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The Sony Reader Touch Edition PRS-600 is essentially an updated and upgraded version of their PRS-700, though the model numbering seems a little counterintuitive. As impressed as we were with the older version, the new one is even better and certainly finds its place among top rated eBook readers. There were some legitimate, though minor, complaints about the PRS-700 and they have been addressed, though not perfected in the PRS-600.
The Sony PRS-600 is an excellent eBook reader in every regard but perhaps its most extraordinary feature is its overall quality and feel. Its case is metallic with an elegant, just slightly dulled finish. Side by side, it frankly makes the competition look and feel a bit cheap, despite their outstanding feature set. The back of the eBook reader is even cooler with a slight dusty rose sort of finish that we found very attractive. It seems to attract some finger prints but far fewer than gloss finishes typically do.
The screen measures 6-inches diagonally and is good size for reading. The E-Ink display is generally easy to read though slightly darker letters would be preferable. We would like to have been able to adjust contrast but there’s no way to do that. The device displays eight levels of gray scale which is good for displaying what amounts to black and white photos but that doesn’t imply that gray scale is adjustable.
The touchscreen is responsive though a rather firmer than expected touch is required, particularly when turning pages. Pages can also be turned by using small forward and back buttons located at the lower left of the display and under most circumstances, using these buttons seems to be a tiny bit easier than swiping. Individual pages appear rather quickly though there is the characteristic, but brief, stutter that we’ve come to expect of E-Ink screens.
A feature of swiping that we did find useful, however, is that by holding pressure on the screen following a swipe, pages can be flipped through quickly, either forward or reverse. There’s also a useful search feature that helps find particular words and pages can be accessed by number.
Unlike the predecessor PRS-600, the screen is not backlit. While that may seem like a drawback in that it removes the ability to read in the dark, the benefits are far greater. Backlighting required an additional screen layer which made for a less responsive touchscreen. The new screen is notably easier to use. More importantly, removing the additional layer makes the screen less reflective than its predecessor which was its primary shortcoming. The screen still reflects light under some circumstances but less so than before. It works great in bright sunlight but under indoor conditions, slight changes in the unit’s angle can cause reflections that make reading difficult. Fortunately, a minor shift is usually all that’s necessary to see clearly.
Individual pages can be dog-eared for later reference and notes can be made. Using the touchscreen also allows for notes to be made directly onscreen using either a finger or the included stylus. It’s nice that notes can also be easily erased if no longer desired. That’s a whole lot nicer than permanently marring the pages of a paper book. Notes can also be made using a virtual keyboard, rather than hand writing, if preferred. Notes can also be created independently of books’ pages as desired.
The screens orientation can be changed from portrait to landscape. This feature likely isn’t too practical when reading a book but can be useful when viewing photographs or using some of the several other formats that the eBook reader is capable of displaying.
There are really three distinct sights for getting books for Sony Readers. Sony’s own Reader Store has expanded rapidly but falls short of the Amazon’s mammoth selection of titles for Kindle. Books are, nonetheless, priced competitively with most bestsellers going for around $10. There are frequent promotions which often make select offerings for as low as $1.
Secondly, Sony has teamed with Google Books which has over a million books in the public domain that are entirely free. You won’t find brand new material here but it’s an absolutely invaluable source for older classics and rarities.
Finally, more and more books are being made available by public libraries in the EPUB format and can be loaned for 21 days. The quantity of titles available is somewhat limited but expanding rapidly. It’s almost as good as being able to go to the library 24 hours a day without ever leaving home.
The PRS-600 doesn’t have the ability to download over the air like Kindles and the Barnes and Noble Nook do. That’s one of the principle drawbacks of this device. Loading books onto the Reader requires first downloading them to a PC or Mac then syncing with the included USB cable. The process isn’t at all difficult but we like having the over the air option.
A strong point of Sony Readers is their ability to display numerous industry standard formats. The can display DRM content from other sites in PDF, Word, BBeB, EPUB/ADEPT and Adobe Digital Editions.
The device has 512MB of internal storage of which about 480MB are actually available to the user. That will hold up to about 350 typical eBooks. That can be expanded by the addition of a Memory Stick PRO or SDHC card with up to 16GB capacity, so in reality, with enough memory cards, storage is unlimited.
The battery, unfortunately, isn’t user replaceable though indications are that replacement shouldn’t be frequent given its estimated two week battery life between charging.
Photographs can be loaded onto the Reader as can MP3 and AAC audio files. This allows for listening to music or recoded books in those formats. The device doesn’t have text to speech functionality. For headphones, there’s a standard 3.5mm jack.
Sony offers technical support for eBook readers via telephone, email and live online chat. The unit comes with just a quick start guide but a full user’s manual is available online in PDF format. In general, the device is simple enough that user support isn’t too likely to be necessary.
We were impressed with the overall quality of the Sony Reader Touch Edition PRS-600. It’s surprisingly solid despite its diminutive size and slight weight. It’s exceptionally easy to use and even a first time eBook user should be able to enjoy it within minutes. The screen, though an improvement on its predecessor, still has some problems with reflectivity and we’d like to see slightly better contrast; nonetheless, the unit is very easy to read in general and most worthy of consideration when shopping for an eBook reader.
The PRS-600 has exceptional style and build quality.
The lack of Internet capabilities means the downloading of eBooks must be done through a USB cable.
If the overall feel and design of an eReader is most important, the PRS-600 is an excellent option.