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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.

12 comments
SethRK
SethRK

I have been using Sony's 505 reader for about six months and now prefer the reading experience to that of paper. That surprised me. There are subtle things you don't think of, such as no longer needing to find a way to keep the book open when reading no-handed. I don't get the whole Kindle instant-purchase thing. Hardly anyone sees it for what it is --- a way to sucker people into impulse purchases of ebooks that, even at $10, are too costly. Kindle owners quickly end up purchasing lots of content that perhaps they would not have if it took a little more effort and consideration. The Kindle is a way for Amazon to sell you books. In my opinion it makes the device LESS desirable. I have enjoyed many great books on my Sony that I have downloaded for free from Google or Gutenburg Project, as well as some freebies and bargain books purchased from the Sony store or other ebook sites. As for having to pre-plan your vacation reading, it is really a non-issue. With the vast amount of storage on these devices, you just add stuff as you come across it. When you travel, you end up taking an little library, or at least a bookcase-full, of books in a small, thin, light package. I paid something like $250 for my reader and don't regret the purchase at all. I do think, however, that content is way over-priced. Why should an ebook cost more than paperback or trade paper versions? The production and distribution costs are virtually zero. Hopefully that will change as these devices become more widely accepted.

MaryWeilage
MaryWeilage

If any TechRepublic members own or have tried the Sony PRS-600 Reader Touch Edition, I'd love to hear what you think of the device. For the money, this still seems like a luxury item to me. If you're wild about this device, what feature did you like the most? Did I miss a major selling or usage point in my review? I look forward to hearing your feedback. Thank you, Mary Weilage

markalger
markalger

I bought a 505 from Circuit City when it "closed". I think it was about $150. I would not have thought about it if it were full price. However, it is the way I prefer to read now. It's the right size and weight. It's the only "book" on my nightstand. (The overflowing nightstand was a persistant itch my wife liked to scratch.) I can prop it on a pillow and just touch a button turn the page. There's room for the cat and it in my lap if need be. (He evidently has itches that I have to scratch.) It's really quite handy. It's been on the road with me for every business trip. I guess it's become a faithful friend. It even makes me feel guilty about not visiting my favorite used bookstore as often as I used to. Kathy, please forgive me. Even with all that, I don't think I'd spend $300. The new features look nice. The dictionary would be handy. The touch screen sounds interesting. I may be out of touch, but $300 still seems like a lot of money to me. As I wrote this I felt that melding of technology and real life. It's amazing how some technology just shows up doesn't have to be welcomed in.

MaryWeilage
MaryWeilage

SethRK, I greatly appreciate your feedback about the e-reader. I wanted to like this product more than I did -- I just couldn't get past the price, especially with new products coming out soon with more features. I'm going to keep using it and see how much use I get out of it. Thanks again, Mary

ScarF
ScarF

Thank you, SethRK. Your review is the one I needed to make me buy an eReader. Specifically from Sony since I consider them a better electronics producer than Amazon will ever be. I really appreciate your comment regarding the instant purchase - available from Amazon, and the danger of buying unnecessary content. I believe that 'impulse purchases' is the Amazon's strategy to earn extra money. Same as the cell phones - you may need one for emergencies, though -, the wireless ebook purchase is unnecessary and undesirable. If one finds himself needing a material and not having it, than that one has bigger problems than this - e.g. self-management problems. A final word: I really hope that the eReaders will help people to rediscover the pleasure of reading.

Willie11
Willie11

This e-reader has a stylus that you can use to make notes in your books. How about adding a notebook feature. You could use your e-reader to take notes (like a tablet PC) and then transfer your notes to your PC. Wouldn't that be great for students. Have the textbook on the reader and be able to take notes in class without any other hardware. What do you think? Good idea or no?

Willie11
Willie11

I would also love to try out this e-reader on a long flight to Paris. Can you arrange that? Sounds like a great idea. I love a field trip anyhow!

andronin
andronin

I am completely in love with mine. Yes the Sony store is not that great, but you can also get epub books from ebooks.com. The main reason I didn't go with a Kindle was format support, if I want a technical manual I just pop in the SD card I put all the PDF's for manuals on and voila. I have another for white papers just to keep things seperate. I have also found that Calibre is a great tool for converting existing files into ePub format. Another feature is downloading RSS to your reader with Calibre.

uberclimber
uberclimber

A notebook feature in an e-reader is a GREAT idea. A definite boon for students that would turn e-readers into must-have items for students. Particularly if that notebook feature was customizeable...for example, able to turn the e-reader into a small whiteboard. Imagine how useful that would be for people who lose their ability to speak. My mother has motor neuron disease and must carry around a small whiteboard in her purse to write on when she wants to communicate. I'd love to give her something like an e-reader to make communication easier for her.

gregory.c.fisher
gregory.c.fisher

I agree it is a luxury but I worked a lot of OT to afford it. I now find myself reading almost anywhere I sit down. Just like adronine, I ditched the Sony software and went with Calibre. You can convert all of your PDFs to the epub format. What I particular like is the ability to add notes right to your book. The dictionary function is also great. Normally when I come upon an unfamiliar word I make a note to go to the dictionary and look it up but always forget to. Now the dictionary is built in. If you come upon a word you just tap it and the dictionary opens up with the word highlighted. There is a bit of a glare because of the touch screen but nothing I can?t handle. After spending the money, I don?t think I?m getting a Christmas present this year from my wife but it was worth it.

MaryWeilage
MaryWeilage

Andronin, Thank you for sharing that you love the device and all of this other great information. I think that if I got one as a gift (in other words, I didn't have to pay $300), and I used it on a long trip, I might love it too! I really appreciate you sharing your experiences with this e-reader. Thank you, Mary Weilage

Brotherphil
Brotherphil

The PRS600 has both of these features. There's a text memo feature for typed notes, and a drawing feature for handwritten notes, which could also be used as a whiteboard.