The Sony Reader Wi-Fi Review

Though the Kindle is obviously the most popular e-book reader around its easy to forget that Sony has actually been in the game longer than Amazon. In fact, Sony has had more revisions of their reader than Amazon. Sony is also taken a different marketing approach than Amazon, essentially switching places with them this year with model choices. Whereas the last few years, Sony has offered a range of different readers, this year they focused on creating one: the PRS-1, a Wi-Fi enabled plastic 6 inch reader that offers the same features as last year’s most expensive modelwhile being priced below the cheapest. and while Sony has always delivered what has been considered the most open” reader, they’ve gone well out of their way to make sure this deviec will read essentially (Supported formats include txt, md, rtf, pdf, word, and epub for text; JPEG, PNG, GIF, and BMP for images; unencrypted mp3 and AAC for audio (unfortunatley, no Audible support, as far as I can tell)) anything you want. it also made some design decisions to keep the price down, which is really the only downside the device. But I’m getting ahead of myself.


The most startling addition to the Sony Reader Wi-Fi is that it’s running android. You can see that in the button layout on the front of the device, the ways the submenus work, and the way the browser functions. It’s not hidden’ android like the new Kindle fire, but that’s fine, because the new operating system means that the device is much faster and potentially capable of a lot more.


I tried the browser on the Kindle and the Kobo. Both are terrible, and both are hidden under beta’ or experimental’ tags, so you don’t get any ideas. Both readers want you to know that while they can access the Internet, they haven’t quite figured out how to do it well. the browser on the Sony reader is much more pronounced, fast, and surprisingly robust considering that it’s an ebook reader. I was capable of getting on any site running JavaScript, and basic HTML. HTML5 and Flash obviously don’t work, but the fact that I was able to get Tumblr up and running with infinite scrolling is quite impressive. I’ve yet to actually have the browser crash.

A mobile browser is nice enough, but scrolling on webpages using E ink is a little difficult on the eyes, because the screen has to refresh every single time you move it. but what makes this browser really great is not quality so much as a single amazing feature that every other reviewer has missed: downloading. if you can find a link for an epub, PDF, text file, or document, you can click on it and the browser will download it to your device. I was able to get my instapaper articles, an HTML text file, and—in a really cool turn—an epub file from Kobo. I cannot stress how cool this is. If there is a site that allows downloading of readable text files, you can get it on your Reader.


Much like the Kobo and Kindle readers, Sony has a connection to its own e-book store on the device. The Sony store is very similar to the others, allowing you to buy e-books, magazines, newspapers, as well as Google books, and library books. Google books and library books have their own silo areas, and library books allow you to return the book with one click. It’s a simple, satisfying setup. There is this well-known criticism that the Sony Store isn’t as extensive as Amazon’s, but I’ve yet to cross-search and not find the same book available on both.


I don’t like the plastic exterior. Every Sony reader that has come before this one has been made of a strong aluminum, giving the device feel of being utterly indestructible. You could squeeze these devices as hard as you want, and nothing was going to happen. I don’t get the same feeling with the plastic—quality plastic though it may be. The back of the reader is a little grippier than the front, but not nearly as much as, say, Kobo’s.


The bezel is really thin. It’s almost too thin for a thumb. Nine times out of ten when I’m holding the device, my thumb is down near the next-page button, where there is a bit more room. Because the next-page button is on the left side of the device, it’s far more comfortable to hold it with your left hand.


This is kind of an important feature in e-book reader. Over the years, Sony has experimented in this department, from different sizes to different types of touch. Infamously, the 2009 Sony Touch was awful, because the touchscreen was reflective and made reading incredibly difficult. They got the technology right last year, however, and in 2011 every single major reader uses a similar technology: IR sensors surrounding the screen track touches, allowing for both really precise gestures (like typing on the keyboard, or writing a note with the included stylus) as well as broad-stroke movements (like swiping to change pages.) you barely have to touch the screen for it to register. very sensitive and feels natural. It makes the old readers that don’t have touchscreens feel broken.


The browser, google books, and public library access allows readers to never buy a book from the Sony Store and have a long reading list. Every book from Barnes & Noble and Kobo is available from the browser, which gives it an immediate edge over the Kobo or Nook. As for the Kindle, the two remain incompatable. But when you add up all the places you can get books, the Sony rivals if not totally beats Kindle numbers.

Kindle owners rightly champion the 3G, always-on connectivity. But the new 2011 Kindles don’t allow access to anything but the Kindle Store on 3G, which means if you ever want to get something on your Kindle (that you, say, email or get from a Browser) you have to be on Wi-Fi, just like Sony’s.


This thing is 5.9 ounces. That’s shockingly light. Everyone I’ve handed this device to has been impressed how little it weighs. It not only weighs less than any paperback, magazine, or newspaper, almost less than a pack of postcards. All ebook readers are light, but only one is the lightest.


Look, I’m not saying it’s always a good idea to go with the unpopular choice. Obviously, most mp3 players out there got killed by the iPod for very good reasons. But the Kindle’s dominance in ereading just isn’t deserved. The Nook, Kobo, and Sony Reader are all great, technical marvels of modern design, and offer similar features. When the race is that close, why not pick up a competing device? Sometimes it’s nice to be the only one around to have one (Zune owners, I feel you).

The Sony Reader Wi-Fi is the best ereading device I’ve ever used. And while that opinion may change several years down the road, I feel pretty safe positioning it on top of the heap for now.


October 25, 2011