Hardware

Geek Gifts 2009: Sony PRS-600 Reader Touch Edition

Sony is trying to make a dent in the ever-expanding e-reader market, which is currently dominated by the Kindle. Learn whether Senior Editor Mary Weilage thinks the Sony PRS-600 Reader is worth the $300 pricetag.

Want more reviews of tech gadgets and gizmos? Download the PDF of TechRepublic's Geek Gift Guide 2009.

The Sony PRS-600 Reader Touch Edition is one of the company's options in its e-reader lineup. Sony is trying to make a dent in the ever-expanding e-reader market, which, so far, is dominated by the Amazon Kindle.

I've been feeling a bit like a curmudgeon when it comes to e-readers (yes, I'm one of those people — the kind who likes the look and feel of actual books), so I was eager to get my hands on the Sony Reader to review. Here are the basics about the device, as well as my thoughts on whether I've come around to this newfangled method of reading.

Specifications

  • Cost: $299.99
  • Colors: Black, Red, Silver
  • Weight: It's approximately 10.1 oz.
  • Dimensions: 6.9 x 4.8 x .4 inches
  • Display: Resolution is 800 x 600 pixels; Gray scale is eight-levels gray scale.
  • Compatibility: Works on a Windows or a Mac
  • Memory: 512 MB of onboard memory (or about 350 titles) with dual memory expansion card slots.
  • Battery life: According to Sony, the battery life is approximately 7,500 (BBeB Book) continuous page turns, 6,800 (ePub) continuous page turns.
  • Formats supported: Adobe PDF, Microsoft Word, BBeB Book and other text file formats, EPUB/ACS4, and connection with Adobe Digital Editions. You can play back MP3 and AAC audio files.
  • Power: AC Power is DC 5.2 V. Battery life is approximately 7,500 (BBeB Book) continuous page turns and 6,800 (ePub) continuous page turns. Battery type is a rechargeable lithium-ion battery.
  • In the box: Reader, USB cable, stylus, sleeve (cover) for the reader, and a Quick Start guide. Comes with 11 titles.
  • Accessories: You can purchase various accessories for Sony's e-readers, including a car charger adapter, a reader cover with light, an AC charger, a cover, and memory sticks.
  • Competitors: Every other day, it seems like another company is throwing its hat into the e-reader ring. Right now, the Amazon Kindle 2 and Amazon Kindle DX are the biggest competitors to the Sony e-reader lineup. Barnes & Noble's nook, which will be available later this month, is already generating a lot of buzz.
  • For more details, Sony's site lists all the product specifications.

What I like

  • Size and weight of the e-reader.
  • The text was easy to read, especially since you can zoom in on the copy. One of the books I downloaded was about chess, and I found it quite easy to view the images.
  • The battery life is decent.
  • It's very intuitive to use.
  • The device comes preloaded with some titles (including an excerpt of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) and a couple of audio files. I like that you can get used to the device before you download any new titles.
  • The Options button brings up a screen that allows you to Go to Page, History, Table of Contents, Search, Create/Edit Notes, Return to List, Delete Book, Info (this is the title, author, etc. info), Orientation (this changes the view to vertical). When you're reading a book that has a long list of characters, the ability to search by character name is a nice feature. (Thanks to Toni Bowers for reminding me to check for this feature.)
  • It's simple to add audio files to the device.
  • Sony and Google allow you to access and download more than one million public domain titles for free.
  • The built-in dictionary is a nice feature.
  • I think this would be a good device for travel.

What I don't like

  • Cost: I cannot imagine spending $300 for this device. The form factor is cool, but I think of all the actual books I could buy for this amount (especially at a used bookstore) or make a nice donation to my local library. As more e-readers enter the market, I hope that we'll get more for this amount of money.
  • Setup was somewhat slow and cumbersome: The initial setup seemed rather easy, but it took longer than expected to actually download titles to the Reader during the setup. This hiccup may have had something to do with me using a Mac, or perhaps it was just an unusual occurrence.
  • Cannot add new titles from the device: You can't search and add new titles directly from the device; you have to add titles online at Sony's eBook Store. So, if you were taking this reader on a long flight, you would definitely need to plan your reading material in advance.
  • List of titles in the eStore is rather limited: I searched Sony's eStore for a title that I know comes with removable items because I was curious to see how they would handle this type of content, and it was not listed. I also did various searches for geeky-related subjects and authors; I was disappointed by the limited number of available titles. This isn't necessarily a major drawback because, as noted above, you can download more than a million public domain titles for free. Also, I didn't see newspapers or magazines in the eStore offerings.
  • Cannot use when USB is in the computer: Although this isn't a huge drawback, you cannot use the Reader when the USB is plugged in to the computer.

Geek bottom line

It was fun to test out this new format for reading books, and it was much easier to adjust to reading on the device than I expected. But when it comes down to buying decisions, $300 is more than I would spend on a device that I feel is still missing some nice-to-have features (in particular, adding titles directly from the device). I would still love to be able to really test out this device's convenience factor by using it on a long flight to, say, Paris.

Since e-readers are becoming more and more mainstream, I don't think this product has a very high geek factor. Also, most techies are already lugging around enough gear that I don't think this is a must-have item to add to the overall load.

The Sony PRS-600 Reader Touch Edition did pique my interest in e-readers enough that I'll be keeping up with how the format evolves. I look forward to seeing what e-reader options will be on the market this time next year.

Geek gift score (out of 5)

Fun factor: ***

Geek factor: **

Value: **

Overall: **

About

Mary Weilage is a Senior Editor for CBS Interactive. She has worked for TechRepublic since 1999.

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