Sony Reader Pocket Edition £169.99
7th Oct 2009 | 11:28
The eBook reader Sony hopes will take the concept into the big time
Sony Reader Pocket Edition: Overview
Compare the pain of dragging three thickset Booker Prize candidates to the south of France with you with the 220g weight of the Sony Reader Pocket Edition and you're halfway to understanding the appeal of eBooks.
But with Amazon's Kindle arriving in the UK imminently, should you burn your bookshelves just yet?
Small, light and very good looking are three ways to accurately describe Sony's gorgeous device. It's just one centimetre thick and the screen is a pleasure to behold.
It measures 5 inches diagonally, and despite the low sounding resolution of 800x600, text displays much more crisply than it does on the finest LCD.
Better yet, because the Pocket Edition uses E Ink, it only draws power from the battery when it's asked to refresh the screen. That means you can leave it on the same page almost indefinitely and the battery won't die – Sony claims the battery lasts up to "nearly" 6,800 page turns.
The Pocket Reader is easy to use. Ten buttons arranged down the side of the screen allow you to make menu choices.
You also get shortcut buttons to return to the main menu, bookmark a page and, usefully, choose from three levels of zoom.
You can also scroll through the menus using the four-way direction pad at the bottom of the device, but this brings you up against one of the Reader's inherent problems – the time it takes to redraw the screen.
Sony Reader Pocket Edition: In use
Flipping to a new page takes a little under a second. This isn't too bad if you're simply turning the page. Eventually we found ourselves instinctively pressing the 'Next' button before we'd finished reading the last line of the page we were on.
The real drawback comes when you try to flick back a few pages to check something – it's utterly impractical. You can flip to specific pages by typing in the page number with the menu buttons, but that assumes you know exactly which page you're after. Overall, navigating a book is tricky. You can't search your texts either.
That's not the only problem. Although the E Ink screen is initially spectacular, after a while it becomes clear that it doesn't have the high contrast of a normal paper page, and you need more ambient light to read it.
When you first plug in the Pocket Edition, it installs Sony's eBook Library software, a kind of iTunes for books. Unfortunately that's where the parallels end – click on the store and all you get are a set of links out to Borders, WHSmith and Waterstones.
Actually buying a book from Waterstones proved fairly easy in itself, although it's disappointing that the 304kb download cost only around £1 less than buying the physical book. You can't take it to a charity shop when you're done, either.
Bizarrely, once we'd paid for our book, we were prompted to download Adobe's Digital Editions software and informed that it was the only software that would work with our download.
In fairness, Adobe's software works well and detected our Pocket Edition straightaway – dragging our new book on there was simple – but it seems odd that the Pocket Reader comes with software that booksellers don't use themselves.
You don't have to buy books, though. The Pocket Edition is compatible with PDF, RTF, TXT and Microsoft Word files, and has 512MB of internal memory.
Assuming 400kb per book, you could easily fit a few years' worth of reading on, and its compatibility with non-DRM formats means it could serve a few other practical purposes, such as being a highly portable reference device.
And there are plenty of public domain titles around, many of them available at http://books.google.com.
Sony Reader Pocket Edition: Verdict
Reading on the Pocket Edition Reader isn't quite as stress-free as we'd like. Our main complaints are the length of time it takes to turn a page and the low contrast of the screen compared to normal paper books.
Cracking design and easy to use. There's a huge amount of material to read on the device as well.
Turning the page takes too long and navigating books is an exercise in frustration. Sony's choice of software seems a little random, too.
If you take so many books on holiday that you rack up excess baggage charges, the Pocket Edition is an excellent compromise, thanks to its high capacity and low weight. But if you only flip through a few pages per night your bank balance will thank you for choosing paper over plastic.