Sony PRS-300 Ebook Reader Review

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.

Sony PRS-300 Unboxing

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.

Comparing Sizes Between the PRS-300 and a Normal Paperback

Holding the reader

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.

Included pouch and system settings

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.

ebook on e-ink

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.

Obligatory cute butt picture with ebook reader in pocket

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.

18 Comments

  • September 24, 2009 - 10:30 | Permalink

    As much as I like having a new toy or a new, sleek digital device to play with, I still prefer holding a book in my hand and flipping the pages while reading it. I know, I’m old school like that. Plus, I pass all my books to my sister (who will take forever to read them) so I really don’t have what you called the “limited shelf space” (though she may have it, LOL).

    Thanks, Ed, for the review. Now I know what an e-book reader is :)

  • September 24, 2009 - 11:37 | Permalink

    I’d love to give ebook readers a go if I could only check them out here first. Oh well, at the end of the day, I’ll probably just stick to the ol’ paperback. I’m too clumsy to not drop this :P

    Plus the smell of books turn me on :P

  • September 25, 2009 - 11:55 | Permalink

    @Pelf: Glad to be of service. I live on my own and the only person I share books with is with Mel, even so, there are a few kinds of novels in between that we share in common. Having this at least gives me the freedom to have as many books as I want and at the same time being able to selectively buy all the paperback books I want to collect.

    @Tine: That’s the hardest part I thought off before buying this. I couldn’t really try it out because it might have been a hit or miss thing. The best I could do is watch all the video reviews and previews about it beforehand. Then I took the plunge. It’s more for people who are open minded with the progression of technology and geeks who understand the practicality of the thing. It’s not meant to replace the old school charm though, just complement it.

  • September 26, 2009 - 00:53 | Permalink

    Thanks for the great review. I’m really in the market for an e-book reader and the new Sony models (300 & 600) fit the bill. Initially I was dead set on the 600 but I was worried about the reflectiveness of the display. Several reviewers mentioned that it might be a problem in certain lighting conditions. I overlooked the 300 because it doesn’t even have external storage, much less a touch screen or a bigger screen. It even has a slower processor.

    Lately I’ve been paying closer attention to the 300 and I realized that this is probably what I need. Key points:
    - cheapest reader out there but very good Sony quality
    - clear screen (on par with the excellent 505?? I hope so) and no reflections
    - 5″ should be enough, just a tad smaller than 6″
    - internal storage is more than enough if I think about it, I don’t see a reason why I would keep books that I’ve read on the reader
    - lack of annotations, touch screen and dictionary shouldn’t be a problem, after all, regular books don’t have those features either
    - slower processor shouldn’t be a problem. I mean it adds, what, half a second to a page turn?

    So yeah, thanks for confirming the general idea I already had about the 300.

  • September 26, 2009 - 09:02 | Permalink

    Photonomikon: Usually I’d avoid Sony products because I feel that they are overpriced, but this is one of the cheapest ebook readers out there and for its price, you’re getting pretty solid build quality.

    I’ve never tried the 505, but I should mention that the matte display doesn’t have any sort of reflections at all. It’s comparable to a matte photo paper which unless you shine intense light directly at it, won’t have glare at all.

    Also, page turning really isn’t a problem. It does take half a second to flip a page but that doesn’t really bother me. It’s just as fast as you flip a page on a book from scratch.

  • September 26, 2009 - 13:06 | Permalink

    Yeah I avoid Sony too due to most of their stuff being overpriced but somehow they did the right thing with these ebook readers. I’m really impressed and wouldn’t have expected that of Sony. As for the Kindle, I will never buy one. I don’t need a wireless connection and I surely don’t need the Thought Police to steal my stuff remotely.

  • October 1, 2009 - 23:06 | Permalink

    Hey, nice review. I’m too lazy to write a comprehensive review on my own blog for the PRS-300. Figures there’s enough reviews over the web ;). Gah, but I like your blue version better than my silver. Mine looks so plain haha

  • October 16, 2009 - 09:38 | Permalink

    I too opted for the PRS300 as a very inexpensive and highly mobile reader for “juvenile” novels to be read to my grandchildren. Basically, I use it as a platform for the prototyping of custom 5/6-inch display PDF files created from public domain material downloaded from internet to include embedded TOC and bookmarks compatible with both Adobe/Preview PDF software and the current line of Sony readers.

  • Tommy
    November 27, 2009 - 20:23 | Permalink

    Nice review of a nice designed ebook reader. The price and the features make it a serious competitor for the leading device like the kindle.

    I have also found a nice review of the sony prs-300 on this page

    I thought it was worth sharing

  • Dave
    May 14, 2010 - 20:50 | Permalink

    I just read your review and I have to say I agree that this is an excellent eReader. Most people act like it’s bad because it’s so bare, but then it still has enough memory for hundreds of books and can handle pictures surprisingly well if there are graphics in the novels you load on. It is obviously meant to be a digital book, if you want a smart device get a tablet PC or smart phone. I just wanted a digital book that would be easy on the eyes and not fill up a room with novels. I look at this eReader as being the mass-market format since it is smaller, durable (aluminum body), and better price point. I think if you’re the type to buy MM paperbacks instead of trade paperbacks this is the eReader for you.

    I was just wondering what 3rd party library software and or eBook converter you recommend because I am new to this and you have now been using yours for some time.

    Sony has always been in a position to push quality and performance. They built the PS2 with in mind to provide DVD playback to everyone and it worked to help make the switch from VHS. They have always been bad when it comes to proprietary components, which in my opinion is why Blu-Ray won over HD-DVD but it doesn’t always work out that way like with their Betamax, Atrac3, and Firewire.

  • Melanie Putra
    May 16, 2010 - 00:44 | Permalink

    I have never owned an eBook reader before but would love one. I read a lot of novels and a bit of travel guidebooks. What I see as the main reason to get the eBook reader is for when I travel. It would be good to not have to lug along a few books each time. I have been deliberating between Kindle and Sony (Hanlin despite being sold locally by MPH, but not as cute as a Sony, so I am trying to avoid buying it from MPH). I will highly likely be visiting US sometimes in Aug-Sept 2010. Or else, my friend will definitely be going for 3 months. So there is no issue getting it from there.

    I think I am leaning towards Sony since it is so complicated being a Malaysian getting Kindle and Amazon’s eBooks here. But I did read this very informative forum on how to go about using Kindle here http://forum.lowyat.net/topic/1053076

    Another reason I am leaning more towards Sony is I also read that Kindle’s screen is pretty fragile. Plus, I can’t use Kindle’s wireless connectivity in Malaysia.

    I am leaning towards PRS-300.

    The only thing I feel Sony loses out to Kindle is when it comes to the availability of the eBooks. Then again it is so difficult to buy eBooks from Amazon for Malaysia. Even though for now it seems we have found ways around the loophole but who knows what other ways will Amazon find to stop their eBooks being sold here? Also, I am not that well versed in technical issues!
    I have some questions for any Malaysians out there that have been using eBook readers, especially a Sony ebook reader like PRS-300.

    Question 1
    Sony book store is not extensive but we can also buy eBooks from Google Book. When I checked Google Book it says that we can purchase from stores like Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, Borders, etc. But being in Malaysia, is it easy to purchase online from these sites (since I read that Malaysians can’t purchase eBooks for Kindle from Amazon.com)?

    The Sony Reader Store is currently available in the United States and Canada only. So that means we can’t purchase from them here in Malaysia.

    Many publishers are only permitted to sell their ebooks in specific countries due to
    “geographical restrictions”, and this is enforced by the eBook stores where appropriate. Which eBook stores are user friendly for Malaysian users?

    Question 2
    You mentioned an eventual cramped hand holding the reader at the bottom – I usually read book lying down either on my side or on my back. Would this be easy with your experience when it comes to holding the PRS-300 in one hand?

    Question 3
    I know that the eBook reader can be charged via USB through the laptop. For when I don’t have my laptop with me, I will need a normal AC Charger, which I know is available for purchase and it had been mentioned that any PSP AC Wall Charger will do the job. Then what about the difference in voltage between US and Malaysia? Would I need to use the converter here in Malaysia and anywhere else outside US and Japan?

    Question 4
    Even if the eBook reader enables us to borrow library books, is that possible for Malaysians? This is only for local libraries and I don’t think Malaysian libraries have ebooks…

    Question 5
    The PRS-300 doesn’t use user replaceable battery, right? What will happen once the battery dies in 1-2 years? I live in Malaysia and currently ebook readers are not sold here. (the only ebook reader in Malaysian market is Hanlin). Not even sure if Sony will ever sell theirs here… I am just wondering if I buy any of Sony’s ebook reader (I am leaning towards PRS-300) will I end up just using it for the duration of it’s battery life? What are the options available for someone who lives in a country where Sony ebook readers are not sold? Sometimes with all these uncertainty I wonder whether it is simpler for me just to purchase the locally available Hanlin V5…

    Question 6
    Calibre – Read that this is very good. Has anyone use it in Malaysia?

    I hope someone would be able to assist and answer some of my queries.

    Thanks!
    Mel

  • May 31, 2010 - 21:48 | Permalink

    @Melanie Putra: Sorry for the late reply, I didn’t really check my moderation queue till late. Hope these answers still help:
    1. As far as I know, there aren’t any legal ways to obtain books in Malaysia because the system is still pretty new. It’s like before iTunes and Rhapsody were part of the online music industry, not everyone had access to it. Now that I said there aren’t any legal ways, there are always torrents. E-books are like the mp3′s of the publishing world. If you do plan on doing this, at least feel satisfied in buying the books you actually like. That what I do in the end. I know it’s worth getting them. As much as I am comfortable with the digital world, I still love my paperbacks.

    2. Sometimes I read on my bed this way too. I find it more comfortable reading on my side because I have a place to rest my arm. So yes you can read with a hand, but you got to shift it every once in a while as it becomes tired from holding it in that position.

    3. Just get a normal international plug adapter at any hardware section/shop. That’s all you really need.

    4. Nope, the library functionality is not available in Malaysia. I just wish it were. People need to read more!

    5. Calibre is an awesome program and I’d recommend it over the default Sony Library. It’s multi-functional and works as a format converter too if you download formats that are not compatible with the PRS-300 (like Microsoft .lit files).

    Hope that answers most of your questions. :)

  • Melanie Putra
    June 6, 2010 - 16:56 | Permalink

    “As far as I know, there aren’t any legal ways to obtain books in Malaysia because the system is still pretty new. It’s like before iTunes and Rhapsody were part of the online music industry, not everyone had access to it. Now that I said there aren’t any legal ways, there are always torrents.”

    Dear Edrei,
    You mean using US IP Loophole agents like AlwayVPN to hide our M’sian IP address in order to buy ebooks? There is no ebook stores that I can buy from in a normal manner from M’sia at all?

  • June 7, 2010 - 08:42 | Permalink

    @Melanie Putra: Theoretically, spoofing the IP address should work. However, it’s usually not the IP address they use to determine US residency, but a credit card with US credentials (address, bank account etc) that they need to purchase the books. That much I know you can’t spoof. And as far as I know, there aren’t ebook stores in Malaysia. At least, I have yet to look that hard to find it.

  • Stacey H.
    August 25, 2010 - 22:56 | Permalink

    I seem to be having problems syncing my PRS300 either it doubles or i can’t chose which books i would like to sync. Any suggestions how to pick and choose which books i want on my reader and not have to delete them off everytime i plug in my reader?

  • August 25, 2010 - 23:32 | Permalink

    Stacey H: I used to have that problem too, which is why I switched from using the Sony Library to using Calibre to add books to my reader. They may have a fix for it, but I am not aware of it since I use Calibre.

  • Kuna
    December 14, 2010 - 11:54 | Permalink

    would I be able to download ebooks from a website like 4shared onto a pendrive and then load it into the Sony Reader?

  • Kuna
    December 14, 2010 - 11:56 | Permalink

    can I get the Sony Reader in Malaysia?

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