When it comes to eBook readers the Amazon Kindle (and Kindle DX) seems to get all the press but in fact there are several other makes and models of eBook reader to choose from. The Sony Reader Pocket Edition PRS-300 is just one of the smaller and less expensive units on the market and one which I shall be using and reviewing.
The Sony Reader is one of a growing range of eBook readers, a product designed to function as an electronic book reader. The PRS-300 is the baby of Sony’s range, although that doesn’t mean that they have compromised on quality and function. It is a sturdy well-built device that’s also affordable.
Read on to see my thoughts.
What’s in the box?
- Sony Reader PRS-300
- USB to MiniUSB cable
- Soft slip case
- Quickstart guide and other documentation
Sony PR-300 Specification
- Price: £179.00
- Connectivity: MiniUSB 2.0, 5.2V DC charge port (can charge through both)
- Dimensions: 157.5 x 107 x 10.2mm
- Weight: 220 grams
- Display: E Ink Vizplex 8-level greyscale 5" 800×600 pixels
- Memory: 512MB (Non-expandable)
- Battery: Lithium Ion, good for around 6,800 pages turns/30 books/estimated 2 weeks
The metal front of the Sony Reader contains the 5" E Ink display at a resolution of 800×600 that can display 8 shades of grey. The front also has an array of buttons – a five way d-pad, home, back, bookmark and zoom buttons, accompanied by ten numbered buttons for navigating the menus.
The bottom has a lanyard loop, MiniUSB port for data transfer and charging, a 5.2V charging port, and a small reset button.
Both the left and right sides are clean with no buttons or ports. The right side is metal like the rest of the device but curves around, similar to the spine of a hardback book. The left is grey plastic that meets the plastic top and bottom edges of the Reader.
On top, there’s a sliding power switch, together with a status LED, to show charging status and data transfer.
The back of the Reader is also a sleek metal, with only the Reader logo and device information.
- Amazing build quality and feel, and still affordable
- Large range of format support (incl. PDF, ePUB, MS Word, TXT, RTF, and BBeB)
- Beautifully clear and crisp display
- Easy to navigate menus
- Sony’s eBook store now DRM-free
- Books are currently the same price as hard copies (sometimes more!)
- Small amount of internal memory, and not expandable
- Barebones device – reading only
- Could have squeezed a 6" display in the same body, or shrunk the bezel
Some of you are probably wondering "Books on a screen?! I don’t want to kill my eyes!" That would be a fair assumption, but the Sony PRS-300, like all other dedicated eBook readers, utilises an E Ink screen, dramatically different from a conventional LCD or CRT. Matt has already explained what E Ink is in his Kindle DX review, and I’ll summarise the technology. It is as easy to read as a normal book, and requires very little power to set the state of the screen, and afterwards no power is needed. This adds up to the flexibility of an LCD, with the friendliness of paper – I’m definitely a fan!
It does not have a backlight and so has no glare, allowing you to read for hours while experiencing no more fatigue than a convention paper book. The text displayed on the screen looks like a normal book, but works in a similar way to an Etch-a-sketch. It really seems like the text is magically ‘printed’ on the display! It really is a joy to read from, and Sony has not compromised the quality of the display to keep their price low.
I don’t really read very much, maybe a book a month, but after getting this E Reader I’ve found myself reading a lot more. When I first picked up the device, the quality of the construction and materials surprised me, as did the compactness of it. It really is a solid device, and yet it’s one of cheapest E Book readers you will find, if not the cheapest, a nice surprise from Sony.
It’s also very thin – at just over 10mm in depth, it’s nice and slim to hold, and it would easily slip into a pocket around the size of one found in a blazer for example. The width and height are also compact, around the same as an average sized paperback. It is about the same weight as an average paperback as well, and it’s the perfect balance between a nice quality heft and lightness for convenience. For the size however, a 6" screen could have been possible but then again it would have raised the price – 5" though is acceptable for this price range and I have not had a problem with it. I’d recommend going to a shop to check it out before buying to decide for yourself whether it’s the right thing for you.
Another plus for the budget Reader is its ability to handle a wide range of formats. The full list is ePUB, PDF, MS Word, TXT, RTF, and BBeB. Compared to the Kindle and Kindle DX, it just edges them both, with the inclusion of ePub support, the open eBook standard.
The user interface of the Pocket Reader is very easy to use. The menus list a variety of options, selectable using the d-pad or the numbered buttons along the side which I found were easier and quicker to use. The inbuilt 512MB of memory is good enough to hold around 350 books according to Sony. While the lack of expandable memory may be a questionable omission, I still find that it’s not a deal breaker. I doubt my book collection will reach 350 anytime soon, and if it does, I definitely won’t need to keep every single one with me all the time.
One other thing I should mention is the abysmal software bundled with the Reader. I was initially impressed that the necessary drivers and programs were on the inbuilt memory, no discs required. Plug it in and it asks to install automatically. However, the good news ends there. The conversion feature didn’t work properly on most of my books, leaving them annoyingly incorrectly formatted, and it took me several tries and re-installs before it recognised my Reader. Luckily I found a nice replacement called "Calibre" which I strongly recommend over Sony’s home-grown.
The question some may ask is does this perform better than the old PRS-505? Well technically no, the feature set is more limited than its older brother, and the screen is slightly smaller. However, overall I’d say it’s better, especially for casual readers like me. Not once did I find myself yearning for that extra inch in screen size, nor did I find myself looking for the memory card slot or the headphone jack. This in turn leads to a more convenient compact size and longer battery life as well as one of the cheapest readers on the market. Having said that though, £180 isn’t cheap, and it definitely is a luxury alternative to normal books.
The Sony Reader PRS-300 Pocket Edition (what a mouthful!) is a very basic and compact E Reader tailored for people on a budget due to its lack of extra features that most of its competition include. The simplicity of it means that it does what it does extremely well, which is a nice change from today’s gadgets that do it all, but do it just okay. The simplicity of it though is for me, a feature in itself – despite not having MP3 playback, memory expansion, wireless connectivity or super fast refresh rates, it has still managed to impress me, and most importantly, encourage me to read more. Most people have a music player for mp3’s, a phone for surfing etc and this means the Reader can concentrate on what it set out to do and be what it is – an excellent book reader.
Review by: Vince