In 2009, Sony was one of the few digital reader manufacturers to release a model with a 5-inch screen--an inch smaller than the standard 6-incher found on the Nook and Kindle. Now the same model--the Pocket Edition--is back in a sleeker, more compact package, and with more internal memory (2GB). Just as importantly, it now sports a touch-screen interface along with the new higher-contrast E Ink Pearl display found on the latest Amazon Kindle and Kindle DX.
That the PRS-350 Pocket Edition Reader, which weighs in at a mere 5.64 ounces and measures a very compact 5.71 inches tall by 4.11 inches wide by 0.33 inch deep, has a touch-screen interface isn't really the big news here. Rather, it's that Sony's engineers have finally gotten it right on the third try--at least the touch-screen part.
How'd they do it? Well, somehow they managed to remove a layer of screen protection that previously hurt the contrast (the letters weren't as dark as those 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.
True, while the touch screen may not be quite as responsive as those of the iPhone and its superphone brethren, it's far more responsive than the previous generation's. As we've said before, this type of 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 as well--nice touch).
Here are the PRS-350's key specs:
|5-inch "clear touch" screen (800x600 resolution; 16-level grayscale E Ink Pearl screen)|
|Weighs 5.64 ounces|
|Measures 5.71 x 4.11 x 0.33 inches (HWD)|
|2GB built-in memory (stores around 1,200 e-books)|
|Text and handwritten note-taking capabilities|
|Two weeks of reading on a single battery charge|
|Embedded multilingual dictionaries (2 English language and 10 translation dictionaries)|
|Six adjustable font sizes to customize|
|USB 2.0 data and power connection (Micro-USB)|
|Supports PDF, Microsoft Word, and other text file formats, as well as EPUB/ACS4 and connection with Adobe Digital Editions|
|Reads JPEG, PNG, GIF, and BMP image files|
|Reader Library software for Windows and Mac|
|Available in silver and pink|
As you can see from the list above, the one big omission from the features list is wireless connectivity. There's none, which seems a bit odd given that both the Kindle and Nook now come in Wi-Fi-only versions for less than $150 and those models have larger 6-inch screens. One can only assume that Sony simply couldn't produce the PRS-350 in a Wi-Fi version for a similar price and turn a profit (or even break even). Obviously, the touch-screen interface is costlier to implement, but it's a truly a shame that Sony couldn't include Wi-Fi.
That's our biggest gripe about the device, which we otherwise really liked. Some people aren't fans of smaller e-readers, but the PRS-350's size is appealing to those who want to carry around a very compact e-reader that easily slips into a coat pocket or a purse and barely weighs you down. That said, if your eyesight isn't great, this probably isn't the e-reader for you. And while it does display PDF files and has zoom capabilities (along with Word and text formats), we can't say the small screen is all that convenient for PDF viewing. But if compact is what you're after, compact is what this is--without being too small.