Last month, news of two new Sony readers leaked when someone found repair manuals for new devices called the PRS-300 and the PRS-600. Gadget sites were rife with speculation about these devices and when they’d be released. Sony quickly confirmed that these new devices would be released at the end of August, and they even listed the Sony Pocket Edition (also known as the PRS-300, to use the old convention of using the model number as the name) and the Sony Touch Edition (PRS-600) for pre-order. I’ve been a devoted Sony Reader user since the PRS-500, so I quickly placed a pre-order for the Touch in red. On August 25, Sony officially announced the Touch and Pocket Edition readers, and SonyStyle started shipping the devices. I received mine on August 27.
The Touch Edition is a melding of both the PRS-505 and the PRS-700 models. Gone are most of the input buttons of the 505 model. Like the 700 before it, the Touch (or 600, as some users are calling it) uses a touch-screen for input. It retains a few buttons, but they are placed discreetly at the bottom of the display screen, similar to the old 700 model in appearance. The 600 is the same length and width as the 505, but it is 0.1” thicker. The front-lighting from the 700 is gone. This allows the touch screen to lay flat against the E-ink display in the 600.
- Size in inches : 6.9 x 4.8 x .4
- Weight : 10.1 oz
- Screen Size: Vizplex 6 inch (diagonal) E-Ink display with 8-level gray scale and a resolution of 800 x 600 pixels
- Memory Size : 512 MB. User available capacity: Approximately 380 MB
- Dual memory card expansion slots for Memory Stick PRO Duo and SD card up to 16 GB
- Media formats supported : ePub (Adobe DRM protected), PDF (Adobe DRM protected), BBeB Book (PRS DRM protected), ePub, BBeB Book, PDF, TXT, RTF, Microsoft Word (conversion to the Reader requires Word installed on your PC), JPEG, PNG, GIF, BMP, MP3 (non-encrypted), AAC (non-encrypted)
- Connectivity : USB for file transfer from PC
- Power : charge with USB cable (supplied) or optional A/C adapter
- Battery: rechargeable lithium-ion battery
What’s in the Box?
- USB cable for charging and synching the device
- Protective neoprene sleeve
- Quick start guide
The first thing I noticed when I opened the box is what is NOT included. This reader doesn’t come with a case, just the sleeve. I’m sure this was a cost-saving decision, but I don’t think it was a good one. The neoprene case is very flimsy. The foam isn’t dense and resistant to compression like my neoprene laptop sleeve. It is very soft and spongy, and seems too insubstantial to provide much protection for the glass display screen. The sleeve is open at the top. There is no zipper or flap or even Velcro to close the case. The sleeve fits the naked reader snugly enough that I don’t think the reader would easily fall out, but I carry the reader in my purse, and this sleeve is not going to keep pens or keys from slipping in to scratch the reader.
The body of the 600 seems to be aluminum, like all the models before it. It does have a non-slip coating on the back. I suppose this is to make it easier to hold without a cover. Holding the naked reader isn’t comfortable for me. I much prefer the book-like feel of a cover, and I like that the cover provides a little protection if I should drop the reader. Unfortunately, none of the optional covers were available from Sony when I received my reader. Luckily Sony stuck with the cover attachment method from the previous generation of readers, so I tried it in the original vinyl cover from my 505. It fits in that cover, but the 600 is a tight fit. It was hard to slip it into the plastic nubs that hold the reader in the case, and I felt I was going to break the plastic spine before I managed to wedge the 600 in there.
No software CD is included in the package, but the reader itself contains installation files. Since I already had the latest version of the Sony library software on my computer running 64-bit Windows Vista Home Premium, I did not run these installation files. My software recognized the new reader immediately. I was surprised to see a firmware update was already available. It was to fix a problem with using memory cards, and the update installed without a problem. I authorized the reader and started charging the battery and loading up books.
I never owned the Sony PRS-700, which was their first touch-screen model. I saw the device on display in a local Borders, and I felt that the screen was much less clear than the screen on the 505 model. Adding a touch screen layer to the device made text on the screen appear much lighter and less sharp. The fact that the touch layer was floating above the e-ink screen – to allow for the LEDs that provided the built-in lighting – only compounded the issue. I was pleased to see that the 600, while not as sharp and clear as the 505 display, was much improved over the 700. The screen has a very readable display, and I didn’t really notice the small loss of clarity until I compared the 505 and the 600 side-by-side. Since I haven’t any experience with the 700, all my comparisons from this point on will be between the PRS-505 and the PRS-600.
When I started playing around with the 600, I worried about the amount of pressure needed to operate the touch screen. It required much more pressure than I was comfortable using. There is an included stylus, but I don’t want to use the stylus to turn pages. I read so much, I fear that the stylus would eventually cut a groove through the touch screen! I found that using the tip of my finger or the flat side of my fingernail works much better than using the pad of my finger. Once I got the hang of it, operating the touch screen worked easily.
After I got used to the controls and started reading, I noticed how reflective the reader is. The PRS-505 I’ve used for almost two years isn’t reflective, and it was always easy to find a comfortable reading angle. I had also had the 505 in the Sony light wedge case since last December, so I was used to having a reading light that seemed to be part of the reader itself. I had a really difficult time with the PRS-600 being so reflective at first. This was almost a deal-breaker for me. The first night I used it, it was in a small case with a huge clip-on book light. The awkward feel of this arrangement and the reflections on the screen saw me starting the return-authorization process and packing up the reader for return when I got up the next morning. I finally decided to give the reader a second chance, and I’m glad that I did. I got a better-fitting case that’s sturdy enough to support the book light, so I was better able to concentrate on reading. The 600 retains all the functions that I’ve loved about the previous two Sony readers I’ve owned, and it has some new features, added storage, increased speed, and a beautifully sleek appearance. And it’s red – always a bonus for me! (Actually, the 600 is also available in silver and black, if red isn’t to your taste.)
What does the 600 retain from earlier generations? It’s still a compact size that fits easily in a purse, gear bag, or laptop bag. It’s light, so it’s easy to hold for hours while I read through those nights while I’m suffering from insomnia.
Press the hardware button marked with the magnifying glass to easily change font sizes (this model has five font sizes, two more than the 505) so you can find a comfortable size for reading. As before, the 600 supports a variety of digital book formats, both DRM and DRM-free. In addition to the proprietary Sony format, you can use Adobe pdf files. Since many libraries offer digital books in Adobe pdf format, you can check-out and read books from your local library on your Sony reader. You can also read ePub books, which means you aren’t tied in to getting your books only from the Sony bookstore. You can read text files, rich-text-format files, and even Microsoft Word files if you have Word installed on your computer to allow the file to be converted as it is installed on your reader.
Battery life is still great. I’ve been reading for a full week now on the same charge. I’ve found a charge on my 505 would usually last about 2 weeks with reading 3-4 hours a night. (I have a lot of trouble sleeping!) Sony is still persisting in describing battery life as about 7500 page changes, and people are always concerned that they’ve read considerably less than 7500 pages before they need to recharge. The fine print says you can get 7500 page changes if you fully charge the battery, open a book and continually change pages as fast as you can without stopping. What they don’t spell out is that your battery continues to drain even while you aren’t reading. The power switch doesn’t actually power your device off – it puts it into a stand-by mode. The screen is blanked and the touch screen and all of the buttons other than the power toggle button are disabled, but the reader is still “on” and slowly draining the battery. You can turn the reader off, but that requires going into the settings and choosing to power down the reader. This saves the battery, but it does take extra time to restart the reader when you next want to read.
The 600 retains the dual memory card expansion slots from the previous generations. You can increase the amount of storage for books by adding an SD card (up to 16 GB) and/or a Memory Stick PRO Duo card (up to 16 GB). It also retains the ability to display image files and to play audio files. These are two functions that I haven’t ever used. The 8-level gray scale screen isn’t the best method of showing off pictures of my family. I keep only one picture on my reader, and that’s a picture of me to which I added my phone numbers and name. If I lose my reader, an honest person can use that information to contact me and that picture to ensure that I’m the owner when I come to claim it.
I have never used the built-in audio player in any of the Sony readers I’ve owned. I have an iPod, and I use that if I want to hear music. Unless the audio player has changed in this version, it’s not useful for audio books because it doesn’t retain the position where you left off in the book. I’d be happy if Sony just completely eliminated the audio player from its readers. Apparently others feel the same, because Sony did eliminate the audio player in its PRS-300 model.
There’s a new hardware button on the 600 that I never had on the PRS-500 or PRS-505. It’s the “options” button, and it offers different choices depending on what you are doing when you press the “options” button. These functions will be discussed in the appropriate sections below.
From the “home” menu, you can still choose to see a listing of all installed books sorted by various criteria. Use the “options” hardware button to access these sort methods. You can sort by title, by author, or by the date. A new option here is you can choose to view your books either by list or by a thumbnail view of the cover. Another new option here is that you can search the complete book list for a title keyword or author name for a listing of only the books that fit your search criteria. You can also change the screen orientation between portrait and landscape; this changes the orientation of the reader in all its functions.
A feature retained from previous versions of the readers is the ability to sort installed books by collections. These collections are like folders with no sub-folders allowed, similar to playlists on the iPod. They must be created on the reader by the Sony library software and the books must be sorted into the collections by the library software, as well. These are virtual collections – only one copy of the book needs to be on the reader, and the book can appear in as many of these collections as you like. Collections are displayed alphabetically on the reader. The only options for collections are search for a collection title keyword or change the screen orientation.
The 600, like all Sony models before it, does not offer wireless connectivity. You still need a computer to purchase and store your ebooks. You’ll need to connect the reader to the computer via usb to copy over books. The Sony library software allows you to organize and maintain your library on your computer and on the reader. The library software also allows access to the Sony bookstore and manages books checked out from your local library. This software has always been available for Windows computers, and it is now available for Mac users.
What new features have been added? The 600 has a faster processor, so page turns are much faster than with my 505 reader. I also noticed that transferring books from the Sony library software is much faster. The 600 has about 380 MB of internal storage, up from the 192 MB in the 505 reader. I was able to load all the books I had on my 505 and I still had about 200 MB free in the 600. Because I can have so many books on my reader at all times, I don’t feel the need to buy a book wirelessly in seconds. I can wait until I get to my computer to buy a book, and I don’t have to worry that I’ll find someone wirelessly deleted anything from my reader!
A dictionary has been added to the 600. Depending on your language and keyboard preference, you will have either the New Oxford American Dictionary (English language with US keyboard) or the Oxford Dictionary of English (English language with UK keyboard). These are the only dictionaries available at this time. During setup, if you choose a language other than English, you will not have a dictionary. To look up a word in the book you are reading, simply double tap on the word. The definition will be displayed in a box at the bottom of the screen. In this display, you have three further options. You can tap the highlighter option to highlight this word to make a “note” in your book.
You can tap the magnifying glass icon to start a search for other instances of this word in the book. Finally, tap the icon of the open book with an A superimposed on it to open the dictionary. With the dictionary open, you can read an expanded definition of the word, if available. There is also a keyboard icon at the bottom of the dictionary page. Bringing the keyboard up allows you to type in other words for lookup in the dictionary. You can also use the hardware page-turn buttons to move around inside the dictionary. Tapping the X icon at the top of the screen closes the dictionary and returns you to your book.
At any point while reading or while on any other function screen in the viewer, you can press the hardware button identified by the house icon to return to the main menu. This is a nice new feature not found on the 505 reader. In the 505, you had to continually press the menu button to make your way through a tree of menus to return to the main menu; you could also press and hold the menu button down for 3 or 4 seconds to return to the main menu. This single button press is an improvement because you don’t have to guess where you’ll end up in the menu tree when you press it.
This simplified home menu button is possible because of the addition of the “options” hardware button that I mentioned earlier. If you are at the home menu, “options” allows you to search for a particular author or a title keyword among all the books you have on your reader.
While reading a book, “options” allows you to enter a page number to go to, to browse the history of the pages you’ve been on in this book, return to the table of contents, create or edit notes within the book, see the publisher’s information about the book, delete the book from the reader, or change the display orientation between portrait and landscape. The notes option here allows you to highlight text, make handwritten notes directly on the text of the book, erase a note you’ve previously made, see a list of all the notes in your book, or simply “dog-ear” that page.
When you are at the home menu, you can select “All Notes” to see a listing of all the notes you have made in your installed books in internal memory and on any memory cards in the reader. You can set up the Sony library software to merge your book notes with the notes in the copy of that book on your computer when you use the synchronize method of maintaining your reader instead of the drag-and-drop method.
You can use the reader as a memo pad or sketchpad. Select “Handwriting” from the home menu to create a drawing or a handwritten note using your finger or the supplied stylus, see a list of all your handwritten notes, and edit and delete these notes.
Choose “Text Memo” from the home menu to use a virtual keyboard to type in a note, see a list of all your notes, and edit and delete these notes. These notes are separate from the notes made in your books.
I’m sure there are other things the reader can do that I haven’t discovered yet.
I’m very glad I decided to give the PRS-600 another chance; I won’t be returning it. The 600 retains the functions I loved from my 505 and has added a dictionary and note-taking features. Writing in the books themselves isn’t something I’ll use since I read for pleasure. I was never one to write in my books anyway, so I don’t think I’d do that even in a digital book. It will be nice to make a quick handwritten note to myself if I find myself without paper handy. When I factor in faster page turns, faster loading of books from the Sony library software, and a nice screen, I’m very happy I decided to upgrade to the Sony PRS-600.
There have been several questions about making collections in the Sony Reader software. The above picture is a screen capture showing the bottom of the left frame in the Sony Reader software. I have no reader attached at the time. The Plus-sign key used to create collections is shown circled in red. If I press the plus-sign key with no reader attached, I will create a collection in the Sony Reader software. If I have a reader connected, it would be listed between the eBook Store and Computer in the list above. To create a collection in the reader itself, I would first select the reader in the list, then click the plus-sign. I can create collections in the library even if I have a reader connected. To do that, I would make sure that I had selected “Books” at the top of the left frame before clicking the plus-sign. You then rename the collection to whatever you’d like, and drag and drop books into the collection.