harbar.net component based software & platform hygiene

Sony Reader PRS-700

Print | posted on Thursday, March 12, 2009 4:44 AM

Last week I finally got my hands on the “new” Sony Reader PRS-700. I’m very happy!

I had tried to get one in San Diego in late February but was denied. Luckily there was no repeat of the Borders saga back in 2006 when I tried to get the original 500. Walked in on Sunday, picked it off the shelf and bought it – I got the black one rather than the silver. There were no gift cards which is kinda annoying but those can wait.

I haven’t spent a huge amount of time using it, but enough to post some early thoughts on the new device.


Screen Contrast & Light
First up is the most controversial topic, that of contrast. The 700 features a touch screen and built in LED light, these both do impact the contrast significantly. Here’s a side by side of the 505 & 700 on the same page of the same book:

DSC_5262 Click to get the original size pic.

However, to my eyes at least, the contrast is still OK on the 700. While the 505 is much crisper, as soon as you flip the optional light cover over the page (essential when on plane etc) you get a similar impact. For the extra value of the touch screen and built in light the decrease in contrast is an acceptable trade off. Another benefit of the new screen is it’s much easier to wipe off dust etc. When used with the light in position one, the whole contrast thing goes away. I know it’s better to do without, but in low light that’s a non starter even with the 505. You can think of the 700 as having the same contrast as the original 500, but with all the other new features. I know a lot of folk have returned the device because of this, but I’m OK with it.

The built in case light is very nice. I purchased the optional light for the 505, and whilst nice having it flip over makes it bulky and also the case bigger overall. The flip over light composite is also tapered which makes it thicker and makes it harder to read at an angle. The 700 comes with a very nice case and it would appear I will also be able to use my old 500 cases with it as well, which is a bonus.

Page turns and zoom
Page turns on the 700 seem slightly quicker, for me this is a real big deal. I don’t read fast – that would be learning impaired, but I do read quickly. One thing I didn’t know before buying is that the 700 also has much greater zoom controls offering six built in levels and a flexible zoom/scroll (which is really useful for poorly formatted material). I’m really liking the new zoom.

Page Controls
The right hand side page turn controls have gone with now a row under the screen. the two page controls are well positioned and this is real nice to use. If you are left handed, this is gonna freak you out however. But as you’ve learnt to live with page turns with real books, you will with an ereader! Of course the big new feature on the 700 is that you can turn the page by swiping. This actually works very well although I’m not convinced when reading a novel I will switch from the buttons. It seems to me you have to “touch” pretty hard.

Other new stuff
The 700 also has a nice home page giving quick access to dive back into what you were reading. There’s a search capability and the ability to annotate. These only time will tell how useful they are. These are both enabled by the touch screen which will pop up a keyboard when appropriate. There is also a stylus which makes using this much more like a Newton or old school Windows CE PDA.

Versus the Kindle
I only had a little time to check out a friends Kindle 2. However it did confirm the things I thought I wouldn’t like. First up the Kindle is very flimsy – very thin – looks very brittle. My readers have taken a lot of battering and are all as good as new. I doubt if I had a Kindle it would stand up to my life on the road. Plus the white case and keyboard below the screen and control placement are all a huge distraction to your eye line when reading. I really don’t know what idiot thought white would be a good colour for the device, probably got too “apple” in their thinking. The Sony on the other hand is a real nice piece of industrial design, it’s damn solid and there is little if anything to distract you from the screen. Of course the other reason the Kindle is no good for me, is that there is no way to purchase material for it in the United Kingdom.

Yup, it’s expensive - $400 plus whatever local sales tax. But I’m really not too concerned about that. I’m following this particular technology with zealous greed, and when you factor in how much I spend on books in a year it’s no big deal. Of course I still have the old 500 & 505!

I’m really liking it so far. IMO, it’s still the best reader on the market for those who are serious book worms. It’s all about books, and to be able to get a mass market consumer device that’s targeted that way in today’s world is a good thing. Would I like wireless and a better store? Sure, but those are not imperative features. Recommended.