Name: PRS-650 Reader Touch (Sony)
Type: Touchscreen e-reader
Specs: Click here for full specs
Price: £199 direct from Sony
Though many still expect the tablet onslaught to kill off the dedicated e-reader, 2010 still saw some 6.6 million e-reader sales worldwide. While Amazon's Kindle has set the standard, Sony's latest PRS-650 Reader Touch is now a genuine contender for the e-reader crown.
That's mostly down to the advancements made to the touchscreen technology onboard. Past touchscreen e-reader efforts from Sony have suffered from the previous necessity of having two layers make up the display; the e-ink and touch layer, resulting in sluggish touch controls and awful glare in direct sunlight.
Sony's 6-inch PRS-650 Reader Touch however is a vast improvement. This time round, the Reader Touch only employs a single layer display, using an E Ink Pearl screen with 16 levels of greyscale. Text is sharp and very readable, while touchscreen response, be that navigating menus or swiping through pages, is now much better thanks to tiny sensors placed at the top and bottom of the screen. For many, touchscreen controls may swing the e-reader fight in Sony's favour; it makes navigating your library a breeze, while a simple double tap of a word drags up the corresponding dictionary definition.
It also allows for what is perhaps the Reader Touch's killer feature; in-ebook note taking. For students this is a real boon, allowing you to underline, highlight or scribble sketches and words directly onto pages. The higher resolution screen (running at 800 x 600) means that note taking is very accurate, particularly when using the supplied stylus, though the relatively slow refresh rate of E Ink does mean that there's a slight delay between input and the notes appearing on screen.
Build-quality in this edition is also far slicker than the majority of the e-reader competition. Long gone is the tacky plastic finish, instead replaced with an aluminium chassis, giving the e-reader a reassuringly sturdy 215 gram weight. It's also very slim at 119 x 168 x 10mm, making it comfortable in the hand, though the aluminium casing can feel icy-cold without a cover.
Though the majority of controls lie within the self-explanatory touchscreen menus (Library, Periodicals, etc), there are a few dedicated hardware buttons on the device just below the display in the shape of page forward, page backwards, home, zoom and option keys. They're ever-so-slightly raised, and click satisfyingly when pushed. A power slider at the top of the e-reader shuts down the device and puts it into sleep mode, while there is also a 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom. An internal rechargeable lithium-ion battery allows for a claimed usage time of 2 weeks on a single charge, though we'd put that closer to 9 or 10 days of intensive reading.
The PRS-650 has 2GB worth of built-in storage, enough for some 1,200 ebooks. But should that not prove enough (which may be the case if you plan on storing plenty of songs or audiobooks on the e-reader, which can play in the background whilst reading), there are plenty of expandable memory options. Slots for microSD, SD and MemoryStick storage methods are all present. While we're never ones to shun as having many potential storage options as possible, we can't help but feel Sony are flogging a dead horse by continuing to push their MemoryStick brand.
Plenty of ebook formats are supported, including EPUB, BBeB eBook, PDF, Word, RTF and TXT. There's also decent PDF support, automatically resized to fit the e-reader, though do be prepared to see some images popping up in the wrong places as a result.
If there is one notable omission however it's the lack of any online connectivity, be that Wi-Fi or 3G. The Kindle wins hands-down here, offering both in its top range model and allowing some light web-browsing to be done on the go, as well as buying on-the-fly ebook downloads. It's not too much of a problem really (the ability to have 1,200 pre-loaded ebooks onboard at any one time means that just a smidgeon of forward planning means you'll never be short of reading material), but it's worth considering if you're a compulsive ebook buyer.
As a result, you'll have to physically connect the PRS-650 to a PC via USB to transfer books across. Thankfully, the provided library software is very intuitive, featuring an iTunes-style interface with links to book stores including Waterstones. We did have trouble syncing the odd file with the reader however, with some simply freezing mid-way through the process. Sony do offer a library loan system (available through 50 UK councils) as well as a comprehensive system for searching Google's free book downloads through the Reader Touch website, which goes some way to combating the Kindle's impressive online store.
While the screen still can't match the clarity of a non-touch Kindle, there's no denying the quality of Sony's latest touchscreen reader. It's incredibly readable as well as responsive to touch inputs, and while it comes at a higher premium than its closest rivals, the PRS-650's excellent build quality more than makes it worth the asking price.