by Gareth Cuddy of Direct eBooks
So, I finally bit the bullet and got a Sony 600 yesterday. I know, I know, I’m way behind the times, but the reason I hadn’t splashed out previously is because I am so happy with my “old” Sony, the PRS-505. Its reliable, has great screen quality and sits quite nicely in its leather cover, adding a certain style to its slightly geeky aluminium core. So when reviewing the 600, I will be referencing it against my experience with my 505.
Head to the bottom for the summary if you’re stuck for time!
So, first impressions are that everything is pretty familiar – much of the same hardware features – same charger, on/off slider, SD ports etc. So far so good. It’s a slender device, much sleeker than the 505, with a nice black matte finish and a nice aluminium effect trim. One minor criticism I would have would be the text on the back of the device outlining device compliance details etc which takes away somewhat from the overall appearance, especially if you are reading in public. (And let’s be honest, we only buy these things to get people to look at us)
Another complaint I would have is the flimsy foam sleeve that comes with the device. I’m sure it was designed to save money and encourage users to buy official accessories, but it really does cheapen the experience especially when compared to the great leather cover that came as standard with the 505.
So, with the review completed, it’s time to turn this fully charged bad boy on! (Incidentally, I’m not being sexist here, but I’m going to go with male pronouns for the black version and female for the much more feminine silver. I think that’s about right).
The screen is the same size as the previous model at a more than adequate 6 inches. The main menu is nice and big, displaying your main options. You have the option of using the buttons at the bottom of the device, but at this point I noticed that tucked away neatly in the top right hand shoulder of the device is a very nice stylus. This is a new feature and is obviously necessary for some of the features. I naturally went straight to the bookshelf view to get right to reading which is after all, the most important thing to me and most other people buying an eReading device. You can also list your titles by thumbnail which is a nice feature.
The screen is very responsive to the stylus and much less so to a finger tap – you really do have to press down on the non-capacitive touch screen. The touch screen layer does impact on the quality of the text. It is slightly less sharp than the 505, but is fine overall. This is one of the major complaints that is levelled against the 600 – that of display quality, but I honestly did not find it a major issue and my eyes wouldn’t be the best!
The e-ink refresh rate is much faster than in previous models. It may still appear to slow for non-believers, sorry I meant non-users, but is a significant improvement. For anyone wondering, the small lag between page turns is something you get used to quite quickly and compensate for by pressing the page turn button slightly before you finish reading the last line of each page. You have several options with the 600 for page turn effects which is nice – you can use the buttons or swipe across the page just like an i-Phone. You can also view the eBook or PDF in landscape which is very useful for some documents. However, this has to be done manually as there is no in-built accelerometer as in the iphone.
The reading experience overall is an improvement on the 505, with better refresh rates and an improved handling of PDF documents.
Perhaps the most useful improvement is the ability to highlight and annotate text. I normally read quite a few business books and previously I had preferred reading them on my laptop so that I could copy and paste important text into a separate word file for future use. Sony has solved this problem by allowing you to do all this through the use of notes. Any changes you make are saved and easily accessible via the notes menu which saves a copy of the page you had amended. You can then export these notes to your computer using the supplied Sony software which is great for anyone involved in research or just likes to take notes. The highlight feature is quick and easy, the annotation is as responsive as I’ve seen in similar devices. The one criticism I would have here is that you need to press the options button at the bottom first and then select notes from a menu. This kind of defeats the purpose of a touchscreen?
Another nice feature is the in-built dictionary – simply double tap on any word to view the Oxford English Dictionary definition. You can expand the definition, save it or search for other instances of the word. Very useful in many situations including for those learning English. Improved search features allow you to search within your library, both at a title level and throughout each individual eBook as well.
The reader retains the audio element allowing you to play mp3 files. I and many other users I have spoken to have never used this feature and Sony may well be advised to disuse it altogether. Even the expected advantage of using audio books on the device is rendered null and void as it doesn’t keep your place in the book when returning.
One of the main advantages of the Sony Touch is the fact that you are not bound to any particular eBook store or file type – unlike the Amazon kindle for example. You can download hundreds of thousands of free eBooks as well as visit any store that sells ePub or PDF titles, which is the vast majority. You can even add word documents and text files to the device quickly and easily. Some people bemoan its lack of wireless connections, but to me it’s not a problem. With 500mb on board memory (about 300 eBooks) and the option to add more with two memory card slots, you should never be stuck for something good to read.
Battery life is good, at a stated 2 weeks or 7500 pages which seems about right. Re-charging is quick and easy via your computer's usb port.
Overall, I see the Sony Touch PRS-600 as a significant improvement over its predecessors as well as finally establishing the Sony reader as a genuine comparative threat to the Kindle 2. The minor complaints about screen quality and glare does not detract from my enjoyment o f the device and its increased usefulness to me. I find myself engaging more on a business level via the note-taking features but also being able to enjoy the device for recreational reads also. Ok, its no iPad which is the unfortunate comparison, but it does what it sets out to do – read books. The experience is very immersive and I for one would prefer to read my eBooks free from the distractions of all the bells and whistles other devices provide.