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GeekGirl Reviews: E-Book Readers - Sony Reader Pocket Edition

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This is the second in a series of e-book reader reviews I am conducting here on the Huffington Post. Please see the list at the end of this review for links to my previously posted reviews. Check back regularly for future installments of this series.

In August of this year, Sony released two new e-book readers to the market -- the Pocket Edition and the Touch Edition. They also announced a third reader to round out their stable -- the Daily Edition -- which is expected to ship in December.

I was fortunate to receive a review unit of the Pocket Edition from Sony this month.

First Impressions

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The Sony Reader Pocket Edition comes encased in a box that resembles a paperback book in a slipcase. While the packaging was typical of most consumer electronics, I was not given the impression of the reader as a high quality product. However, the reader itself is a typical Sony product -- solid construction (plastic and aluminum) and attractive design. Definitely a quality product.

Included with the reader were the USB cable, a nylon padded slipcase, and documentation. The cable is a standard A-to-Mini-B format, and is used to connect the reader to a computer and to charge it. I was slightly surprised to find that no wall charger was included, however the reader does have a jack for charging via an accessory charger (purchased separately).

The Details

The Pocket Edition sells for $199 at the Sony Style Store and several retail outlets (Sony lists Best Buy, Borders, Costco, Staples, Target and Wal-Mart in their literature). The Pocket Edition is designed as an entry level reader, aimed at cost conscious users.

The Pocket Edition is very lightweight, coming in at 7.76 oz. The construction is metal and plastic and feels very solid, and measures 6.2" x 4.2" x .2". The controls consist of 10 buttons along the right side of the unit for menu control, a 5-way controller for navigation and four function specific buttons along the bottom of the front panel, and a power switch on the top edge. It is available in Navy Blue, Rose Pink and Silver. The unit I reviewed was silver.

The battery is internal, and is not user replaceable. Expected battery life on a full charge is two weeks (an estimated 6,800 to 7,500 continuous page turns). The reader can be charged via your computer using the included USB cable, or via a separate wall charger (sold separately). Charge times were not available at the time of this review. The USB and wall charger jacks are located along the bottom edge of the reader.

Reader memory is 512Mb (440Mb accessible), is internal, and not user expandable. Sony estimates the Pocket Edition can hold up to 350 books (may vary depending on file format).

The screen is a Viziplex 5 inch E Ink® electronic paper display, offering 600 x 800 pixel resolution and an 8-level gray scale. There is no screen lighting nor color support, nor is there any kind of audio support.

The reader does not have any kind of wireless capability, so content is loaded onto the device via a computer. The Sony eBook Library software works with both PCs and Macs, and when you connect the reader to your computer for the first time, the appropriate version of the software is downloaded via your internet connection and installed on your computer. In addition, the reader can function with most modern computers in a manner similar to flash drives.

The Pocket Edition has a standard 90 day labor/1 year parts warranty, and additional warranty coverage is available from the retailer you purchase the reader from (sold separately). Additional accessories available from Sony include a car charger, soft cover, and a cover with light.

The Good

As with other E Ink based readers, the screen is very clear and easy to read. The high contrast display is viewable in a variety of lighting conditions, and utilizes three selectable font sizes. The contrast does not appear to be adjustable on the reader. You can change the orientation from Vertical to Horizontal, and you can switch the menu language between four options (English, French, German, and Dutch).

The process of connecting the reader to your computer is simple and painless. I tested the process with Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7, and the reader was instantly recognized and drivers loaded automatically. The AutoRun feature within Windows prompts you to run the software installer, which downloads and sets-up the eBook Library software. This program is similar in looks and function to iTunes, in that it serves not only to store and organize your content, but also as a front-end for The eBook Store from Sony. The software also serves as a reader for all supported formats, and can be authorized as a device on your eBook Store account for reading protected content purchased there.

The reader is compact and comfortable in the hand, even for people with relatively small hands. The nylon slip case is lightly padded, providing some protection for the reader when not in use. It fits easily in brief cases, backpacks, and even medium sized-purses.

The interface is simple and intuitive. Page turning and menu navigation is controlled via a five-way controller. In addition, menu options can be selected via 10 numeric keys along the right side of the screen. I found menu navigation quicker and easier via the number keys. A total of four function keys are situated on either side of the five-way controller, and provide quick access to the home menu, a previous menu or page, setting or clearing bookmarks, and font size.

The Pocket Edition supports a number of popular e-book and document formats, including:
DRM-free TextL BBeB Book (LRF), PDF, TXT, RTF, ePub, and DOC (Word)
DRM-protected Text: BBeB Book (LRX), Secure PDF, and ePub
Images: JPEG, GIF, PNG, and BMP

Because the Pocket Edition natively supports the ePub and PDF formats, content is available from a multitude of sources. The eBook Store from Sony is the official store for the Sony Readers. They provide a good selection of bestsellers and new releases, and easy access to over one million free public domain books from Google. Sony is also promoting their partnership with other booksellers and independent publishers for purchased content, as well as electronic lending via public libraries. They seem to have realized the fact that their readers are not just hardware, but the entire ecosystem of hardware, software and content.

The Bad

I was underwhelmed by the page refresh speed of the Pocket Edition reader. While slow page refresh is an inherent "feature" of the E Ink technology, this reader seems very sluggish when loading new pages.

While I love the AutoRun feature that allows for the almost automatic installation of the eBook Library software, it wants to install the software at each connection. I would like to see the AutoRun feature check to see if the software is already installed, and skip the prompt. A work-around for this would be to disable the AutoRun feature within Windows (which is not necessarily a bad thing to do).

These are both definitely minor concerns for an otherwise capable entry-level reader.

The Ugly

There are no significant deal-killers with the Pocket Edition reader.

The Verdict

A solid, affordable, basic reader for the masses. With a price point well below the competition, this reader is poised to easily capture the bottom end of the market. If you are looking for a no-frills e-book reader that supports all the common formats and do not need wireless access, this could be the reader for you. Sony has delivered a well-built, compact reader that you can easily take with you anywhere.

Personally, I am still holding out, as I have several other readers to review, and I am definitely looking for a reader with a few more bells and whistles.

Sony Timeline

September 2006 - Sony Releases the PRC-500 reader
September 2008 - Sony Releases the PRC-505 reader
October 2008 - Sony releases the PRC-700 reader
August 2009 - Sony releases the PRC-300 (Pocket Edition)
August 2009 - Sony releases the PRC-600 (Touch Edition)
August 2009 - Sony announces the PRC-900 (Daily Edition) - the first Sony Reader with wireless access
December 2009 - Expected availability for the Daily Edition reader

What's Next?

This is the second e-book reader review in a series for the Huffington Post. I have plans in the works to also review the Kindle for PC e-book reader, Kindle DX, Sony Reader - Touch Edition, the Nook e-book reader from Barnes & Noble, and several upcoming readers not yet available. Check back for these reviews over the next few months.

I also plan a comparative review of all these readers sometime early next year.

Other eBook Reader articles by Stephanie Vaughn Hapke:
Amazon Kindle 2 -- I Think I'll Wait
GeekGirl Reviews: E-Book Readers - Amazon Kindle 2

For more information on E-Book Readers, especially the Amazon Kindle, visit:
A Kindle World Blog

Disclosure: I received a Sony Reader - Pocket Edition (PRS-300) from Sony as a result of my request. I had 14 days to review the unit and have returned it to Sony. No content credit was requested or offered.

 

Follow Stephanie Vaughn Hapke on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sjhapke