Sony Reader Daily Edition PRS-900BC review: Sony Reader Daily Edition PRS-900BC

In recent months, Sony's also upgraded its eBook Library PC software (it's up to version 3.0), and--hallelujah--it's now available for both Windows and Mac machines. While the process of transferring content to the device isn't as convenient as downloading books wirelessly to the unit, the way you can with the Kindle (so long as you have a signal), Sony has definitely improved its software--so much so, in fact, that it's become pretty easy to use. Sony's software is not the liability it once was. Still, there are some small quirks you'll discover that suggest there's room for additional tweaks.

The PC-based reader software raises some other usability issues. The Kindle and the Nook use a more "cloud-based" system to access available titles--buy an e-book on those readers' respective Web sites, and it's instantly available to read on those readers. By contrast, if you buy a book on the Sony Reader itself, you'll need to specifically download that same title so it's accessible on your desktop. (Moreover, Sony hasn't announced any plans for making its Reader software available on other platforms, such as the iPhone, Android phones, or even its own PSP products.) On the plus side: one account can be shared among six PCs, six wireless Readers, and six wired Readers--so you won't need to re-buy any books to read them on additional devices.

The software can also be used to download books and transfer them to the reader in instances where there's no available or compatible cellular service (such as when you're traveling overseas). Downloading a purchased book is a two-step process. You launch the software, connect the Reader via USB, and browse the e-book store. After you purchase a title it goes into a special folder; you then drag the title onto the icon for the device and it transfers to it. All in all, it's pretty simple. And adding nonencrypted files (such as Google Books) isn't hard either. After downloading a file to your computer, you import that file to your library using the "import" function and drag it over to the "Reader" icon on the left side of your screen.

In fact, as we've said before, one of the Reader Daily Edition's strengths is its capability to read other formats besides encrypted Sony e-books from the store. The Reader is capable of displaying text, RTF, Word, BBeB Book files, and EPUB files, as well as PDFs. The zoom functionality on PDFs is more robust on this model than it was on the PRS-500, but those who are looking for stronger PDF support should probably check out an even larger-format e-reader like the 9.7-inch Kindle DX or the upcoming Plastic Logic Que or the Skiff Reader.

Another big plus is that the Daily Edition and other Sony Readers are compatible with digital books from local libraries, which have just begun lending out e-books using an EPUB file format with a 21-day expiration. The selection is currently very limited, but anything that's available is free to download.

Additional features
Aside from its overall sleek design, the biggest thing the Reader Daily Edition has going for it is its strong feature set, which mirrors the Touch Edition except this model comes with 2GB of internal memory (instead of 512MB on the earlier Readers), though only 1.6GB of that is available to the user. On top of internal storage, you get a set of dual expansion slots on the side of the unit for both SD and Memory Stick Duo memory cards. Also, as noted, one of the benefits of having the touch screen is the capability to annotate and mark up text--or just takes notes by hand (you can write directly on the screen with the included stylus). You can also listen to MP3 audio files while you're reading and view JPEG image files, and support for the EPUB file format opens the door to a variety of free content, including public domain Google Books downloads and titles that can be electronically checked out from many local libraries.

Measuring 8.0125 inches high by 5 inches wide by 0.7 inch deep (with cover) and weighing 12.75 ounces (with cover), the Daily Edition is a little heavier than the Nook and Kindle, but it's not so hefty that it becomes cumbersome to hold. To protect your investment, the device ships with a nice leather cover (or at least one that feels like leather).

The Daily Edition also has an annotation and notes feature, as well as a newly introduced embedded dictionary (the Kindle had an integrated dictionary from the get-go, but this is only Sony's second model to feature one). On a basic level, you can turn the Reader Daily Edition into a notepad, creating single notes that aren't tied to any books or documents. For example, you can type out a text memo reminder using an onscreen keyboard or write a note freehand by using the stylus (you can draw anything you want, in fact). That all works fine and is simple to do.

Things get a bit more complicated when you move to annotations. With the included stylus--or your finger--you can highlight words and add annotations via a virtual keyboard or just draw freehand on the page/screen using the stylus. The whole process is somewhat intuitive, but we had trouble figuring out how to add a note to a highlighted sentence or paragraph (you can also add notes to bookmarks). You first have to highlight the section, then tap on it to pull up a separate menu that asks whether you want to add a note using the keyboard or handwriting it via the "drawing" method. Unfortunately, we found that when you tap on the highlighted section, it didn't always pull up the note-taking menu. It was a bit frustrating at times.

After annotating a book on the Reader Daily Edition, you can "merge" those annotations with any you might have already added to the same book using your computer (from within the eLibrary software). Viewing--and reviewing--text, notes, and any markups using a larger computer monitor is preferable to viewing them on a dull, 7-inch screen, so if you're a big annotator, you'll probably find yourself reading a lot more on your computer than you think.

While this all sounds quite sophisticated and potentially useful, we'll warn you that to get the hang of the markup features, you're going to have to do some digging in the user manual (it's available as a PDF file). And even then, you may run into some snafus.

As for more mundane items like battery life, this device is designed to go several days or even weeks without having to be recharged (Sony says you should get up to 7 days of battery life with the wireless turned on and more than twice that with it turned off), but like Sony's other new Readers, the included lithium ion battery isn't user replaceable--you have to send the unit back to Sony if the battery dies.

We're happy to note that this reader ships with an AC adapter (the PRS-300 and PRS-600 don't come with one). You can also connect the Reader to your PC with the included USB cable. If you happen to own a Sony PSP, the charger from that device works with this one.

Conclusion
In the final analysis, much like we said about the Sony Reader Touch Edition, there's a lot to like about the Daily Edition, particularly since it's the first Reader to integrate cellular wireless connectivity. It's classy looking, offers an extended screen with more lines of text, and its feature set is quite good.

Once again, however, this touch-screen model loses some of its luster to the same screen issues found in its little brother--and the big price tag doesn't help matters. Beyond bringing this Reader's price down closer to $300, we think Sony also needs to do a better job breaking out subgenres in the Reader Store and making it easier for book shoppers to surface more titles in the areas they're interested in. It's also important for Sony to allow you to buy books online using your desktop PC and then have them wirelessly delivered to the e-reader without having to connect the USB cable.

While these aren't monstrous gripes, with the competition in the e-reader space growing ever-more fierce, they're significant and certainly factor into our final rating. Of course, they'd be easier to overlook if the Daily Edition cost less.

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

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Where to Buy

Sony Reader Daily Edition PRS-900BC

Part Number: PRS-900BC

MSRP: $399.99

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Weight 12.7 oz
About The Author

Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable e-reader and e-publishing expert. He's also the author of the novels Knife Music and The Big Exit. Both titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, and Nook e-books.