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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Sony Reader Wi-Fi PRS-T1 (2011) review:

Sony Reader Wi-Fi PRS-T1 (2011)

The Reader Wi-Fi is also designed with easy library-lending access in mind, with a dedicated icon offering access to free library book downloads--if you have a valid local library card, of course. It also offers easy access to the large library of free Google Books, though the interface is slow, and that content mostly duplicates the free pre-1923 classic texts you can already get in Sony's store and as EPUB files elsewhere.

So in all, the Reader Wi-Fi has a strong feature set that matches up pretty well with the Kindle Touch, and includes EPUB support for those looking for that feature. At the same time, the Reader doesn't have the same e-book lending features as the Nook and Kindle--in which you can lend a friend a book for two weeks if they're on the same platform--nor does it offer some of the new social-media features (such as Twitter and Facebook integration) that Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo are integrating into the reading experience. Barnes & Noble also has its Nook Friends feature that essentially allows you to start reading groups and share books and passages.

It's also worth mentioning that while Sony now has an Android app for reading e-books you buy in the Sony Reader Store, it still hasn't gotten its Reader app approved by Apple (why not is unclear), so you can't read your Sony-bought e-books on iOS devices.

Of course, some people won't care about the aforementioned features, but others might.

This Sony, like the Kindle, new Nook, Kobo Touch, and iRiver's Story HD, use E Ink's Pearl screen technology. In other words, the text on the screen looks exactly like it did on the previous Readers--it looks good, but don't expect any improvements in contrast or sharpness. The Sony Reader does offer pinch-to-zoom support, and it works, but don't expect smooth, iPad-style performance, thanks again to the limitations of the e-ink screen.

As with all e-ink, it's easy to read in bright light, as it doesn't get washed out in direct sunlight like LCD does, but since the screen isn't backlit, you do need some light source to read. One of the other benefits of e-ink is that it's very energy-efficient. Sony says you can get up to five weeks of use from the device based on 30 minutes' worth of reading a day and with the Wi-Fi turned off, which is an improvement over the PRS-650.

It's worth noting that Sony, like Amazon, doesn't ship an AC adapter with its latest e-reader. You get a USB cable for charging the device via your computer or any cell phone charger (with a USB connection) that you have lying around. It's not a big omission, but it's worth mentioning.

Overall, we found the device was as zippy as competing models, though we did have a little trouble at times connecting to the Web using Wi-Fi. To save battery life, you can set the Wi-Fi radio to go into standby mode after 5 minutes of inactivity, but when we did that, it didn't always reconnect, and at times it took close to 30 seconds to fire up again and load a Wikipedia page. To be clear, Web access---and Web navigation--is not a strong point of these e-ink e-readers, but on the upside, the touch screen does make Web navigation easier.

We should also note that Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Kobo have implemented technology that reduces the amount of flashing that appears when you turn a page (with e-ink, when the screen refreshes, the page appears to flash, and this really bothers some people). With the new Nook and Kindle models, the flash occurs every five to six pages rather than every page. Sony, however, has done nothing to reduce flashing.

There's a lot to like about the Sony Reader Wi-Fi PRS-T1, and we're happy to report that Sony's finally put its best foot forward with a compact, lightweight, and attractively designed e-reader that has a solid feature set and pretty competitive price tag.

Does it have some killer feature that the Kindle, Nook, and Kobo e-readers don't have? No, not really. We like its interface and store better than that of the Kobo Touch. And while Sony's certainly come along on both fronts, both Barnes & Noble and Amazon still provide a better shopping experience, with Amazon's Kindle Store still being the best.

The "openness" of the Sony e-reader is a nice plus (the Nook and Kobo Touch also have EPUB support) and the Sony has an audio jack so you can listen to music on the device while you read. But it's light on or missing the little extras, like e-book lending, social-media features, and a companion iOS app for iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch owners.

In other words, this is a perfectly fine e-reader that's recommendable to owners of older Sony Reader models looking to upgrade their devices or people who can't use a Kindle or Nook in their country, as Sony still has a strong presence outside the U.S. where Barnes & Noble doesn't play yet and Amazon and Kobo are just starting to make inroads.

However, for those new to the e-reader world in the U.S., the Sony Reader Wi-Fi is a harder sell, if only because the Kindle Touch with Special Offers (available in late November) only costs $99.

That doesn't mean we don't consider the Sony PRS-T1 a very good product. It just means that the e-reader market is a very competitive place and some of the little things count even more than they used to.

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