Proving once again that the stylus isn't dead, the Sony Reader Wi-Fi comes with its own black pen for taking notes and navigating the device. This 6-inch eReader also has an E Ink screen that's easy on the eyes, and Sony's store offers a selection on par with Amazon and Barnes & Noble's stores. But is this $129 device worth the $30 premium over its competitors?
Measuring 6.9 x 4.4 x 0.4 inches and weighing 5.9 ounces, the Sony Reader Wi-Fi is similar in size to the Nook Touch (6.5 x 4.5 x 0.3 inches; 6 ounces) but lighter than the Kindle Touch (6.5 x 5 x 0.5 inches; 7.5 ounces). It will easily fit in a pants pocket or small purse without being noticed.
The slick, black frame (also available in red) surrounds the 6-inch E Ink touchscreen display. The starkness of the black drew attention to the gray text on a gray background, which made the E Ink appear somewhat muddy, rather than crisp as on the Kindle and Nook. The soft-touch back proved easy to smudge, but it didn't show fingerprints. Along the bottom left of the screen you'll find awkwardly placed front and back page-turn buttons. In the center is a home button, while a back button and menu button sit to the right side.
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A power button with a backlit charging light sits on the bottom to the right of the headphone jack and microUSB port. The built-in 2GB of storage will hold up to 1,200 eBook titles. You can also add a 32GB microSD card to the slot that sits beneath a port cover along the left edge of the eReader.
The included black stylus has a tab that could hang over a shirt pocket. Unfortunately there's no place to store it in the eReader, so we predict many users will lose it.
With bookcover thumbnails and large buttons, the Sony Reader Wi-Fi interface is much more graphically appealing than the Nook and Kindle. On the top third of the home screen, you're presented with the cover of the most recently read book, and the middle shows thumbnails for the three most recently added books.
Along the bottom sit rectangular icons for helping you organize your content. The Sony Reader automatically groups books, periodicals, and user-created collections into individual sections. There's also a button for opening the online Sony Reader Store, provided you're connected via a Wi-Fi network. All the book covers and buttons can be selected with a finger or the included stylus.
At the bottom right is a button to page over to the second home screen, where you'll find additional sections. The Network area includes buttons for accessing new content from public libraries, the web, Google books, and all your purchased content from the Sony Store. The Reference section includes access to your notes, handwriting, the pre-loaded dictionary, and text memos. Under Multimedia are buttons for opening pictures and audio files. And the System section offers access to date, time, wireless networks, and other general settings.
Overall, the interface is clear and intuitive, and all the long buttons were easy to press. The on-screen keyboard, however, could use a speed boost. Even when we used a hunt-and-peck, one-key-at-a-time typing method, the Sony Reader Wi-Fi had a hard time keeping up with our typing. We often saw a delay of several seconds, followed by the screen flickering, before it would finally catch up.
Display and Reading Experience
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The 6-inch E Ink Pearl display, with a resolution of 800 x 600 pixels, matches what's found on the Nook and Kindle. Side by side, the screens of the three devices looked nearly identical. There was no glare when we read Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson in direct sunlight.
Within a book, it was easy to alter the fonts size and typeface. Readers can chose from eight sizes and seven font types, including serif and san serif options. We would have appreciated the ability to alter the space between the lines and the margins of the books.
Pictures looked sharp and detailed. Snow on the bark of trees, even in the background of a landscape shot, resembled well-formed globs of white powder. And footsteps in the woods were easy to make out even when zoomed in. But the background of a small bookcover thumbnail of The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory just appeared dark, rather than detailed.
The Sony Reader has a resistive touchscreen; a capacitive touchscreen or the infrared technology used by the Kindle Touch and Nook would have been a more responsive option. Touching a button or opening a book on the Sony Reader Wi-Fi was followed by a one- to two-second delay. We also observed a distracting flicker when opening new documents and web pages. The screen does support some gestures, such as swiping a finger to turn a page, and pinching fingers to zoom in and out of photos.
Sony also offers responsive front and back physical button below the screen. However, they are both placed to the bottom left, which make them awkward for someone holding the device with a right hand.
We would have appreciated a social networking feature, such as the ability to share passages via Facebook and Twitter. But Sony has not yet offered this as an option.
There is no 3G connectivity option through Sony, but it does offer 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, both at home and in our New York City office. When we were able to keep a connection, we downloaded The Lady of the Rivers in about a minute, which is on par with download times for the Kindle and Nook.
While our sample size is a bit too small to make any major conclusions, it is worth noting that eBook prices and availability may vary based on where you get them. The Sony Reader Store offers access to 2 million titles, and we found 9 of the top 10 New York Times fiction hardcover best-sellers. On Amazon and Barnes & Noble's sites, we found 10 of 10 from the same list.
We also noticed a price discrepancy between Sony and its competitors in a couple of instances. The Christmas Wedding by James Patterson and Richard DiLallo was $5 cheaper on Sony's site than on Amazon and Barnes & Noble's stores, while The Snow Angel by Glenn Beck cost $3.50 less on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
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 does not offer eReader-to-eReader lending.
Newspapers & Magazines
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In the Reader Store you'll find 60 newspapers from around the U.S., including The Christian Science Monitor and the New York Post. For magazine selection, you'll find 28 finance and business titles, including Fast Company and Forbes. But you won't find GQ or Cosmopolitan, among many other popular 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.
You can easily add documents, eBooks, 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 e-mail documents to the device, as you can with the Kindle.
While it lacks external speakers, the Sony eReader lets you plug in your headphones to listen to audio books or to hear music as you read. Unfortunately, Sony doesn't have the same relationship that Amazon has with Audible, where audiobooks will appear automatically. Moonflower by Junichi Nagahara sounded clear and crisp through our headphones, and we were able to flip through The New York Times while listening to the pings of the high notes on the piano.
Notes & Dictionary
The Sony Reader Wi-Fi 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 eReader may be the way to go.
On board are 12 dictionaries including two English language versions (British/American) and 10 other languages including French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Tap and hold a word to find its meaning or translate it into one of five supported languages.
Just as with the eReader competition, you can quickly look up words on the Sony Reader Wi-Fi through the pre-loaded New Oxford American Dictionary. Simply tap and hold your finger on any words you don't recognize for instant access to two on-board English dictionaries, or choose from among 10 additional foreign language dictionaries.
Web Surfing and Searching
The built-in web browser on the Sony Reader Wi-Fi is very basic. It includes some pre-loaded bookmarks for Wikipedia, Thesaurus.com, Reference.com, Goodreads.com, Facebook, Twitter, and Food Network, among others. When we were able to maintain a web connection for more than one page of a website (which wasn't often), surfing was slow, taking 12 seconds or so to connect to sites such as mobile.nytimes.com. And it took several attempts (and 3 minutes) to load www.laptopmag.com. We would avoid using this device to surf the web.
Options and Accessories
Sony offers two fairly pricey covers, colored to match the various exterior colors options (black, red, and white). One is a basic book-like 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. Amazon's has a similar case with a built-in light that's powered by the device itself, and we think this is a smarter use of energy.
According to Sony, a single charge should last for more than one month if the wireless is off and you only read for a half hour each day. With the Wi-Fi on, you should get three to four weeks of endurance. Sony also claims that the device will fully charge within 2 hours when powered by a wall unit. During our use of the device, we only lost about a third of a charge over the course of a week.
If you're looking for an eReader with a solid selection of eBooks and a stylus, Sony's Reader Wi-Fi is worth a look. But while it beats the Kindle and Nook in terms of note-taking abilities, it falls well behind the competition in many other areas, and costs $30 more. The sluggish keyboard and dropped Wi-Fi connections proved vexing, to say the least. The Reader Wi-Fi also lacks some of the features offered by its competitors, such as device-to-device lending and social sharing of favorite passages. For $129, we expect more from an eReader.