Sony Reader Wi-Fi PRS-T1 at IFA 2011, Berlin – first look review

Touchscreen ereader with WiFi debuts at IFA
Photo of Sony Reader Wi-Fi PRS-T1 at IFA 2011, Berlin – first look

Are ebook reader manufacturers making the same mistake as tablet makers? In the battle against the dominant devices in both not-exactly-separate markets, companies seem unable to undercut the iPad or the Kindle – and Sony is at the mercy of both.

Here, its latest reader – due to go on sale in the UK in October – looks every bit a Kindle killer. We glimpsed this six-inch, 168g, 173x110x8.9mm device at Berlin’s IFA exhibition and managed to spend some quite reading time with its responsive touchscreen. We loved it, but will it kill off the Kindle? Of course not – it’s priced €10 above its rival at €149. Hmmm. At least it’s unique in coming in a choice of red, black or white.

Big capacity
Still, as an ebook reader per se it’s got it all. A microSD card slot on the gadget’s left-hand side (as you read it) allows expansion to a massive 32GB capacity, which in ebook terms is so voluminous as to be almost embarrassing.

Not that you’d even need to expand its basic spec: the PRS-T1 is fitted with a more sensible 2GB of built-in storage – and around a third of that stores the system itself. It’s still enough for 1200 ebooks – years’ worth – though less for fans of audiobooks. File-wise it handles unencrypted EPUB, PDF, TXT and MP3 files.

The screen itself is an E-Ink Pearl, with an 800×600 pixel resolution rated to work for 14,000 page turns). There’s also a headphones slot and a mini-USB port for hooking up the PRS-T1 to a PC or Mac, though here’s the beauty of this incarnation of the Sony ereader – there’s no need. In a move that puts Sony into competition with the Kindle proper, the PRS-T1 is not only able to engage in WiFi, but there’s a decent online store to feed it novels.

Access the Reader Store
Sony’s Reader Store isn’t new, but until now it’s only been accessible via a browser. Connecting to it for the first time on the PRS-T1, we managed to swipe around the store fairly easily, though it didn’t appear to be quite as slick as the Kindle. It’s quick enough, though; even on a crowded exhibition floor thick with WiFi devices we managed to see it connecting to the Reader Store and load the latest titles in at least the same speed as a Kindle.

Sony Reader Wi-Fi PRS-T1 at IFA

Otherwise, the user interface is relatively slick, with viewing and scrolling through books a tad quicker and easier than before thanks to that touchscreen; pages are turned by swiping, a pinch zooms in on the page, and a finger can highlight a chunk of text, though none of this works quite as fast as on a tablet.

There’s a useful online look-up mode; simply press any word and the simple browser searches via Google or Wikipedia. Similarly functional dictionary goodness is built-in; ten languages come pre-loaded, with translation between them also possible. The PRS-T1′s status as a learning device is also boosted by a stylus pen that can scribble notes on pages.

Harry Potter fans should look out for a special ‘PRS-T1HBC’ edition that will include a free download of the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone from JK Rowling’s new online Pottermore website.

Just 8.9mmthick and remarkably lightweight, despite the addition of WiFi, early indications are that this touchscreen ereader’s performance is as good as that of a Kindle. Comfortable to hold, to read and to carry, it deserves to do well – though its initial price might be a tad ambitious.