With the Reader PRS-T2, Sony has added a few useful features to its E Ink tablet, and made a few minor improvements to its design. This 6-inch device--which also has a touch screen and stylus support--retains the same $129 price as last year's model. But at $30 more than the competition, is it worth the premium?
Measuring an identical 6.9 x 4.4 x 0.4 inches and still weighing 5.9 ounces, the Sony Reader PRS-T2 looks much the same as last year's Sony Reader PRS-T1. It's also similar in size to the Nook Simple Touch(6.5 x 4.5 x 0.3 inches; 6 ounces) and the Kindle Touch (6.5 x 5 x 0.5 inches; 7.5 ounces).
Sony wraps the 6-inch screen of the PRS-T2 in a new, soft and rubbery frame that was comfortable to touch. In addition to black, the Sony Reader can also be had in red or white. The industry-standard Pearl E Ink screen displays 16 shades of gray. Words looked clear and sharp, as long as we were in a well-lit room.
Along the bottom of the screen, you'll find awkwardly placed front and back page-turn buttons on the left. In the center is a home button, while a back button and menu button sit to the right side. The buttons on this year's device are more sleek-looking, outlining the shapes of the icons sharply.
A power button with a backlit charging light is located on the bottom to the right of the microUSB port. The built-in 2GB of storage (1.3GB after OS) will hold up to 1,200 e-book titles. You can also add a 32GB microSD card to the slot that sits beneath a port cover along the left edge of the e-reader. Unlike Amazon's Kindle Touch, Sony has done away with its headphone jack and audio capabilities.
Including a stylus in the age of touch screens isn't a sin, but not including a dock ought to be. The new Sony Reader comes with a plastic stick for making notes; however, without a place to stow it, we imagine it'll be lost in a hurry.
Showing book cover thumbnails and large buttons, the simplified Sony Reader PRS-T2 interface is much more graphically appealing than the Nook and Kindle. Just as with the previous Sony Reader, the top third of the home screen presents the cover of the most recently read book, and the middle shows thumbnails for the three most recently added titles. Along the bottom now sit three rectangular icons: Bookshelves, Reader Store and Applications. Sony has thus eliminated the need to page over to a second home screen. Pressing with a finger or the stylus opens books or apps. Opening the Reader Store requires a Wi-Fi connection.
In Bookshelves, you'll find your device's content, which can be sorted by books, collections (which you create) and content you've bought through Sony or Evernote (if you've synced your account; more on that later). We found it odd that there wasn't a section for periodicals in this menu. Each bookshelf looks like it sounds, arranged in rows stacked on top of each other. You can sort the content on the shelves by date, title, author, file name or most recently read.
Tapping Applications opens a screen of square icons for Public Library, Browser, Periodicals, All Notes, Dictionary, Handwriting, Text Memo, Pictures, Settings, Evernote Setup and Facebook Setup.
Overall, the interface is clear and intuitive, and all the buttons were easy to press. The on-screen keyboard, however, could use a speed boost. Even when we pressed one key at a time slowly, the Sony Reader had a hard time keeping up with our fingers.
Display and Reading Experience
The 6-inch E Ink Pearl display on the Sony Reader PRS-T2 has a resolution of 800 x 600 pixels, which matches what's found on the Nook Simple Touch and Kindle Touch. In side-by-side testing, the screens of the three devices looked nearly identical. There was no glare when we read "The Diamond Age" by Neal Stephenson in direct sunlight. However, we did notice some distracting ghosting when we flipped from one screen to the next.
Within a book, it was easy to alter the font's size and typeface, which was good since the default font was so small our eyes could barely make it out. Readers can chose from eight sizes and seven font types, including serif and sans serif options. Just as with the last version, we were disappointed by the inability to alter the space between the lines and the margins of the books.
Close-up pictures looked clearer than those involving distance and perspective. While a stack of books looked detailed, a shot from The New York Times of a worker hanging off the Capitol Dome seemed fuzzy.
The Sony Reader features an infrared touch screen similar to that found inside the Kindle Touch. The screen supports some gestures, such as swiping a finger to turn a page, and pinching fingers to zoom in and out of photos. However, touching a button or opening a book on the Sony Reader PRS-T2 was sometimes followed by up to a six-second delay. The Kindle and Nook e-readers respond to touch in a second or less. We also observed a distracting flicker on the PRS-T2 when opening new documents and Web pages.
Sony offers front and back physical buttons below the screen. While responsive, the buttons are both placed to the bottom left, which make them awkward for someone holding the device with a right hand.
The Sony Reader PRS-T2 doesn't offer 3G, but it does have 802.11b/g/n support for connecting to your Wi-Fi network. One handy feature is that the device automatically enters standby mode after 5 minutes of inactive use to save your battery.
While the setup was easy, we had some difficulty remaining connected to a network, whether at home, at public hotspots or in our New York City office. When we were able to keep a connection, we downloaded "The Diamond Age" in less than a minute, which is on a par with download times for the Kindle and Nook. Syncing our Evernote library took nearly 3 minutes.
Sony smartly made the Reader Store Web-based, so you no longer must connect to a PC to buy and load new books on your device. Also, you need not install software on your computer to access the store.
While our sample size is too small to make any major conclusions, it is worth noting that e-book availability may vary based on where you get them. The Sony Reader Store offers access to 2.5 million titles, and we found nine of the top 10 New York Times fiction e-book best-sellers. On Amazon and Barnes & Noble's sites, we found 10 of 10 from the same list. Where the three stores overlap, the pricing was identical.
When searching for a book or author in the Reader Store, you'll want to be sure of your spelling. Unlike the autofill options from Amazon and Barnes and Noble, there are no hints offered to get you to best-sellers when you mistype a title.
Sony offers bundles of books by an author for a discounted price. For instance, for $49.99, you can get the seven-book Highlander series by Karen Marie Moning. Individually, each e-book would cost $7.99.
Sony Reader users have access to 1 million public domain books from Google. You also get free access to books from your local public library, which is similar to Amazon and Barnes & Noble. However, Sony continues not to offer e-reader-to-e-reader lending like its competitors do.
Newspapers & Magazines
In the Reader Store, the Sony Reader PRS-T2's magazine and newspaper selection is sadly anemic. In fact, we found two fewer newspapers than last year's 60. But we did find the Wall Street Journal and the Chicago Tribune among the choices. The selection of 28 magazines hasn't changed since a year ago. You still won't find GQ or Cosmopolitan, among many other popular e-titles. You can buy a single issue of a publication for less than $5, or get a monthly subscription that will download automatically when you're connected via Wi-Fi.
Harry Potter for Free
For a limited time -- until 11:59 p.m. PST on July 31, 2013 -- Sony is giving away a voucher for a free copy of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" through the Pottermore shop online when you buy a black (and only black) Reader PRS-T2. To redeem your code, you have to register at Pottermore, then transfer the book to your Sony device. In the Amazon and Barnes & Noble stores, you can at least find a link to the e-book, but you still have to go through the Pottermore store.
Similar to getting your Harry Potter book, you can easily add documents, e-books, audio files or photos to your Reader Wi-Fi by plugging it into your PC and then dragging and dropping the files or using the Reader software on your PC. You can also load files onto a microSD card and transfer the files that way. However, you cannot email documents to the device, as you can with the Kindle.
Evernote & Facebook
Sony has smartly added Facebook connectivity to the Reader PRS-T2. Once we signed into our account through the Applications menu, we posted clippings of books as status updates to our News Feed in a matter of seconds. This feature is also common to the Kindle Touch and Nook Simple Touch, but these competitors go one step further than Sony by adding their own social communities, as well as Twitter connectivity. The Nook even adds Google+ connectivity.
However, the PRS-T2 can link to an Evernote account, a feature the Kindle and Nook lack. Once we synced our Evernote account, also in the Applications menu, we could send passages from what we read to our virtual memory book and catalog. You can also download the contents of your Evernote trunk for reading on your Sony Reader. We opened an Evernote document and were able to add handwritten notes. However, those documents don't sync with their online counterparts.
Notes & Dictionary
The Sony Reader PRS-T2 allows you to write on pages and save notes that way, or you can highlight text as you would in a real book using your finger or the supplied stylus. This was easier on Sony's device than on any of its current competitors, so if you're a compulsive note-taker who loves to write in the margins, this e-reader may be the way to go. During our testing, notes we made with the stylus appeared instantaneously in our chicken scratch. A convert-to-text option would have been a nice feature.
On board are six dictionaries that can look up words or translate them into English, French or Spanish. Tap and hold a word to find its meaning or translate it into one of five supported languages. When we pressed on "gallimaufry" in "The Diamond Age," we quickly received a definition.
As is common on e-readers, the built-in browser on the Sony Reader PRS-T2 is pretty basic. It will save your browser history and lets you bookmark favorites. The default home page features a few preselected bookmarks to Facebook, GoodReads, Food Network and a few reference sites.
If you want to check your email on this device, you'll need to use the browser. However, it took us between 10 and 15 seconds to load m.cnn.com and www.laptopmag.com. The Sony Reader PRS-T2 couldn't decide whether to load the mobile or full version of the NYTimes, and got stuck in a load loop. The mobile version of Facebook loaded in two seconds. In general, we wouldn't recommend using the browser on this device.
Options and Accessories
Sony offers two fairly pricey covers in black or red. One is a basic booklike cover for $34.99. The fancier option ($49.99) comes with a built-in retractable light that is powered by a AAA battery; it should last for 19 hours.
According to Sony, a single charge for the Reader PRS-T2 should last for two months if the wireless is off and you only read for a half hour each day. With the Wi-Fi on, you should get up to six weeks of endurance. This is up from the one month and three-week time frames of last year's model. During our use of the device, we only lost no discernible battery life over the course of four days.
While Sony still wins on note-taking among e-readers, it falls behind the Kindle and Nook competition in many other areas, and costs $30 more. Among other things, the dropped Wi-Fi connections vexed us repeatedly. The Reader PRS-T2 also lacks some of the features offered by its competitors, such as device-to-device lending and Twitter support. For $129, we expect more from an e-reader, especially since the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight costs just $10 more.