is even simpler.
The Pocket is far more compatible with other book formats than the Kindle. You can freely transfer DRM-free ePub files, Adobe PDF documents, Microsoft Word files and anything saved in the .TXT format. As you read, you can bookmark pages, although there's no option to annotate, as there is on the Kindle and Touch, and there's no search functionality. The Pocket is an ebook reader, pure and simple.
The Pocket's menu system is simple and easy to understand. In fact, it's probably the
simplest we've tested so far. A simple 'up', 'down', 'left',
'right' and 'select' control system is complemented by a bunch of buttons down
the right-hand side of the screen. They're used, for example, in conjunction with the chapter list of a book. If you want to skip to chapter eight, push the
button marked '8'. The functionality of these buttons is contextual,
based on what's currently displayed on the screen, rather like the buttons of an ATM. The control system is intuitive and speedy to use.
The Sony Reader Pocket Edition PRS-300 is our favourite ebook reader among those currently on the UK market. It doesn't break any new ground, but it provides an affordable and highly satisfying digital reading experience without making you use any of the proprietary book formats that the Amazon Kindle employs, or the annoying touchscreen of the Reader Touch Edition PRS-600.
Edited by Charles Kloet