We never judge an ebook reader by its cover, so we gave the Sony Reader Touch Edition PRS-650 a spin to see if it lived up to its sleek exterior. The Touch is unveiled alongside the Sony Reader Pocket Edition PRS-350, a smaller version. The two new readers are very similar -- they both sport touchscreens, 2GB of memory and built-in dictionaries -- so we'll cover them both here and mention the differences as necessary.
The Touch's 6-inch touchscreen use e-ink, as does the Pocket's 5-inch touchscreen. You can stare at an e-ink screen for much longer than a computer screen without straining your eyes. That makes it much more comfortable to read for long periods. You can also adjust the size of the text to make it easier on your eyes.
Although the readers both display pictures, they only show in black and white -- or rather, 16 shades of grey. The biggest strength of an e-ink screen is it can be read in any lighting conditions, including bright sunlight that would glare off a computer screen. E-ink is also extremely low-powered -- Sony claims the Touch is capable of two full weeks of reading on a single battery charge.
The screen isn't as precise or responsive as a computer touchscreen. It's great for writing notes and navigating menus, however. You can type notes on an on-screen keyboard or use the attached stylus to make notes and highlight text. You can also turn the page with a swipe of the finger, which adds to that all-important 'book feeling'.
The readers are very quick, but there's still a flicker between each page and each menu as the e-ink adjusts. It's worth trying the ebook reader in the shop before buying to see if that's going to annoy you. After all, you'll be turning a page every minute, so it could get irritating.
Pocket or Touch?
The Pocket Edition doesn't do music, but the Touch plays back MP3 and AAC tunes as you read, via headphones. For some reason, the 3.5mm headphone jack is positioned at the bottom of the reader, which means the headphones could poke you in the crotch if you rest the reader in your lap. It also means the headphone cord runs in front of the screen, and if you move it round the back it'll pull on your ears.
You need to plug the reader into your computer via USB to load it with ebooks. Ebooks can be downloaded from the online Reader Store, or from other sources as long as they are in the standard ePub and PDF formats. You can also read Word documents and other text files. Dictionaries are built in so you can look up any word as your read.
Both readers pack 2GB of on-board memory. The Touch also offers two separate slots for an SD card and a Sony Memory Stick Pro Duo.
The Reader Touch Edition PRS-650 is available in black or red. You can choose from a standard cover, or a deluxe version that includes a built-in reading lamp. The latest Amazon Kindle offers a similar accessory.
The Sony Reader Touch Edition PRS-650 is definitely one of the best ebook readers going. It's lightweight and packs a decent-sized screen. It's bursting with extra features, from music to built-in dictionaries. However, unless you're desperate for that extra inch of screen real estate, the Sony Reader Pocket Edition PRS-350 does the job equally well. It doesn't do music or offer extra memory, but these are not dealbreakers for us. At the core functions -- reading books and making notes -- the Pocket is just as good as the Touch.
Edited by Emma Bayly