The Sony PRS-650 eReader

I’ve been playing with the thought of getting an eReader for a very long time. For some time I could get around with just reading on my iPhone but eventually this became just to uncomfortable, so I went looking around which device to get. This was back in September. Two months later I could finally make up my mind and ordered a Sony PRS-650 eReader, and since then I’ve been using it pretty much every spare minute I had which, I guess, makes me qualified to finally write a review about it :-)

The PRS-650 is actually a pretty slick device. It is light while still having a solid and well-made feel to it. For navigating between pages and books it features a touch screen interface which you can use either with your fingers or the bundled stylus, but there are also small buttons at the bottom of the device for next/previous page, a home button, as well as buttons for accessing the options and zoom-level menus.

Storage-wise you get about 1.5GB with the option of extending it using either SD(HC) cards or Memory Sticks, but let’s be honest: eBooks are not really all that huge when it comes to file-size and at least I rarely read more than three books at the same time, so even the 1.5GB will give me a hard time filling them up.

When it comes to the software you’re presented with a very minimal interface that only gives you the absolute minimum of options. That said, it is quite fast. Paging though a book is by no means something you have to find a free spot in your calendar for and I just love that I can simply use the reader like a typical USB-mass storage device to manage my books (unless they use Adobe’s DRM).

Regarding the options, I kind of miss one to organize the starting screen a bit more. By default it lists the book you’ve read last and the three most recent books added to your library. Since I usually read at least 2 books in parallel I’d have appreciated a way to use the second listing for my most recently read books. It’s also not possible to use your current book as “screensaver”. Instead, the reader uses a picture from your picture library (pre-filled with the Eiffel tower, a snowy road and a palm tree…) and you can only turn off the screensaver completely but not use the page you’re on for that purpose.

But these are just minor issues. When you’re reading, you won’t notice any of them and instead just enjoy the brilliant contrast and being able to page at a comfortable pace…

Unless you encounter a page in an ePub book with a big code listing that tries to go beyond the page’s dimensions (e.g. in a book about programming languages). In most cases this works well to some degree. Naturally some line-breaking happens but that’s to be expected. What’s not to be expected is, that I could reproducibly create situations with two O’Reilly books that froze the whole device (which usually initiates a reset).

Luckily, though, these freezes are really very rare. I’ve read a couple of books since I got the device and only got lock-ups on two pages. And somehow these lock-ups were limited to ePubs. When reading the same book as PDF I could get around the problematic pages.

Regarding reading PDFs: This was one of the features advertised in the press about this device. It sports a couple of different rendering modes which are supposed to help with text that is split into multiple columns. I tried it with a file that only has one column and the page was split up as expected. So if you’re PDF is for instance split into two columns, this should work pretty well. What I was missing was a way to split a page only vertically and read it in landscape mode. Theoretically this should be doable by just using the zoom function, but in practice it somehow isn’t. You can still go to landscape mode but depending on the page size and zoom-level you will get some overlap between these “virtual” pages. That said: it still works well enough :-) Just don’t expect the “Margin cut” page mode to detect the difference between the footer and the actual content. So if a page has a wide line in the footer and the page number right below that in the right corner, the actual page content can have as big a margin as it wants. I guess, this problem with detecting the actual content width and providing a better vertical split kind of goes hand in hand :-)

If you’re looking for an eBook reader that is well made, features the latest e-Ink display and supports ePub natively, you can’t really go wrong with the PRS-650 by Sony. While the software is still rough around the edges the experience is still great. For reading PDFs, though, I’d recommend that you use the landscape mode unless your page is split into multiple columns and you can use one of the advanced page modes.

Over the years I've written quite a few reviews πŸ™‚ You can find them at /reviews/.