Along with the Touch and the Daily Edition, Sony has updated its smallest eReader, the Pocket Edition, with touch capabilities and an improved E Ink screen. At $179, this 5-inch device is also the least expensive eReader in Sony's stable, and it's priced to compete with the Amazon Kindle 3G and the Barnes & Noble Nook. But is its touchscreen enough to make up for its lack of wireless connectivity?
Sony completely redesigned the Pocket Edition to match the look of the Touch and Daily Edition. Gone is the D-pad, as well as the buttons along the right side of the 5-inch display. Now there are just five slim buttons beneath the display--Page back, Page forward, Home, Zoom, and Options--and the Pocket now has a touchscreen just like its larger siblings.
At 5.7 x 4.1 x 0.33 inches, the Pocket Edition is one of the smallest eReaders on the market. Weighing just 5.5 ounces, it's more than three ounces lighter than the Kindle 3G (8.7 ounces). One could fit it snugly into a rear pants pocket, though we wouldn't advise putting it there. A better place would be an inside jacket or coat pocket, or the side pocket of a purse or bag.
Though light, the Pocket feels solid due to its silver metal case, while chrome-colored buttons on the front add a touch of elegance. The included stylus fits snugly in a port along the right edge. Sony wisely replaced the miniUSB jack on the bottom with a (more standard) microUSB jack. There's also no longer a separate power port for the A/C adapter; the Pocket comes with an adapter for the USB cord.
Unlike the Touch and Daily Editions, the Pocket has no memory card slots or headphone jack lining the top and bottom edges. Users will have to settle for the 2GB of internal memory, which can hold thousands of eBooks.
The Sony Readers utilize high-contrast E Ink Pearl displays, the same technology used in the second-gen Kindle DX and the Kindle 3G. To facilitate touch functionality, there are IR sensors around the edge of the screen that detect and track movement, be it a user's finger or the stylus. As a result, the Pocket Edition's display is bright and crisp. In a side-by-side comparison with the Kindle 3G, text on the Pocket Edition looked crisper, though the Kindle has slightly deeper contrast. The bigger drawback is the Pocket's lack of font choice. While the Kindle has three available fonts, the Sony eReader has just one.
Overall, the Pocket Edition's touchscreen worked well. The only time we encountered an issue was when working with handwritten notes either in the Memo app or within books. There was minute but discernible lag as we scribbled with the included stylus, with the thin mark appearing milliseconds behind the tip. When we made slower, more deliberate marks, the Pocket was able to keep up.
The on-screen keyboard lags a little when typing, but not as much as the previous generation. We managed to type quite fast with the stylus and our fingers.
The Pocket's UI matches that of the other Sony Readers, and users can navigate by touch. The main menu consists of large icons, and the interface is simple. As is appropriate for a device designed for touch navigation, all of the elements were a bit oversized, so we never had to struggle to click the element or text we wanted. Some smaller elements were easier to get to with our fingernail, which the Reader had no trouble recognizing.
Another major improvement over earlier Sony Readers is that the Pocket Edition is no longer as sluggish. There's still about a one- to two-second wait between tapping an icon or a button and seeing the results on screen, but we no longer accidentally pressed buttons twice thinking that the device hadn't registered the command.
Content and Lending Books
The Sony Store now stocks more than 1.2 million eBooks, both free and paid. New York Times best sellers start at $9.99, but there are bargain books available for less than $5 and up. For example, Stieg Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo cost only $5.21 during our testing.
The store also has 40 magazines and newspapers available for digital subscriptions. As with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo, there's a 14-day free trial before the subscription kicks in so that users can try before they buy.
In addition, the Pocket can also read DRM-protected eBooks from other stores that utilize Adobe's DRM scheme. This includes Google eBooks and Kobo/Borders.
Since the introduction of the Touch, Pocket, and Daily Edition Readers last year, Sony has been a big supporter of digital lending. Owners can read digital books loaned from compatible library systems, of which there are several thousand. Users who wish to find libraries with eBook collections can do so via the Library Finder application linked from Sony's store at sonysearch.overdrive.com.
Software and Ecosystem
Because the Pocket Edition doesn't have a Wi-Fi or 3G connection, the desktop software for PC and Mac is the only way to get books on the device. Users can manage their library from the desktop and either sync the entire library to the Reader or choose specific. Once we'd entered our account information we were able to browse or search for books, purchase, and transfer them all from within the program. Owners can also use the Reader software to facilitate transferring library-loaned books.
Currently, Sony does not have apps for smart phones or tablets. However, the company promised that mobile apps for iOS and and Android will debut by the endo of 2010 and allow synchronization between multiple devices.
The Pocket Edition has several Brightness and Contrast settings, and you can create a custom setting. In addition to the six text size options, users can select a Page Mode that offers several options for viewing text, including some margin adjustments. Pocket Edition user can also choose a zoom level with pan-and-scan ability, which comes in handy when viewing PDFs.
Now, users can swipe to turn pages or use the physical page turn buttons on the left side of the device. We much prefer having page turn buttons on both the left and right. The swipe to turn is, as we've noted before, cute and fun, but ultimately less comfortable. It's much harder to use the Pocket Edition one-handed when you use this method.
One improvement over the touch experience on previous Readers is that the swiping motion doesn't have to go all the way across the screen to work. We were able to just flick our thumb to get the page to turn, but this did not always work and it took several days to get into a groove with the Pocket Edition. We wish that, like smart phone apps, the Reader allowed us to tap the edge of the display in order to turn pages.
Page turns are speedy, taking just 1 second.
Though the Pocket Edition's 5-inch screen is smaller than most mainstream eReaders, we were still able to immerse ourselves in Karen Lord's Redemption in Indigo. We found Small to be big enough to read comfortably while, and it still offered enough text on one page to keep us from turning pages too often.
Users with large libraries will appreciate the ability to make custom collections on the device. There are a few auto-generated groupings as well, such as unread books and periodicals. Otherwise, the Reader sorts books by date added, title, author, file name and latest read.
Notes and Highlights
Within books and documents, users can highlight passages of text or create hand drawn notes and marks, which we were able to export to RTF via the Sony Reader desktop software. Highlighted passages end up as text, but any page with hand drawn notes will result in a small, embedded image that we found hard to read on screen as well as once we printed the file.
Outside of books, user can also create free-form drawings or typed notes; these can be exported as image or text files, respectively.
Sony claims that the Pocket Edition's battery will last up to 14 days, which seems short for a device with no wireless connectivity. We used the device for 10 days without charging it during our testing, and the meter showed 1 bar out of 4.
The Pocket Edition comes in two colors: pink and silver. Otherwise, there are no other options. We wish that the company would also offer a black version. Sony offers two other eReaders, the $229 Touch and the $299 Daily Edition. The Touch has a 6-inch display and also plays audio files. The Daily Edition has a tall 7-inch display and both 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity. Both models have the same touch capabilities as the Pocket.
Currently, the Sony Reader Pocket Edition costs $179, which falls right in between the Kindle and the Nook with Wi-Fi-only connectivity ($139 and $149, respectively) and the 3G versions of both devices ($189 and $199). We don't think that a touchscreen and a compact design is more valuable than being able to connect wirelessly and update your library at any time. However, navigating by touch is instinctual for many, and this eReader satisfies in that regard. If you don't care about wireless, or if you prefer a smaller eReader, the Pocket Edition is a good choice.