Sony Reader PRS-600 Touch Edition
Real page turner?
Review When we reviewed Sony's original PRS-505 Reader  a little over 12 months ago, our only real criticism was that the plethora of buttons and switches that festooned the device would be better replaced by a touchscreen.
Revised edition: Sony's PRS-600 Reader Touch
Now Sony has released its next-generation Reader, the PRS-600, which does indeed have a touch screen, hence its 'Touch Edition' moniker. Having asked, we have received. But should we grateful?
Look at the Touch from any direction other than face on and the differences between it and the old Reader are a hard to discern. At 121 x 174 x 10mm, it's a shade shorter and narrower but just over 2mm thicker than the original. At 286g it's also 26g heaver than the old model.
Like the 505, the 600 has an aluminium case which makes for a solid and flex-free bit of kit that should last the course. In order to keep the front as clear as possible, all the necessary ports, sockets and switches are crammed into the top and bottom edges of the device.
Up top there are slots for both SD and Memory Stick Duo storage expansion, along with the on/off switch and a stylus – more on this below – while down below sit a 3.5mm headphones jack, mini USB port and power socket. Since Sony doesn't bundle a power adaptor, you'll have recharge the 600 using the supplied USB cable and a handy powered-up personal computer. This takes four hours opposed to just two with a 5.2V mains charger.
Other jacket colours available - but not yellow, thriller fans
Details aide, the new Reader is an altogether more refined bit of design than the original and Sony has tried hard to make it look bookish, with a fake spine along the left-hand edge and a gentle taper in profile on the right.
If you find yourself without a spare memory card, Sony has done you a favour by increasing the built-in storage from 192 to 512MB so you can squeeze a fair few books – about 350, according to Sony - onto the Reader straight out of the box. Still, Flash isn't that expensive in small amounts, and rival e-book readers, like Bookeen's Cybook Opus, come with 1GB of on-board storage.
Boost the 512MB of on-board storage with SD and Memory Stick
The 600's display is the latest electronic paper offering from E Ink, called Vizplex. Like the screen in the original Reader, it stretches 6in corner-to-corner, has a resolution of 800 x 600 and displays images in eight shades of grey.
To be honest, we struggled to see any real differences between the new screen and the one in the old Reader, though the effective viewing angle did seem to be a little greater than we recall. On the downside, it also appeared a bit more reflective.
Not having the two side-by-side to compare, both differences could, however, just be down to our over-active imagination. Either way, the new Reader is just as easy to read as the old.
While the first Reader had 17 buttons on its face, the Touch makes do with just five, all set in row below the screen. These take care of the basic functions of turning pages, accessing the home screen, zooming in and out and firing up the context-dependent options menus. Everything else is controlled through the touchscreen.
There's a power port, but the adaptor is an optional extra
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the UI, it's worth pointing out that anyone used to an iPhone or suchlike is going to be a bit taken aback by the performance of the PRS-600's resistive screen, at least on first use.
It's hardly the fastest thing about, though to be fair this is probably down to the nature of the beast: electronic paper screens don't refresh as fast as other screen types and the speed at which the new Reader screen flashes from black-out-of grey to grey-out-of-black and back again seems no faster than before.
The touch UI and remaining buttons do the job
The screen also requires a firm push to make anything happen. Anyone new to the world of touchscreen control won't find this an issue, but those used to the latest capacitive screen devices may raise an eyebrow.
This aside, the 600's UI goes about its business in a fairly logical manner and is a far better solution to the problems of e-book navigation than the 505's shotgun blast of buttons.
The most obvious advantage of the new UI is that you can turn pages with a finger or thumb swipe to the left and right. The direction this works in can be changed to suit your preference, so readers can hold the device and change pages with one hand.
Slim and with a more book-like design than before
A quick double-tap in the top right corner of the screen will set a bookmark, while a double tap on a word will fire up the built-in dictionary to tell you what said term means. Usefully, Sony supplies the Reader with both British English and American English dictionaries.
Whip out the 105mm-long stylus and you can select blocks of copy, or make notes on the pages you are reading and save them for future reference. You can also make handwritten memos, but the thin black lines created when you write on the screen aren't particularly pleasing to the eye and the drawn line can take a moment or two to catch up with what the stylus is doing so memos of more than a few words are best typed using the virtual keyboard.
It's all a bit tablet computing circa 1992, in that regard.
The virtual keyboard also allows readers to search for words in the book they are reading.
Not quite the same as a stroll down Charing Cross Road
The only real niggle we had with the UI was the with the main library view. To scroll up or down you have to use the rather narrow bar on the right of the screen rather than just swipe up and down in any old place.
Format support is a direct carryover from the 505, so the 600 can handle EPub eBook and BBeB Book – with and without DRM – as well as PDF, Word, plain text and RTF files. If you want some music, the 600 can play DRM-free AAC and MP3 files, though Sony still hasn't seen fit to let users view list of audio files in any way other than alphabetically by song title or artist.
If you want to look at still images in greyscale you can do so, with JPEG, GIF, PNG and BMP files all supported.
Sony has also warmed over its eBook Library application, which allows Windows and now also Mac users to view their e-books, transfer content to the Reader and update the gadget's firmware as necessary. It also provides direct links to Waterstones', WH Smith's and Border's e-book stores and an online shop selling Reader accessories.
If you can't be bothered with the palaver of the Sony media manager, or are a Linux user, you can simply drag and drop content directly onto the Reader from any old OS.
The original reader (left) and the 600
Sony reckons the Touch's battery is good for 7500 page turns, up from 7000 on the original Reader. We couldn't think of an effective way to test that claim which didn't involve flicking a page every second for over two hours, so we are just going to take Sony's word for it.
While the old PRS-505 was priced at around £200, the new 600 will set you back £250. So you're paying an extra 50 quid to get a touchscreen, a price that put its on top of the e-book reader pile. And you no longer get the rather fine "book cover" that the 505 came with but instead an altogether cheaper, if functional padded slip case.
The new Reader carries across all the strengths of the original but combines them with a touchscreen UI that makes navigation much easier. It also brings some handy new functionality to the party, including an excellent built-in dictionary, and the ability to make and save notes and memos.
Sony has missed an opportunity by not beefing up the music player – the addition of ID tag support would have been welcome. The £50 price increase is not welcome, and we wonder if the £180 5in, Reader Pocket Edition won't be the better buy. ®
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