With Amazon's Kindle finally available in the UK, Sony's ebook readers have more competition than ever. The Reader Touch Edition PRS-600, one of Sony's two latest models, lacks many features of the Kindle, but brings touchscreen navigation to the world of ebook readers.
It's on sale now for about £240. That's roughly £20 more than the Kindle, and £70 more than the smaller, non-touchscreen Reader Pocket Edition PRS-300.
What's on display?
All ebook readers we've seen, including the Touch, use e-ink displays. This screen technology only requires power from the battery when 'turning' pages. Once a page has loaded, the screen is essentially switched off. As a result, you get no more eyestrain from reading text on an e-ink screen than you get from reading a physical book.
You can realistically go for days and days without ever charging the Touch (we didn't need to charge it once during our review period). It has 512MB of internal memory, which is roughly a third of what the Kindle has, but enough to store about 350 paperbacks at any one time nonetheless. SD and Memory Stick card slots can expand the internal memory by up to 16GB each.
The main difference between the Kindle and the Touch is that the latter's e-ink display is touch-sensitive. You can turn a page by swiping your finger from the right-hand side of the screen to the left. More notably, you can also easily underline sentences, circle passages and add annotations using the stylus. You can browse lists of annotations, and can quickly jump to whichever book and page they were made on.
The problem is that, probably for everyone but students, the touchscreen adds nothing to the experience of actually reading. Worse is that the resistive touchscreen has an irritating reflective gloss, so text looks nothing like a printed page, as it does on the Kindle or the Pocket. It's still comfortable to read and text is clear, but other displays are much better.
Open to competitors
Certain other features compensate to a degree. The Kindle bookstore uses DRM that ties the books you buy from it to Amazon devices. Sony's bookstore, however, supports the more widely used ePub format. Although many ebooks bought from sites such as Waterstone's use DRM, the DRM itself is supported by more than just Sony's devices. By buying an ebook in the ePub format, you're not restricting yourself to just one manufacturer's products. Be warned, though: navigating the Waterstone's ebook store is not fun. In fact, it's downright painful. The Kindle wins the battle for sheer computer-free simplicity.
Popular document formats such as Adobe PDF, Microsoft Word and .TXT text files can simply be dragged and dropped into the Reader's memory via 'My Computer' on a PC or 'Finder' on a Mac. This also applies to ePub files, although, if they use DRM, you'll need to use Adobe's Digital Editions transfer software, which is free to download and easy to use. The file-sharing world is full of illegally shared ebooks too, but many classic works can be snagged legitimately and for free from the Project Gutenberg Web site.
Other features include a basic MP3 player that supports album artwork. Songs can be played in the background as you read, using headphones (unlike the Kindle, the Touch doesn't have a built-in speaker). DRM-free iTunes downloads are also supported. The visually impaired can take advantage of one of a number of large fonts.
In many ways, we prefer Sony's Reader Touch Edition PRS-600 to the Kindle. The Kindle's bookstore feels too small, so the freedom Sony provides to get books from many other sources is too attractive to ignore.
But the Touch is a more expensive product and, unlike the Kindle, requires a computer to get content onto it, and that content is still quite a challenge to get hold of legitimately. Plus, due to its glossy sheen, the touchscreen detracted too much from our reading experience for us to really enjoy using it.
We'd recommend the Touch to students who want to easily annotate their lengthy study notes, but, for most people, we think the touchscreen is a largely unnecessary distraction. Sony's Pocket Reader PRS-300 is definitely our preferred choice.
Edited by Charles Kloet