As much as I'm fully immersed in the digital world, I still love reading a good book. However, the only problem with reading a decent digital copy of a novel is that you're often subjected to the uncomfortable glare of LCD screens (or God forbid, CRT screens). I can honestly say from first hand experience, that reading books on your computer screen for long periods of time will quite often give you red blurry eyes and sore butt cheeks. Even if had smartphones or PDA's with smaller screens, you're still subjected to the same tiring glare of an LCD screen and worse, a soon to be dead battery, just by reading books on the go.
If only there was a way to take your books on the road without all the physical annoyances or lack of mobility via battery life. Oh wait, there is, and it's called an ebook reader.
Over the years there have been a few ebook readers to take to the market, the most famous of which is the Amazon Kindle. Over the past few months however, there have been more than a fair share of ebook readers being developed and released to the public market. I just happen to get my hands on one of them, the Sony PRS-300, and as the title so clearly states, this is my full, hands on review of it.
The PRS-300 is the successor to the surprisingly popular PRS-505 and the painfully slow PRS-700 ebook readers. Released at the same time as the PRS-600 "touchscreen" reader. This "pocket edition" is a bare bones ebook reader. It is also at this point, the cheapest ebook reader on the market that costs $199 USD or in my case $290 AUD not inclusive of delivery costs. It is about 6.2 x 4.2 inches and 0.5 inches in depth and sports a 5 inch 600×800 resolution e-ink screen which only displays various levels of greyscale. Although that might seem small, the PRS-300 is only slightly smaller than a normal paperback which means you can hold it snugly in your hands. Weighing in at about 220 grams (which is roughly the same weight as a thick novel) and encased in brushed metal with plastic sides, it's not going to feel like a cheap toy either. It feels solid in your hands which personally I prefer more than something that feels like it's going to float away or worse, break.
The PRS-300 can read a variety of ebook formats such as EPUB, BBeB, PDF, RTF, Word and text files, so you'll have no problems accessing your favourite ebooks. Unfortunately though because this is a "bare bones" reader, the only jpg files it'll display are the covers of the books you put in (that's just as well anyway because it'll all be in greyscale rather than colour to begin with). Unlike the more well known Kindle, the PRS-300 does not have wireless access which means you won't get the nifty wireless uploads of books, but that means it's no different than just uploading music from your computer to your reader. All you have to do is plug the reader in via a standard USB cable (which is included in the box and doubles as a charger) and upload all your books into its 512mb memory space. While that might not sound like much space, most ebooks are between 200kb and 1mb big, so that's a lot of books in one reader.
There are no CD's provided to install Sony's ebook Library. All the software is contained within the reader itself. The moment you plug the reader in, you'll get an option if you want to run the install program for it. It's pretty slick that way. The program is just as slick too. All you have to do is add your various ebooks into the library (again, it's much like you do with songs on your media player), once that's done, you can sync your library with your reader and that's all it takes.
However, while running the sync, for some reason, my books kept getting duplicated on my reader. I'm not sure if it was just me, but in the end I opted for a third party program which has more functions that Sony's ebook Library including an ebook format converter that's not included in the original program. At this point, I'm happy with it that way, but you might find it easier to stick with the enclosed software instead.
Now, because this technology is relatively new to the common public, most people aren't aware of what e-ink actually is. Long story short, e-ink is a low powered solution to the whole LCD screen problem. The screen resembles the sort of stuff that you see display cellphones have as texts on its screen. It looks like real paper until you realise that words can appear on the screen and then you still think it's somehow magic paper. But it isn't magic paper, it's e-ink. It doesn't have the glare of LCD screens, which means you can use this under a bright sunlight or a dim room like a normal book and you won't have to strain your eyes at all like a normal book.
Best of all, because e-ink uses less power than an LCD screen, the battery life is supposedly clocked at about 2 weeks or roughly 7500 flipped pages. While I don't have it long enough to actually test that theory out with the PRS-300, but I've gone through a more than book in a day and the battery level still reads as full. Not the same kind of thing you can boast with a smartphone or a PDA.
Now buying ebooks is relatively easy. Using Sony's ebook Library software, you can access Sony's ebook store (which has over 100 thousand books), Google books and if your local library supports it, you can even checkout library ebooks. Although, comparable to what Amazon offers for its ebooks, a lot of the books that Sony offers is a little more pricier. However the upside is that unlike Amazon which is tied into the Kindle, you don't have to be in US only to get the books. If you choose to use Sony's ebook store, you can easily authorise and deauthorise up to 5 computers and ebook devices to store your purchased ebooks. By doing so, if ever your system or reader gets wiped out, you can easily redownload all your purchased books again for free.
The downside to the PRS-300 is also everything that makes it decent. Because it is relatively cheap, its "bare bones" form means that unlike other ebook readers or even its more pricier sister – the PRS-600, all it does is just read books. It does not have wireless, you cannot surf the net with it, there are no expansion slots for additional memory cards, you cannot take down notes or annotations and it does not have touch screen. Personally, I don't really see this as a problem, because even if I read paperback novels anyway, it's unlikely I will start scribbling down notes on the book nor going wireless with a book to begin with, so while it's a nice luxury to have, it's not a must have in my case.
What really bugs me after a while is its size. While I am amazed and happy that I have no problems when it comes to reading books on the PRS-300, it is when I hold it in one hand for long periods of time that begins to annoy me a little. The button placement I feel could have been a little better. Rather than have the omnidirectional scroll button at the bottom, they could have moved it to the side, allowing an easier grip on the reader rather than an eventual cramped hand holding the reader at the bottom.
Again, it's not really a problem if you hold it with both hands like you do a normal book, but as I said, it's a nice luxury to have, and this is one I'm much more used to. However, when you think about the size and what it was meant for, the PRS-300 Pocket Edition does make a lot of sense, especially when you can do this with it.
So in conclusion, is the PRS-300 a worthwhile buy? Well, for a person who has never really owned an ebook reader before and would like to see what the fuss is all about, I would say that it is an extremely good buy, especially since it's got a pretty decent price tag attached to it. If you think you can live without all the extra details that its much more expensive brethren has, again, it is also a worthwhile buy. However, if you happen to be looking for a reader that can read wirelessly read RSS feeds or if you're a student that tends to add notes to all the book reports and academic PDF files you have, then you'd be better off getting the more expensive and larger sized ebook readers.
While purists may not see the point in replacing their page-turning paperback books with a metallic device that reads digital books, this device is more than just catering for the more technologically open minded individuals. It's also for the student that doesn't have all the shelf space to store all the books they want. Most of all, it is for a whole new generation of literary geeks that still loves to take time for a good read whenever, wherever. If ebooks are the future, then everyone's got to start the transition somewhere and the Sony PRS-300 does just that.