In case you're wondering, there's no way to adjust the contrast. (There's also no backlight, but considering that it didn't really work well in the PRS-700, we're not complaining.) You can adjust the size of the letters. With the Size button, you can choose among three font settings: small, medium, and large. While the absolute sizes vary from title to title, a 5-inch screen (diagonal) doesn't give you a lot of real estate. In one case, the large font size yielded just 11 lines with about four words per line; in other cases, it was 15 to 17 lines. However, if you move to the "small" setting, you move up to 26 lines of text with around 10 words per line. (Note: You can manually set the screen to display vertically or horizontally, but we really didn't like the horizontal setting for reading books.)
The small font setting actually equates to the font size you'd find in your typical paperback book, so it's not that tiny and should work fine for most people. That said, you do run into some justification issues (words spread awkwardly across a line) and reading purists might be put off having to turn pages every 15 seconds or so, depending on your reading speed. But all in all, the reading experience was better than we expected and we really did like the PRS-300's design. The PRS-300 just fits more comfortably in your hand, and since it's lighter than 6-inch readers, you can hold it for longer without having your hand/arm get tired.
On a less positive note, the included lithium ion battery isn't user replaceable--you have to send the unit back to Sony if the battery dies--but it does offer good battery life (Sony says you should get up to 7,000 page turns, or about two weeks of usage, from a single charge).
We were also a bit disappointed that the unit doesn't ship with an AC adapter (it's an optional accessory that costs $29.99); instead, the default charging option is limited to connecting 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. It's also worth noting that we couldn't charge the Reader with a standard USB cable connected to a 5V power adapter, such as the standard iPod wall charger.
On the content side, Sony has made a great effort to catch up with Amazon in terms of the number of books it has available, as well as pricing (like Amazon, Sony charges $9.99 for best sellers). With the addition of thousands of free public domain titles from Google (which includes many pre-WWI classics), Sony boasts more than 1 million titles in the Sony eBook Library, and that number continues to grow.
Sony has 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, as you can with the Kindle (so long as you can get a signal), Sony's definitely improved its software to the point where it has become pretty easy to use and not the liability it once was. Still, there are some small quirks you'll discover that make you think there's room for additional tweaks.
Downloading a purchased book is a two-step process. You launch the software, connect the Reader via USB, and browse the eBook Library, which in some ways is better organized and superior to the e-book store built into the Kindle. 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 fairly simple. And adding nonencrypted files 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's strengths is its ability to read other formats besides encrypted Sony eBooks from the store. The Reader is capable of displaying text, RTF, Word, BBeB Book files, and EPUB files, as well as PDFs. However, the zoom functionality on PDFs is basically limited to toggling to landscape mode, so anyone for whom robust PDF support is mission critical should probably look elsewhere.
Another big plus is that the PRS-300 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.
At $199, the Sony Reader Pocket Edition isn't a total bargain (we'd like to see it at $150), but it is appealing because it's more compact than the Kindle 2 and costs $100 less. If you're looking for an e-reader that has such extras as notes and annotations capabilities and the ability to display large font sizes with a decent amount of text per line, this is not the e-reader for you. Nor is it for someone who's looking to mix in some periodical reading, basic Web browsing, and audio capabilities (the Kindle offers subscriptions to several daily newspapers and monthly magazines, as will the forthcoming Sony Reader Daily Edition). But if you just want to read e-books in a variety of formats, the PRS-300 is worth a long look. We liked it despite its shortcomings.