But that wireless connectivity comes at a price. This e-ink model carries a list price of $299, and while we've seen it discounted for less at times, it's still well over $100 more than both the 3G ($189) and Wi-Fi ($139) versions of the Amazon Kindle, as well as the more versatile $250 Nook Color. In other words, we can't say PRS-950 is a bargain, but it is a decent e-reader.
Instead of the 6-inch touch-screen found on the PRS-650, this e-reader has a 7-inch touch screen. Like Sony's other models, this one also has the new higher-contrast E Ink Pearl display found in the latest Amazon Kindle and Kindle DX and a touch-screen interface that finally works well.
The PRS-950 Pocket Edition Reader does have a nice look and feel to it and is comparatively lightweight and compact considering it has a larger 7-inch screen. Weighing 9.5 ounces and measuring 7.8 inches tall by 5.1 inches wide by 0.4 inch deep, it's just about an ounce more than the third-generation Kindle, an inch taller, and slightly wider all around. (It weighs about 25 percent less than its predecessor, the PRS-900.)
As noted, the touch navigation is the same much-improved experience found on the current step-down Sony Reader models. Sony's engineers managed to remove a layer of screen protection that previously hurt the contrast (the letters weren't as dark as on the Kindle or Nook) and caused glare issues due to increased reflectivity. Those matters are now resolved, and it's great to see the concept of a touch-screen e-ink e-reader finally hit its stride. (Sony is using infrared technology for the touch mechanics, so you barely have to touch the screen to get a response.)
While the touch screen may not be quite as responsive as the iPhone's touch screen (due to the slightly laggy nature of e-ink), it's more responsive than the previous generation of e-ink readers. Moreover, as we've said before, this type of touch interface is ideal for e-readers because it allows the designers to cut down on buttons and whittle the device down to just slightly bigger than the screen itself. You can also mark up text with the included stylus, jot down notes (you can use the virtual keyboard or the stylus), and turn pages with a swipe of a finger (yes, the device is zippier than its predecessor). We also liked how you could double-tap on a word to bring up its definition in the built-in dictionary (the reader keeps logs of the words you've looked up).
Here are the key specs of the Sony Reader Daily Edition PRS-950:
While the PRS-950 has a very similar core feature set to the PRS-650, you do get a few extras that you won't find on Sony's non-wireless models: a Web browser and link to Google Books (free, pre-1923 public-domain works), which you can access directly from the device. There's also a special landscape mode that allows you to view two pages of an e-book side by side--just like a book. That's kind of nice.
Like the Web browser on the Kindle and the e-ink Nook, the Web browser is fairly basic and works better with text (aka mobile) versions of sites, and it loaded sites as quickly as the Kindle's browser does. (Note: the Sony browser only works with the Wi-Fi, not the 3G, connection.) The browser home has some bookmarks to several mobile versions of sites--including a link to CNET's News.com--and all those load very quickly. HTML sites like CNET and NYTimes.com took around 30 seconds to fully load. You can't zoom but you can increase and decrease the font size, which acts as a form of zooming. Overall, it's not a great experience, but the browser is usable, and what's on the screen looks pretty good.
While we didn't check all the e-mail Web clients for various providers, we didn't have any trouble sending and viewing e-mail from a Gmail account. Needless to say, video does not display in the browser--if that's what you're looking for, the Nook Color or iPad would be a better way to go.
The link to Google Books isn't quite as enticing as it sounds. It's simply a shortcut to accessing thousands of public-domain books. You do get a somewhat wider selection of free books via Google Books than via Amazon.com, which integrates free public domain e-books into its store. (To be clear, Google Books is different from Google's recently launched Google eBookstore, which contains "pay" titles. To access that type of content, you go through Sony's own eBookstore, which also can be reached right from the device using the wireless connection.)
In terms of other capabilities, the PRS-950 does read PDF files and has zoom capabilities (along with Word and text formats). We can't say a 7-inch screen is terribly conducive for PDF viewing, but the functionality is there for those who need it.
With the Size button, you can choose among six font settings: extra-small, small, medium, large, extra-large, and extra-extra-large. As you might guess, the larger 7-inch screen does allow you to see more lines of text on a page when you increase the font size, which may be important to those who plan on reading at larger font sizes. (Note: you manually set the screen to display vertically or horizontally.)
To download e-books from the Sony store, you have to create an account, but then you can download e-books, as well as magazine and newspaper subscriptions, right from the device.
You can also manually transfer content to the device via your computer by installing the Sony desktop app on your Mac or Windows PC. You then "side-load" e-books you've purchased to the device via the USB port. Alternatively--and this is one of the nice things about the device--you can download EPUB books from other sites and transfer those books to the device by simply dragging and dropping them to the device icon when you're connected to the desktop app on your computer. In a test, we downloaded some free public-domain books from epubbooks.com (these same books are available via the Google Books link on the device). Also, this Sony reader allows you to check out EPUB books from your local library if it offers that service. The Nook also has this capability but the Kindle currently does not.
All in all, while the Sony e-book store has an ample selection of titles, it isn't quite up to the level of Amazon's Kindle Store or Barnes & Noble's e-book store. Likewise, the Sony e-books you buy aren't yet available on a wide range of platforms outside of the Readers themselves. There are free software Readers for Windows PCs and Macs, as well as Android phones (version 2.2 or later). But the iOS version is currently embroiled in an approval dispute with Apple, so there's no telling when you'll be able to read Sony titles on an iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone. By comparison, e-book titles bought via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Kobo (which also powers Borders e-book offerings) can be enjoyed on a wide range of multiple devices, including Android, iOS, and BlackBerry.
If you compare the Daily Edition PRS-950 with the SonyReader Touch Edition PRS-650 ($229), the key differences are the PRS-950's larger screen and the wireless connectivity. As with that model, you get audio playback capabilities and expandable storage. You get both SD and Memory Stick Duo expansion slots and a headphone jack for listening to music while you read. (You have to load that music onto the device; there's no built-in music app like Pandora on the device itself.)
As we said in our review of Sony's smaller, non-wireless e-readers, there's really a lot to like with the PRS-950. Once again we applaud Sony for finally taking the e-ink reader's interface to the next level (we wish both the Kindle and Nook had this touch interface) and appreciate the fact this model has built-in wireless capabilities.
While we had some small nitpicks (the device locked up a couple of times while we were testing it), we liked the PRS-950 and think it's one of the top e-readers on the market. Of course, the big downside is its price, which makes it harder to recommend over similarly capable e-ink e-readers like the Kindle and Nook that cost less than half as much. There's also the more versatile Nook Color sitting there at $250, but we know that some people prefer an e-ink screen, particularly because it provides far superior battery life compared with LCD.
Bottom line: if you can overlook the high price, the PRS-950 is certainly worth considering. Just be aware there are plenty of great competitors out there that you should also check out.