Sony PRS-650 Reader Touch £229
1st Nov 2010 | 10:00
It's got improved touch controls but can it take on the might of the Kindle?
Sony PRS-650 Reader Touch: Overview
The tablet market may be casting a dark shadow over the future of the ebook reader, but there are still two big-name manufacturers out there who believe that a dedicated reading device is what consumers want.
Both Amazon with its Kindle and Sony with its Reader range are slogging it out to become the number one ebook reader manufacturer.
You wouldn't have failed to notice that Amazon has pumped a lot of money into advertising its Kindle on TVs and billboards. But Sony, with little fanfare, has managed to impress TechRadar with the fantastic quality of its latest Reader, the Sony PRS-650 Reader Touch.
This isn't the first time Sony has released a touchscreen ebook reader but it is the first time it has launched a decent one.
Touchsreen and e-ink usually goes together like water and oil; the two technologies aren't compatible due to the extra layer that has to go on top of the e-ink display to make it touch-friendly.
This extra layer makes touch that little more sluggish and renders the screen almost unreadable in direct sunlight due to added shine.
Given that one of e-ink's USPs is that it works well in direct sunlight, the first Sony Reader Touch was hampered by too many glitches to make is a decent touchscreen device.
Sony has gone a long way to rectify this and the results (which we will relay further on in the review) are quite special.
Sony PRS-650 Reader Touch: Features
The Sony PRS-650 Reader Touch has been given a 6-inch screen with a 600 x 800 resolution. This is the same size as the original Sony Reader, but it's the build quality which has been improved dramatically.
An aluminium chassis replaces the dowdy plastic exterior of yore. This gives the Reader a nice weight – solid but far from too heavy. At 215g it won't give you arm and neck ache like the iPad does.
The chassis of the Sony Reader Touch is slim, too, at just 119 x 168 x 10mm, and Sony has made sure that every button on the device is flush to the bezel. This is a nice stylistic touch and one which means that you won't accidentally turn it on when it is in a bag.
As the Sony Reader does utilise touchscreen, the buttons on show are limited. On the front, just under the screen is a forward and back button for flipping pages and home, zoom and option buttons.
Situated on the bottom of the Sony Reader are a Micro USB port, volume control and 3.5mm jack.
The top features a sliding power button and two expandable memory slots: SD and MemoryStick.
Unfortunately Sony still seems intent of keeping the MemoryStick format alive. The slot may not take up much room on the top of the Reader Touch, but it does feel a little like overkill having both memory slots on board.
The only other noticeable feature on the Reader Touch is the stylus. Yes, the Sony Reader Touch comes with a stylus. This is a little strange considering how much the touchscreen has improved on the device, and is a feature which will become redundant in future renditions of the Reader Touch.
In our tests we hardly took the stylus out. Except to look at it to remind us what technology in 1999 looked like.
Sony PRS-650 Reader Touch: Performance
Switch the Sony PRS-650 Reader Touch on and it takes around 10 seconds to boot up your library of books.
The menu screen is nice and pleasant to look at. Sony has made significant improvements with its e-ink technology. It uses E Ink Pearl which is sharper, has a faster refresh rate and now comes with 16 levels of greyscale.
This does make a noticeable difference to the sharpness of the text on the screen.
The menu is broken down into your library of books (you get a number of books like Doctor No and Pride And Prejudice loaded on to the device). Your periodicals (newspaper articles), collections (books you have purchased) and any notes you have made.
This is where the Sony Reader Touch gets interesting. You have the ability to make notes on the books you read. You can underline, circle and scribble on the books you are reading. It is virtual graffiti and it is a great feature which is primed for students.
You can also double tap on words to load up the included dictionary to find out their definition.
And even better, you can find out the definition of foreign words as well, so there's no stopping you when reading even the most pretentious la literature.
The new and improved screen resolution means that the Reader Touch is a joy to use. Words sparkle on the page and even the page transition doesn't seem as jarring as normal e-ink readers. To get back to the menu screen you have to use the real home button.
Everything else though is done through the touchscreen. Sony has managed to create a touchscreen on the Sony Touch which does away with the shiny extra layer it had to put on its prior Touch ebook reader – this makes a world of difference.
Essentially Sony is using tiny sensors at the top and bottom of the screen which detect when a finger is present on the screen.
This means that swiping the screen can be done with the deftest of touches and there's no harder finger prodding when having to navigate menus.
E-Ink touchscreen displays are never going to compete with the capacitive screens of phones or tablets, but the screen on the Sony Reader Touch is a revelation for those who have tried touch on an e-ink device before.
Other slight features include bookmarking and searching. Searching brings up a QWERTY keyboard, which isn't as responsive as we'd have liked, but there was no muddling of letters when typing out the names of books.
The Sony Reader Touch also makes for a decent PDF viewer. This is because any PDFs you feed into the device are automatically resized for ease of view.
It's not that great at viewing images, though. While the front covers of books are great in thumbnail form when they are blown up they are less than impressive. And swiping through the images makes the e-ink have something of a fit. It looks like the image is drowning in treacle before actually coming up to the surface.
As there is a 3.5mm jack, you can also load up the device with MP3s to listen to while reading your missives.
When it comes to internal memory, the Sony Reader Touch has 2GB which is around 1,200 ebooks. This is expandable with the two memory slots.
After playing with the Sony Reader for a number of weeks, we can vouch that the battery life is impressive. Having listened to MP3s and loaded up myriad ebooks we didn't have to charge it for at least a week.
Sony is promoting it as around two week's juice, but this must be with little action.
Sony is making the Reader Touch as open as possible, so the file formats it will take are plentiful. The main ones include: EPUB eBooks (Adept) BBeB eBook, PDF, Word, TXT and RTF.
This does a good job of masking the fact that Sony doesn't have the might of the Amazon Kindle Store to go with its ebook reader.
As it is sporting EPUB, you can download ebooks from most online stores out there, though. The one which you won't be able to is, for obvious reasons, the Kindle Store.
With the release of the Reader Touch, Sony is promoting that you can now rent books through 50 council library websites.
We found this was easy enough to do, but there are some interesting things with the renting. Even though it is a digital file, each library only has so many licences, so like a real library the book you want may well be 'out on loan'. You do get notified when the ebook is available, though.
It's a nice idea, but one which is currently limited. If more libraries sign up then it may well take off.
What is much better is the search function of the Sony Reader website which offers up all the free domain books Google has to offer.
This saves you a lot of time wading through the priced books which Google also offers.
Sony PRS-650 Reader Touch: Verdict
The Sony PRS-650 Reader Touch is a mightily impressive piece of kit, but there are a few niggles with the product.
The biggest for us is its complete lack of wireless connectivity. That's right, there is no 3G or wireless, so downloading content on the go is a big no-no.
Amazon must have been extremely pleased about this, given that its latest Kindle offers Wi-Fi and/or 3G.
We have to admit that the amount of books you can pre-load onto a Reader Touch is more than you would probably get through in a lifetime, so there isn't that much need for wireless.
It does mean that you can't have RSS feeds on the device and those spur of the moment purchases of ebooks go out of the window.
The second niggle is the price. The Sony Reader Touch is an expensive bit of kit, priced at around £200.
In these wallet-tightening times this may be too much for some. But Sony has created a product well deserving of the price.
The aluminium chassis is one of the most desirable we have seen at any price, it feels perfect in the hand and is easy to read.
The quality of the touchscreen will blow most ebook reader naysayers away. But the price will unfortunately put others off – or at least turn them to the perfectly priced Amazon Kindle 3.