Product Sony PRS-350
System Specifications 5-inch display, 800 x 600 resolution, 2GB memory, 16-level greyscale, 104.3 x 145 x 8.5mm, 155g.
SONY HAS YET AGAIN launched an e-reader assault on Amazon, and this time it's aiming to beat its rival in terms of size. With a 5-inch screen, the PRS-350 is a fair bit smaller than the 6-inch Kindle, measuring 104.3 x 145 x 8.5mm compared to the Kindle's 123 x 190 x 8.5mm. Tipping the scales at 155g, it's also nearly 100g lighter.
As is so often the case, smaller doesn't necessarily mean cheaper, and at £159 this pint-sized e-reader costs more than the most expensive Kindle.
While the PRS-350 has something of an unattractive name, its physical appearance is anything but. The sleek silver chassis that surrounds the screen looks great, while five sizeable buttons sit along the bottom edge of the device. Although it looks good, we did find the buttons felt a little too plasticky, but thankfully this didn't affect their usability. A pink version of the PRS-350 is also available, should that take your fancy.
The 5-inch grayscale screen has adequate 800x600 resolution and, thanks to pages being displayed well, is big enough to enjoy a good reading experience. Almost all of the screen is used, leaving little wasted space at the edges. The device has 2GB of storage built in, which is enough for roughly 1,200 books, but there is no external storage card slot so you can't expand on this.
Where the device really stands out is the touchscreen, something that the Kindle is sorely lacking. This means you can give the screen a quick flick to turn pages, operate menus and select text. In general, we found the screen smooth and easy to use, although it didn't react instantly on some occasions, which caused an irritating second or so lag. This occurred very rarely, and didn't affect the overall experience too much. The touchscreen was excellent for the simple act of turning a page, working quickly and adding a real sense of reading an actual book or document, rather than a digital version.
For those who don't get on with touchscreens, the PRS-350 comes with a pen that can be used to navigate around the various options. The pen slots neatly away in the top right of the chassis when not in use.
The Oxford Dictionary of English is built in, allowing users to double tap on a word to see a short definition, which is a neat and helpful touch. The screen also has a wealth of display options, including six zoom levels from extra small to extra large, as well as brightness, contrast and background lighting level adjustments; we found these more than adequate when finding suitable display settings for different environments. The screen can also be quickly switched between landscape and portrait modes, while the lighting level of the text can be increased or reduced to the reader's preference.
One of the most important features of any e-reader is battery life, and Sony claims that a full charge will last for two weeks. We were impressed to find that the battery indicator remained at the fully-charged level over a four-day period during which the device was used for an hour each day. However, while the design, interface and battery life are all impressive, the lack of any Internet connectivity is a drawback and means that books can be added only through a USB connection to a PC running Sony's software. The software is fairly basic and resembles Itunes - you download the books to the library, then synchronise to the device. It's a simple process, but not the most elegant software.
Amazon will be hoping that the Kindle 2's 3G and WiFi connectivity will sway people who want to download books or documents whenever the mood seizes them, and this in one area where the Sony falls down. That said, many people will be perfectly happy to simply load the device full of books before heading out.
The PRS-350 accepts a wide range of formats, and when we put a few PDFs on the device they all worked fine, displaying tables, text and diagrams as intended. The device also supports TXT, RTF and Microsoft Word documents, as well as the EPUB and BBeB e-reader formats. Images can also be displayed - JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP are all supported - although the greyscale display is not ideal and it is unlikely that many people will use it to show off photos.
With decent performance and a compact size, the PRS-350 is likely to appeal to many. However, those after wireless connectivity will certainly be tempted to opt for Amazon's alternative, and at £149 for the 3G+WiFi version of the Kindle 2, it's also cheaper than this Sony Reader.
Amazon could, of course, respond by bringing out a smaller Kindle but, for the time being, the pocket edition of Sony's Reader could well sway users previously unconvinced in this market.
The Sony Reader PRS-350 is a compact, stylish and well designed device. Combining a simple design with small size means that those previously put off from buying an e-reader might reconsider. The lack of Internet and 3G connectivity is a noticeable downside compared to the Kindle 2, but the Reader more than holds its own in all other areas. µ
Well designed, lightweight and compact chassis, easy to use, good format support.
No memory expansion options.
Top-end Kindle might be bulkier, but it's also cheaper and comes with 3G and WiFi.