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On this blog we will track down the latest Amazon Kindle news. We will keep you up to date with whats hot in the bestsellers section, including books, ebooks and blogs... and we will also bring you great Kindle3 tips and tricks along with reviews for the latest KindleDX accessories.

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October 2014
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Kindle vs. Sony PRS-350 Review: First impressions, ergonomics and charging (part 1)

Sony PRS-350 Touch eBook ReaderDuring the 2010 Black Friday sales I was able to purchase Sony PRS-350 Pocket Edition (NYSE:SNE) from Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) for $130 which is $20 less than what it usually goes for. After playing around with the device for a while I decided to put together this review. While I mostly use Amazon Kindle (NASDAQ:AMZN) personally, I’ve also interacted with Nook, previous Sony eBook readers, namely PRS-505 and PRS-600 Touch as well as Apple iPad/iPhone, Android apps. I’ve been quite unhappy with several features of Sony eReaders and it was very interesting for me to see if these features were fixed.

Charging

First of these shortcomings was the fact that you couldn’t do anything with the reader while it was charging via USB cable. You could read if you purchased optional AC power adapter but not otherwise. Sony PRS-350 doesn’t have a dedicated charging port. In fact the only connector it has is micro-USB that can be used for transferring books from your PC and charging. Unlike Kindle you still can’t read while charging from your computer. You can read when charging via PRSA-AC1 wall AC adapter. However this adapter costs an outrageous (some something this simple) sum of $30 and is quite bulky compared to similar AC-to-USB adapters for iPhone or Kindle.

Not wanting to add to the army of such adapters I already have at home (especially for $30 a piece) I tried first several power adapters that I could dig up – namely from Apple iPhone 3G and Amazon Kindle 3. Sony reader treated the Apple adapter just a computer – it went into “USB Charging” screen that I couldn’t get out of. But it responded much better to Amazon Kindle adapter – the red charging light lit up and the battery began charging. Conclusion: To keep reading while charging the battery on Sony PRS-350 you either to buy a power adapter from Sony or find a compatible one since it seems that not all USB charging adapters are created equal.

Kindle vs Sony PRS350 size comparisonErgonomics

As far as ergonomics go, Sony PRS-350 is much smaller and ligher than Kindle 3 due to smaller screen and lack of keyboard. It will easily fit into most shirt pockets where Kindle would not. PRS-350 is comfortable to hold in hand and paging buttons are easy to use. So ergonomically it wins over Kindle.

Screen

PRS-350/650/950 are Sony’s second attempt at building a touchscreen eReader, PRS-600 being the first one in 2009. In PRS-600 resistive touchscreen layer was overlaid over eInk display. While this approach works well with backlit LCD screens, with reflective eInk it produced a display with very poor contrast ratio (see comparison with Kindle 3 and 2). This was reported the most significant weakness of the device by both consumers and reviewers. In PRS-350, Sony used infrared touchscreen technology that doesn’t require anything being put on top of the screen. As a result, Sony PRS350 features latest generation high-contrast Pearl eInk screen in it’s full excellence same as Kindle 3.

Screen in the Sony device has the same number of pixels as its Amazon counterpart, but one inch smaller diagonal. This results in slightly crisper but smaller images and text.

Bottom line comparison

So of the things that were covered in todays review:

  • Sony and Kindle are tied in the screen department
  • Sony definitely has better ergonomics. It should be noted that Kindle ergonomics are very good too and would be “good enough” for most users.
  • Sony has improved their device charging and power management story. Kindle still has a significant lead in this department with better battery life and ability to read while charging from computer USB port (a common scenario on an airplane). It should be noted that for most users it would make little difference.

All-in-all, devices are tied right now so unless you intend to carry your eReader in ultra small purse where Kindle just would not fit.

To fully evaluate the device I’m going to read Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs on it and report on how it goes. I’ll also do some in-depth PDF support testing.

Kindle 3 vs Sony PRS-650 Review

The eInk has hardly dried on Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) Kindle 3 Review (link) as Sony (NYSE:SNE) has announced long expected and overdue update of PRS eReaders.

  • Sony PRS-650 is an upgrade of older Sony PRS-600 Touch Edition, featuring same 6″ 600×800 eInk Pearl screen as Kindle 3 but with touch layer. It is available in Black and Red colors. Expected price is $229.00
  • Sony PRS–350 SC Pocket Edition is an upgrade of Sony PRS-300 Pocket Edition. It features 5″ 600×800 eInk Pearl screen with touch. Because of transition to touchscreen controls, PRS-350 reduced size and number of buttons and became noticeably smaller. PRS-350 comes in Pink and Silver colors. It’s going to be prices at $179.00
  • Sony PRS-950 SC Daily Edition is an upgraded version of PRS-900. Currently there is little information about it even on official Sony website. It is knows that it will feature 7″ latest generation Pearl eInk with touch, 3G and WiFi wireless. Judging by the photos it will be roughly 7.7 x 5.0 x 0.42 inches large which makes it slightly shorter and thinner than its predecessor. I assume it’s also going to be somewhat lighter. Its estimated release date is November 2010 with price point of $299.00. It’s unclear what body color selection will be. For now only silver color seems to be available.

I’ve added new Sony readers to the interactive size comparison tool so you can get an idea how large are these devices relatively to one another.

Kindle 3 vs Sony PRS-650/350/950 Specifications

Spec / Device Kindle 3 Sony PRS-650 Sony PRS-350 Sony PRS-950*
Price WiFi – $139 / 3G + WiFi – $189 $229 $189 $299
Size 7.50″ x 4.80″ x 0.335″ 6.62″ x 4.75″ x 0.406″ 5.75″ x 4.13″ x 0.343″ 7.70″ x 5.00″ x 0.420″
Weight WiFi 7.8oz / 3G + WiFi – 8.2oz** 7.58 oz 5.47 oz ???
Screen 6″ 600×800 6″ 600×800 w/ touch 5″ 600×800 w/ touch 7″ 600×1024 w/ touch
Battery life no wireless – 1 month

WiFi – 3 weeks

3G – 10 days

2 weeks 2 weeks ???
Wireless WiFi only or 3G + WiFi None None 3G + WiFi
Storage 3.3GB user accessible 1.4GB user accessible

expandable up to 32GB

1.4Gb user accessible ???
Formats AZW

PDF, TXT

MOBI, PRC (no-DRM)

JPEG, BMP, PNG, GIF

MP3, AAX, AA

HTML, DOC (via conversion)

ePub

PDF (DRM), TXT, RTF

JPEG, BMP, PNG, GIF

MP3, AAC

DOC(X) (via conversion)

ePub

PDF (DRM), TXT, RTF

JPEG, BMP, PNG, GIF

ePub

PDF (DRM), TXT, RTF

JPEG, BMP, PNG, GIF

MP3, AAC

DOC(X) (via conversion)

Notes:

* Little information is available about Sony PRS-950 at this point so this data is based on estimates and may be incorrect or incomplete

** Although official specifications state 8.7 oz weight for Kindle, it actually weights 8.2 oz. Although I don’t have any of the new Sony eReaders to weigh, PRS-600 that I have weighs exactly as per specification – 10.1 oz.

Sony PRS-350/650/950

Sony PRS-350/650/950

Entire lineup of Sony PRS devices will feature touchscreen. In previous models Sony used resistive touchscreen that was overlayed on top of eInk. This resulted in significantly lower screen contrast than any other eReader (see Kindle 3 screen contrast comparison). This time around Sony is using infrared touchscreen technology. In a nutshell it consists of pairs of infrared LEDs and photosensors located around the edge of the screen. LEDs continuously shoot invisible beams into sensors (like in James Bond movies). Microcontroller analyzes which LED-sensor pairs are blocked and computes touch coordinates based on that. Needless to say that such system consumes a lot of power compared to other touchscreen technologies or good old buttons. This will translate into shorter battery life. The upside is having convenience of a touchscreen and excellent contrast that newest generation of eInk displays provide.

Sony devices became smaller and thinner than their predecessors:

  • PRS-650 is noticeably shorter than Kindle 3 because since it lacks keyboard but it’s just a notch thicker. It’s also lighter either of Kindle models. 6″ eInk Pearl screen provides the same reading area, resolution and contrast as Kindle 3.
  • PRS-350 is smaller and lighter still. This however comes at a cost of smaller 5″ screen. The screen has the same pixel resolution though is the same. So if you eyes are keen enough you will get the same amount of detail on it.
  • PRS-950 is going to be only slightly larger and thicker than Kindle 3 while featuring larger 7″ screen. In absence of other data I will guess that it will have the same 600 x1024 pixel resolution as PRS-900. At the moment it’s unclear how much will it weigh.

Because of size reduction, all Sony devices transitioned from mini-USB to micro-USB connectors (same as Kindle) and got rid of separate non-standard charging connectors altogether. Perhaps with some luck you would be able to charge via USB cable and read at the same time (unlike PRS-600).

Reader software that wasn’t updated for more than a year (as opposed to Kindle software that received updates and features on a regular basis) got an overhaul with some features added:

  • Number of available font sizes increased from 5 to 6
  • One more English look-up dictionary was added along with 10 translation dictionaries. It’s unclear at the moment which languages are supported for translation or how will it work.

I will use my Sony PRS-600 review from last November as a baseline to gauge improvements in different areas.

Kindle 3 Weight

Kindle 3 Weight

My largest complaint about PRS-600 back then was extremely poor screen contrast. Since PRS-650 will use exactly same display as Amazon Kindle 3 with nothing on top of it, Sony and Kindle 3 are tied in this department. The end result will only depend on the font handling in the software. It can make a huge difference as shown by Nook vs. Kindle 2 comparison example.

After that comes complicated and unintuitive software both on the device and PC. Getting 3 autoplay pop-ups (4 if you use both expansion cards) is ridiculous. Especially since one of the drives contains installation files for PC that you only need once. Wouldn’t it have been better to mount a single drive on PC and map memory cards and installer files there as folders? PRS-650 features page mentions “Intuitive Reader Library software makes it easy to download eBooks, manage your collection, and transfer titles to your Reader Touch Edition™. Reader Library software works with both PC and Mac.” Unfortunately for Sony so did PRS-600 feature page. Unless their software has improved much more dramatically than it’s description this round will definitely go to Kindle 3. It would be next to impossible to improve already easy and seamless download process on Amazon Kindle. It wouldn’t have been hard for Sony to match it but it doesn’t look like it happened. The only product in Sony eReader line that can offer the same ease getting books is PRS-900/950.

There were also smaller things like, changing the font size taking forever on Sony and the fact that after gathering dust on my shelf for one week I would find PRS-600 with completely drained battery and therefore unusable for 3 hours while it recharges.

My largest complaint against Kindle 3 is small paging buttons and uncomfortable position of the 5-way controller. As I now hold Sony PRS-600 and Kindle 3 in my hands I actually find turning pages on Sony more comfortable than Kindle 3 despite (or maybe because) of Sony’s larger size.

PDF support was one of the areas where PRS-600 clearly outdid Amazon Kindle. Since there is little room for improvement for Sony for the sake of this review we’ll assume that PRS-650 will have same PDF viewing features as PRS-600. Although Kindle has greatly improved in this department, table of contents and document links still don’t work. Perhaps it will get addressed in some future software update but for now this round goes to Sony.

As far a music goes, each device has it’s strengths and weaknesses:

  • Amazon Kindle has built-in speakers, while Sony does not
  • Sony has a fully functional MP3 player software while Kindle can only sequentially cycle though audio tracks
  • Kindle can read your content out loud with text-to-speech while Sony can not
  • Kindle fully supports DRM-audio books from Audible.com while Sony is limited to DRM-free audio content

So it really depends on what you intend to do with the device. If you are an audio book fan – definitely go with Kindle since it can play DRMed audio books and turn almost any text book into audiobook. If you want your eBook reader to also be your MP3 player – go with Sony. If you already have MP3 player that supports audiobooks and prefer to use that then apart from text-to-speech support on Kindle, it doesn’t really matter.

Because of built-in speakers and “Voice guide” menus Kindle is now a fully accessible device for blind readers.

While it’s easy to scribble notes on PRS-600, when it came to typing on on-screen keyboard, it was a much worse experience than typing on Kindle keyboard. So unless this aspect improved greatly, Kindle will win the note-taking round. With recent software update Kindle also allows you to share your highlights and annotations via Twitter and Facebook.

Since none of the Sony readers have web-browsers (with only a slight chance of PRS-950 getting one) and Kindle 3 got an excellent WebKit-based browser that can load even complex AJAX websites such as desktop version of Gmail and said browser works over free 3G connection compliments of Amazon, this round clearly goes to Amazon Kindle.

While Kindle case is made of plastic, Sony devices feature aluminum bodies and come in different colors.

This being said 99% of readers spend 99% of their time reading books rather than browsing the web, annotating or listening to music. So reading experience is what eReaders should be judged on. With identical screens and comparable (though slightly better in Sony) ergonomics reading thought he book should be very comfortable on either device.

However getting books to read is a separate story. While both devices can store thousands of books, there are millions of books out there and I never know which one I’m will want to read next or if I’ll finish reading another Dark Tower book series and would want to read the next one or will quit reading it in the middle and would want to read something else. This is why I consider  global 3G wireless connectivity as a “must have” feature of good eReader. WiFi may be also acceptable for people who don’t travel much or have smartphones that can serve as mobile hotspots.

Of Sony readers only PRS-950 will have wireless connectivity. And while it maybe comparable in some features to Kindle 3, it will cost $110 more which is significant given the fact that eReader prices are flirting wit $99 threshold right now.

In the matter of book selection, it’s hard to tell a clear leader. Amazon, Sony and B&N book selections largely overlap but there are some exceptions so before buying an eReader, check out Amazon Kindle Store, B&N and Sony Book store to make sure that the books you care about are available on the device that you are buying.

With Sony PRS-650 you can the option of library eBooks in DRM-ed PDF. While it may sound nice, my local library doesn’t have a great selection of eBooks available to be checked out. I don’t know if it’s just my library or general state of things.

Sony eReader Gift Idea

With all the recent hype regarding the forthcoming Kobo eReader, the most frequently mentioned perk, even by us, is the amazingly low price.  This makes it an attractive option for people who aren’t quite sure of their need for such a device or even for those who want to give a really cool gift without breaking the bank.  Some of us, however, are very impatient, and the Kobo won’t be around in the US until next month!  Especially for those with students they know graduating, this can be an issue.  Fortunately there’s another option.

The Sony PRS series isn’t exactly new, but they seem to have fallen by the wayside in the eyes of a lot of reviewers these days.  Sure, they don’t have a lot of the bells and whistles that newer devices do, but they’re an established and proven brand.  The reason I bring this up is the recent realization that you can find brand-new PRS-300 models for just $140-150 these days.  They’re not quite as nifty as, say, the Kindle, but they’ll display books as well as anything.  My only complaints about the design are the 5″ screen and the positioning of the page turn button.  If you can put up with those, however, it might be an option for you!  They’re cheap, they read ePub formatted books, they’ll carry a charge for weeks, and they’re affordable.  Quite possibly the perfect gift for that holdout reader friend, grad, or relative to get them used to the idea of the technology before working them up to something a full featured as the nook or Kindle.

Sony Reader Touch/Pocket vs. Kindle

Sony Reader Touch

Sony Reader Touch

Sony’s latest competition against the Kindle are the  Sony Reader Touch and Sony Reader Pocket.  Here’s a quick roundup of various reviews of these new products from around the net.

  • Gizmodo – Glare ruins the Reader Touch, Pocket is short on features but cheap price.
  • ZDNet – The Reader Touch works great, glare isn’t much of an issue.
  • CNET – Reader Touch get 3 out of 5.  Better to get Kindle at this price.
  • CNET – Reader Pocket gets 3.5 out of 5.  Good deal for the price.
  • Financial Times – Touch screen more natural to use than Kindle controls, but misses wireless.  Reviewer likes free Kindle iPhone app over Reader Pocket.
  • Mobile Tech Review – Reader Touch has caught up with Amazon and may even get some Kindle defectors.
  • iReaderReview – Reader Touch gets 7.75 out of 10.  Doesn’t quite beat the Kindle but Sony is getting really close.
  • iReaderReview – Reader Pocket vs. similarly priced Kindle 2 refurb.  Pocket is better for basic reading, but Kindle 2 has better additional features.