With the Apple iPad making a splash when it launched earlier this year, and Amazon enjoying continued success with its Kindle device, e-book readers are a boom business. So much so that Sony wants to have two bites at this particular digital cherry, offering two Reader devices in its portfolio.
The less expensive of the two, the Sony Reader Pocket PRS-350, comes in at a very reasonably-sounding £159 inc VAT. Unfortunately for Sony, though, that’s £10 more expensive than the fully 3G and Wi-Fi-enabled version of Amazon’s Kindle, which these days sets the benchmark for e-book readers.
The Kindle’s appeal is understandable. It provides access to Amazon’s vast array of e-books from anywhere that has a 3G or Wi-Fi signal, and offers free reader apps for PC, iPhone and Android smartphones that let you synchronise what you’re reading. Sony’s Reader Pocket PRS-350 may not have all those advantages – but it still has a fair bit going on.
Compared to most e-book readers, the Sony Reader Pocket PRS-350′s is very small, with a screen size of just 5 inches. That’s a lot smaller than the average paperback, but it does offer the advantage that at 104x145x8.5mm and weighing just 155g, the device will fit quite snugly into most pockets. Its aluminium chassis is solid, and you may even be able to get away without a protective case.
Text on the 600×800-pixel screen is drawn in 16 shades of grey, and is crisp and readable. Like many of the new breed of e-book reader, the Sony Reader Pocket PRS-350 has a touch-sensitive screen that allows you to move through pages by sweeping left and right across the screen – though we felt the processor was a little slow to turn the pages.
The other advantage of a touch-sensitive display is that you can write things onto the screen, adding notes to a page or searching for words and phrases. For this, you need to use the supplied stylus, which allows far greater precision than a fingertip. A drawing application also lets you make notes onto a blank screen, effectively allowing the Sony Reader Pocket PRS-350 to double as a notebook.
For those who prefer the button-based approach there are five thin, narrow buttons beneath the screen. You can use these for page turning as well as for getting to the Sony Reader Pocket PRS-350′s home screen, zooming in on text, and digging down to the full set of menu options that offers things like font size changes.
The PRS-350 coems with 2GB of internal memory, which Sony says is enough space for 1200 e-books. There’s no way to expand this using memory cards. If you want that facility, you’ll need to choose the more expensive Sony Reader Touch PRS-650. You’ll also need to go for that reader if you want music playback facilities, as there are none here.
The Sony Reader Pocket PRS-350 supports a range of data formats. Non-DRM formats include EPUB, PDF, Microsoft Word, TXT, RTF and BBeB. DRM formats run to EPUB and BBeB. Image formats supported are JPEG, GIF, PNG and BMP.
Sony includes the Oxford English Dictionary, which offers full definitions often spanning several screens. We found it was an interesting read in its own right. There are also translating dictionaries taking English to and from French, German, Spanish, Dutch and Italian.
Sony claims the PRS-350′s battery is good for two full weeks of reading between charges. We felt happier charging it every couple of days, to be on the safe side.
As we noted at the outset, Amazon's Kindle is really the one to beat when it comes to e-book readers. And the Sony Reader Pocket PRS-350 may not quite have the Kindle's clout, but it does offer some notable advantages of its own, including better physical design and a touch-sensitive screen. Your final decision, in the end, may be swayed by the ready availability of reading matter.