Sony Reader PRS-T1 £139.99
4th Nov 2011 | 10:00
Light as a feather ebook reader still misses the mark
The Sony Reader PRS-T1 Wi-Fi is a light and thin ebook reader that doesn't quite measure up to the competition. If the only two specifications you care about are the weight (167 grams) or the thickness (9.5mm) then this might be your best option. However, if you care about an accessible interface, extra features beyond the basic book store, and a reasonable (slightly higher) price, the Kindle 4 is a better bet.
Available in red, black, or white, the Reader is a stylish and svelte ebook reader that felt comfortable during several long ebook reading sessions. You can borrow books from your local library, download free Google Books selections (including many Dickens classics), and play music files.
The direct competitor is the Amazon Kindle 4, which costs £89. That reader, at 170 grams, weighs about the same. Both devices have a similar 167ppi 16-level greyscale screen. The one slight difference is that the Kindle has about 2GB of space for books; the Reader has only 1.3GB.
The Sony Reader presents most UI options clearly – there are buttons to find your downloaded books, access the newspaper portal, and browse a Web site. The unfortunate downside to the E-Ink Pearl screen technology is that the Reader tends to flicker too much – about the same as the Kindle 4, but not nearly as much as the upcoming Kindle Touch (which has no UK release date confirmed yet).
While Amazon has done an excellent job of linking your book reading to your book buying, there is a similar streamlined approach with the Reader, but it's a bit less useable. You can search for books easily and buy them on the device.
There's a logical flow for book ownership. For example, the Sony Reader for PC or Mac software runs as a desktop app where you can also buy and read books. (Sorry, Linux users are out of luck.) There's an Android app, and a reader app for Sony tablets. There's no iPhone or iPad app for Sony books, and for the desktop you have to use the app since there is no Web version.
The Reader has a few interesting UI features. One is that you can hold down on any word to see a dictionary look-up, and the device supports 12 languages. As a touch reader, you can also swipe to the left or right to turn pages, and pinch to zoom in on a Web page or newspaper article.
Sony offers about 2 million books in their ebook store, and we found most best-sellers. Some titles, like the recent Steve Jobs bio, were the same price in the Sony store as the Kindle store. However, some ebooks, like Inheritance by Christopher Paolini, were conspicuously missing from the Sony store.
The Sony Reader is exceptionally light, and the basic book reading options are powerful enough. The extra features were a bit wonky, and the screen flicker became a serious problem during our testing. For £129, the Sony Reader PRS-T1 is a good buy if you prefer a light and thin dedicated ebook reader. That's still £40 more than the Kindle 4, so the Reader has some stiff competition in the ebook market.
In the box, Sony provides a USB cable and a stylus pen
Sony does not specifically state which processor is used in the Reader, but our guess is that it's a low-power 800Mhz processor that is designed more for flipping through pages of text than graphics. There's a weird pause when you flip to a new page in the browser (even on a 12Mbps connection), and you'll notice quite a bit of screen flicker even for simple tastes like logging into the Sony ebook store.
Modern ebooks like the Sony Reader offer features well beyond ebook reading. The Reader lets you load up music on its paltry 1.3GB of internal storage. (You can add an microSD card up to 32GB.) You can download magazines and newspapers, browse the Web, and even check out ePub books from your local library. The unfortunate reality is that most of these features do not work nearly as smoothly as they do on a tablet, and the screen is not suited for anything but books.
The Reader provides only 16 levels of grey at 600 x 800 pixels. The screen measures six inches, and the device fits comfortably in one hand. It's so extremely light that it feels more like holding a smartphone than an ebook reader. A dull black shell and a light grey screen fade into the background as you read – the non-descript styling is a selling point for those who want to get lost in Crichton-land.
There are five buttons below the screen for forward and back, home, return, and menu. Icons along the top of the screen show any current downloads on the left, wireless signal strength (the Reader connects over Wi-Fi only, not 3G) and the battery level or whether you are charging. The Reader lasts for about one month on a charge, but that stat erodes quickly if you play music while you read.
Oddly, Sony includes a stylus pen you can use for more accurate typing, and there's a large clip you can use to attach the pen…to something, but not the Reader itself.
Like every other recent ebook reader, the Sony Reader uses E-Ink Pearl second-gen screen technology, aka the one distinguishing characteristic for readers like the Amazon Kindle 4 and the Barnes & Noble Nook compared to modern tablets like the Apple iPad 2. You buy an ereader if you only want to read books; you buy a tablet if you want to read books and do just about anything else.
The two stand-out specs on the Sony Reader are the light weight and the thin design. As a sleek ebook reader, the Reader stands its own against the Kindle 4 just fine. However, many of the extra features for borrowing books from the library, loading Google Books, and browsing the Web are hard to use. They pale in comparison with the quick touch access of any Android tablet.
Screen flicker became such a problem that we decided to avoid some features after testing them out. For example, at TechRadar.com, we wanted to check a review but the images tended to flicker.
We played music files in the background, but worried that we were chewing up battery power too fast. You can load pictures on the Reader, and we did, but the greyscale screen was not well suited to photos. As an image loaded, the screen would flicker in and out – hampering the overall experience.
The Sony Reader also supports music playback, but there are no external speakers, so you have to use a headphone or connect the device to external speakers. The processor should have been fast enough for basic Web browsing, reading books, and viewing photos but the screen tech caused too much flicker to make those features seem like they were working fast and made them less useable.
Entry-level ebook readers like the Sony Reader provide one basic function: reading books. As such, this light and thin model is well suited to book lovers. The Reader is just a hair lighter than the Amazon Kindle 4.
The Wi-Fi connection stayed consistent and worked properly. We had no trouble ordering and downloading books, and the Web sites we visited generaly appeared quickly (even if the photos flickered annoying). The headphone jack worked well for listening to music.
There's a microSD slot you can use for adding microSD cards up to 32GB each. The Reader lets you load PDF files, music, and photos but won't play video files. The device lasts for a month on one charge; buttons below the screen were easy to use. The device feels durable and looks stylish.
The E-Ink Pearl technology is superb for reading books and long battery life, but on the Sony Reader the screen flickered more than we would like. When there are options like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9, with a tremendously clear and bright color screen, the Reader's flicker becomes even more of a negative.
The UI for the Reader is clear enough, but the extra features are hampered by screen flicker. Sure, you can call up a Web site easily on the browser, or check out books from a local library, but when the screen flicks to black after every click, you start to prefer an Android tablet quickly.
At times, the Sony Reader did not appear to be registering some finger presses; in reality, typing worked fine and was accurate, but there are no haptics to give a sensation of touch, and we at least felt the screen input felt imprecise even as we learned to trust that the touches were registering.
To read books on your PC, you have to download and install a desktop app – there is no Web app. The long-lasting battery life is great, but the charge does not last as long if you play music files. There is no 3G connection for impulse purchases when you are not near a Wi-Fi hotspot.
The Sony Reader PRS-T1 is about the same weight as the much cheaper Amazon Kindle. We found that, for basic book reading, the Reader is a good option because the only time you'll notice any screen flicker is when you access the extra features such as the web browser
Pricing of ebooks matches what you will find in the Kindle store.
But if you venture away from basic reading, the Amazon Kindle is a better choice - it is just as light, cheaper, and offers a wider selection of books. Also, the Kindle offers more storage space for books - about 2GB compared to the Reader's 1.3GB.
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