In case you're wondering, there's no way to adjust the contrast. Also, there's also no backlight, but--considering that it didn't really work that well in the PRS-700--we're not complaining. However, you can adjust the size of the letters. With the Size button, you can choose among five font settings: small, medium, large, extra large, and extra-extra large. While the absolute sizes vary from title to title, a 6-inch screen (diagonal) doesn't give you a ton of real estate but as long as you stick with the small, medium, and large font sizes, it's adequate (the medium setting will be best for most people). This model doesn't have a built-in accelerometer that automatically flips the screen when you turn it, but you can manually set the screen to display vertically or horizontally.
Like the iPhone and other next-generation touch-screen phones that have been appearing lately, the PRS-600 incorporates some gesture-based commands. You can swipe your finger across the display to page forward or back (you can choose between a left or right swipe to advance pages in the settings menu). Swiping and holding your finger down at the end of the swipe allows you to advance or rewind through pages at a fast clip. The swiping is a nice way of giving you the feeling of turning pages in a book--and as we mentioned earlier, the touch screen is more responsive to your touch. But don't expect the touch screen to be anywhere near as responsive as that of the iPhone or iPod Touch--selecting stationary menu items is fine, but the gestures require you to press pretty hard. A lot of folks will continue to use the well-placed hard buttons at the bottom of the screen to page forward and back.
The PRS-600 also has an annotation and notes feature, as well as a newly introduced embedded dictionary (the Kindle had an integrated dictionary form the start, but this is Sony's first model to feature one). On a basic level, you can turn the Reader 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 little 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, you can "merge" those annotations with annotations you may 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, 6-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 such as battery life, these devices are designed to go several days or even weeks without needing a recharge. According to Sony, you should get up to 7,000 page turns or about two weeks of usage from a single charge. However, like the PRS-300, the included lithium ion battery isn't user replaceable--you have to send the unit back to Sony if the battery dies.
We were disappointed that this e-reader doesn't ship with an AC adapter (it's an optional accessory that costs $30); 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 the Reader. 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 efforts to catch up with Amazon in terms of the number of books it has available and on competitive pricing--like Amazon, Sony now charges $9.99 for bestsellers. 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 its e-book store, and that number continues to grow.
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 as you can with the Kindle (as long as you can get a signal), Sony's improved its software to the point where it's become fairly easy to use and is 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 e-book store, 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. Overall, it's pretty 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 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 the PRS-500, but those who are looking for stronger PDF support should probably check out a larger format e-reader like the 9.7-inch Kindle DX or the 8-inch Sony Reader Daily Edition.
Another big plus is that the PRS-600 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 21-day expiration. The selection is currently very limited, but anything that's available, is free to download. There's a lot to like about the Sony Reader Touch Edition. It's slim, relatively lightweight, more compact than the Kindle 2, and it is classy looking. We also continue to be fans of the touch interface for e-readers and its feature set is quite good, despite lacking a wireless option.
All told, it's hard to ignore the fact the PRS-600 is hampered by screen issues. While they may not be complete deal breakers, they're definitely something you should be aware of and we recommend that you check this product out in person before buying it.