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28th June
written by Steph
The PRS 600

The PRS 600

A couple of weeks ago Steph mentioned that Target was going to start selling the Kindle in-store. The biggest appeal of this, for us, was the ability to actually go and mess with the device in person for the first time, and really get a sense for the size, operating speed and overall quality of the Kindle. Cue us walking through the Target electronics department looking for the Kindle display. Upon asking a friendly Target associate where we could find the Kindle, we were greeted with a blank stare and the exclamation “I don’t even know what that is.” Perfect. We did randomly find the display, which was balls. It was a demo-only unit, and therefore ran through a pre-programmed routine of displays and allowed for no interaction whatsoever. So, less than ideal. But the fire was lit, and now we were on the e-reader war path. Like Moses, we would descend from on high, brandishing our e-ink displays that would be clearly legible in bright sun for the masses. Good list-makers that we are, we decided that any e-reader we purchased had to have a few critical features. The first was that it had to support multiple file types – PDFs are a must, and we also wanted the ability to read ebooks purchased or downloaded from more than a single source (especially since our public library lets us download EPUB ebooks). On this basis, we vetoed the Kindle, because it’s still so strongly tied to Amazon and reading anything other than what you buy through that store is difficult/impossible.

Choose your adventure!

Also, we didn’t want something that was outrageously expensive and would break the budget. We both kind of think the iPad is nothing more than 6 iPods taped together and at a starting price of $500 for the shittiest model, we decided it was too rich (and superfluous) for our blood. If we want to flaunt our wealth, we’ll just drive around town in our Mini Cooper, thanks. Seriously though, we realized that most of the extra features on the iPad were not appealing to us, and that paired with the poor battery life (compared to e-ink) and the glare-prone screen made it a no-go for us. So that left us contemplating the Barnes & Noble nook. We sped over to our closest store (which is actually not that close…) and spent some time playing with the in-store model, which is a VASTLY superior experience compared to the Kindle. For one thing, you can actually interact with the device as you largely would if you owned it.  You can browse the B&N store, read some of the books that have been already downloaded to the device, and play with many of the features that you would use in the comfort of your own home. Although we found the interface a little bit confusing, we were excited to find out that the nook allows for expandable storage up to 16 GB, has an easily replaceable battery, and supports the reading of multiple file-types. Not to mention, there was the (now defunct) promo of a $50 gift card with purchase, essentially we were sold. Or rather, two nooks were sold… to us. BUT. Our e-reader journey does not end there. Oh no!  Normally this would be the time where we tell you about all the things we like/dislike about our nooks and how life is in an e-reading universe. Well, we’ll do that only, dear readers, you get TWO product reviews for the price of one. Because, well, the thing is… 10 days after buying nooks, we returned ‘em and bought different e-readers. Read on to find out more!

It's all one big button, really.

Come another random trip to Target (seriously), this time just to wander hither and thither, we happened into their re-designed electronics department which featured a prominent Sony e-reader display. Steph, magpie that she is, wandered over and began playing with the fancy, shiny Sony touchscreen model and was immediately hit with a wave of buyer’s remorse. For one thing, the entire screen is touch sensitive, not just some crappy little lag-prone color bar at the bottom. Navigating was intuitive and simple. Just tap the book you want to read and off you go. Also, the refresh rate of the e-ink screen was noticeably faster than the nook, I won’t say twice as fast, but maybe. The form factor of the Sony was also more appealing, with a sleek metal body half the thickness of the nook, minimal buttons and that trademark Sony Sparkle™. After a frenzied discussion of options, calculation of time owned versus return window and the logistics of which order to return and buy in, the honeymoon was over (for reasons we will get to in our newly minted Compare and Contrast® section). The nook was out, and Sony was in. We sped our way across town, nooks in tow, to Barnes and Noble and proceeded to empty four of their registers of cash (funny story – apparently they can’t just put the money back on your debit card, they have to give you cash). For reals. After occupying a sales clerk (who, incidentally, agreed with our less than effusive evaluation of the nooks flaws) for around 30 minutes, we drove over to Target (our poison of choice when it comes to spending money, apparently) and paid out a large sum of cash to a nervous teenage sales clerk. Too bad we didn’t have the presence of mind to cover the money is white powder or red corn syrup or something similarly hilariously inappropriate. Anyway, after assuring the clerk we’d not done anything illegal to get the cash, we then proceeded to head home and try out our new devices.  A week later, here are our thoughts: What made you decide to choose the Sony over the nook?

Pointy stick.

Tony: For me I guess the biggest thing was the way the touch screen worked. The Sony just seemed so much snappier and responsive and intuitive. I really found the nook’s touchscreen to be too small and very laggy and in general just kind of obtuse. I think the color touchscreen of the nook was a serious battery hog because I was really unimpressed with the nook’s battery life overall, which I think was something we both had issues with. Steph: I agree. I really loved the Sony touch screen from the start; it just made so much more sense to be able to touch everywhere on the screen, whereas with the nook I kept getting confused about where I could touch and where I couldn’t, and honestly, when you have so many books, using the laggy touchscreen to scroll them all was a pain and time consuming. Also, I really like how the Sony has more useful reading tools, like a “go to page number” option where you can type in the page you’d like to jump to, and of course the notes, highlighting, and dictionary system are just vastly superior (again because you can just tap the relevant portion of the screen rather than having to use a sluggish touchscreen option at the bottom). And of course, given that I’m the fiscally minded one, the pricepoint (at that time, as the new nooks had not been released) was great too! Is there anything you miss about the nook? Tony: I think the screen was definitely more readable in more situations. It had higher contrast and less glare for sure, but considering all of the trade-offs that I ended up making this wound up being a small concession.  [On another note, I do have a screen protector on the way that is supposed to reduce glare which may make this a moot point, but we’ll see…]. I also liked the idea of having wi-fi and 3G, but ultimately for the way that I use my e-reader, these more needless frills than they were necessary additions. And of course, the biggest thing I miss about the nook is the pun potential for the name of the device. I mean “Captain Nook” was a pretty fantastic name. Also, I liked how “nook” always sounded dirty. Steph: Yes, I do miss “Snooki”, but I must say that I am pretty pleased with “My Little Psony” as far as nomenclature goes! I agree that the screen was about as good as it gets on the nook and there are times when I notice glare on the Sony, but like you I don’t find this to be an insurmountable issue. It’s easy enough to adjust the angle of the reader (or myself) and voila! Glare eliminated! I will say that while I didn’t feel like the wi-fi and 3G were a huge draw either [note: the Sony PRS 600 has neither of these, so all items must be loaded via a USB cable], I did like being able to buy things through the B&N store, since I feel like their ebook selection is better than those on offer through Sony’s store. That said, there are of course other stores I can try out if Sony doesn’t have what I want. But, hopefully we’ll get to the point where B&N books can be read on the Sony. Also, I liked how on the nook there was the capacity to read on it while it was charging through your laptop, whereas you can’t do that with the Sony (though you can read from it while its charging from an outlet). That said, the nook took WAY longer to charge (and lost its charge faster) than the Sony does. What are your favorite things about the Sony?

SD slot (left) and Memory Stick slot (right).

Tony: I really like the touch screen (obviously), because that’s really nice. I also like that it comes with a stylus, especially when you want precision (such as when you’re looking up words)… it’s just so much better than using a tiny touchscreen at the bottom and having to scroll through and hope you had everything in the right position… The nook was cumbersome. I also really like the software for getting things onto the Sony reader, and the fact that you can manage your content on the reader itself (such as deleting books), which is something you can’t do on the nook. I also, like the fact that you can scroll through the pages easily (either entering a number manually or using a scroll bar), which you can’t do on the nook. AND I LOVE the way the Sony Reader handles PDFs because you can zoom in on the document, which you just couldn’t do on the nook. It’s also great that the Sony reader can handle .txt, .rtf, and .doc in addition to all of the other formats it handles (which are the same as on the Nook, with the exception of those first three).

Relative size. Remember, she's a very small girl.

I also like the form factor and the weight of the Sony reader; it’s much lighter than the nook and just feels better in my hand. Steph: I’m also a big fan of the touch screen; to me it just makes sense! And it’s great being able to delete books directly off the device– it was huge pain having to manage content purchased through B&N on their website, which was really inelegant. The software that comes with the Sony reader is really nice and streamlined, and it makes it a lot easier to manage content when the device is connected to the computer. I also love the speed of the device – changing pages is no big deal, because the screen refreshes so quickly. Also, when I look things up (which I would normally never do), it’s great to have the definition pop up unobtrusively at the bottom of the screen without being removed from the overall reading environment/experience. Highlighting and looking up words has actually been a real joy, and in that sense I feel like My Little Psony is making me a better reader. Also love the battery life. Based on my reading patterns, I felt like my nook was consistently losing about 30% of its charge per day, and it was frustrating that it seemed to lose a charge even when it was “sleeping”. With the Sony, I have read for 3 days and only lost about 25% of the charge, which is great! And I agree that the Sony is much lighter – some times my wrists would get sore holding the nook… Really glad we didn’t get iPads! Anything that neither the nook nor Sony have that you wish they did? Tony: The Sony has a lot of nice extras but I do wish that it had some games! The nook had chess and Sudoku – though poorly executed, at least it had them! I also wish both devices could wirelessly synch with your computer rather than having to be tethered. But other than that, there’s not much missing in a pure e-reader. It’s obviously not the iPad, but that’s a different animal. Steph: I’d love to have a truly open e-reader that allowed me to download the variety of different e-reader apps that are out there (for instance, I loved reading on Stanza through my iPod Touch). I guess you can do that with the iPad, but there are too many other drawbacks to make that viable for me. I’d also love to see a greater variety of magazines and serialized publications come to e-readers. I don’t want to have a stack of them lying around the apartment, but it would great to have them on my e-reader. Right now the selection available through Sony is not great, so hopefully that will improve in the future. Comparing and Contrasting the Two Devices nook Pros:
  • Better e-ink screen; does have a color screen component if that’s important to you
  • Wi-fi and 3G (optional)
  • Can change between three typefaces for most books (not PDFs)
  • Nice positioning of forward/back buttons
  • Supports a wide range of files above and beyond B&N purchases (though not .txt files)
  • Replaceable battery
  • Expandable memory up to 16 GB
  • Touch screen felt slow and sometimes unresponsive
  • General touch screen integration wasn’t optimal and not necessarily intuitive
  • Lacking certain book navigation features that are critical (such as jumping to certain page numbers)
  • Have to manage books through B&N website which is atrocious
  • Issues with buying books through B&N store when out of country (even if have a U.S. billing address… so can’t necessarily buy books overseas if on vacation)
  • Battery life was less than impressive
  • A tad heavy
Sony PRS 600 Pros:
  • Touch screen is wonderfully responsive and intuitive; stylus is great
  • Screen is lightening fast to refresh
  • Supports all of the files that the nook does (save B&N purchases) PLUS .txt, .rtf, and .doc!
  • Some of the best PDF handling for an e-ink reader out there (can zoom in)
  • Highlighting, dictionary, and note taking is neither intrusive nor frustrating
  • Better interfacing software and book management
  • Phenomenal battery life
  • Can purchase books through Sony story in both Canada & the U.S.
  • Enormous potential for expanding memory (possibly up to 64 GB)
  • Easily replaceable battery
  • Good weight and very slim; feels good in your hand
  • Only 8 tones rather than 16, so screen contrast not as great
  • Glare can occur
  • No Wifi or 3G
  • Sony store more limited in its selection than the B&N store
As you can see, the nook has a lot of pros, but for us they were outweighed by many of its cons. We suspect that for many people not having Wifi/3G could be a dealbreaker, but for us it really isn’t. The 3G doesn’t work outside of the U.S. anyway, and we intend to use these on a big international trip that we’ll talk about another day. Since we tend to load up on the Classics and other public domain books (read: FREE!) and the Google books we downloaded gratis through B&N were atrocious in formatting, we needed to side-load most of the books onto our nooks anyway. Your mileage may vary, of course, but for now at least (and we have 90 days to make our final verdict), we’re really happy with our Sonys. If you have any other questions (other than the ones we posed ourselves) please feel free to ask!
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  1. Lu

    I’m glad to hear someone who has tried em all to say they like the Sony above all! I have a Sony and have been wondering what I’ve been missing with the nook and the Kindle. Now I know – not a whole lot! I love my Sony, but I think I need to think of a sassy name for it.

  2. kay

    Hey, I have the same one since Christmas – but in red! I really enjoy it and have read a few books. It’s so easy and fun to use! I love it for all the same reasons you two do, so I won’t bother with repeating all this, and though I don’t really miss the wi-fi, I would do without the glare – but I can still live with it!

    Anyway, I am glad to read you found an ereader that you like. Like anything, it really depends on what the user is looking for, but I think that the PRS-600 is a good choice. Personally, I download my books less via Sony and more via Kobo : their prices are often a little better for me (I don’t know how that would translate to a US resident though), and sometimes they have books the Sony store doesn’t have!

  3. 06/29/2010

    Really awesome review. It will be super helpful for those trying to determine which e-reader is right for them. I have a first generation Kindle and my mom has a Nook, so I am pretty familiar with those two obviously, but I have never seen a Sony ereader except for in the stores, so your review is very insightful.

  4. 06/29/2010

    So, so glad you got these and that you love them! I bought a Kindle at Christmas, after trying out a Nook that was less than responsive at the store. I really like my Kindle, but would love to have something with a touch screen. I also think the ipad is too expensive and just too much for what I want to do with it. I am thinking that if I ever buy another e-reader, it will be a Sony. Which books have you downloaded so far

  5. Fabulous co-review of the products! I love that you are already of the belief, Steph, that the My Little Psony is making you a better reader [big fan of the nomenclature too].

    My boyfriend bought an iPad at the weekend, not that he’s flaunting his wealth or anything :p

  6. 06/29/2010

    @ Lu: To be fair, we haven’t totally tried them all or all that extensively, but we did a lot of research – some of it hands on – and the Sony definitely is the best fit for us! I don’t think you’re missing out with yours at all, but you do need to come up with a sassy name for your device!
    @ kay: I had no idea you had an e-reader! I haven’t done to much paid downloading, because I’ve been stocking up on classics and using the library, but I will likely use Kobo when I choose to purchase books.
    @ Stephanie: I’m really happy that more stores are carrying in-store models of the e-readers so people can get out there and try them. I never would have bought a nook (and then the Sony) if not for that!
    @ zibilee: I didn’t think a touch screen would be so important, but I honestly can’t imagine going back to the nook now after using the Sony. It’s just so much more intuitive, and the scrolling was problematic for me with the nook because of its lag issues. I suppose it doesn’t really matter if you don’t think you’ll ever want to highlight passages, look-up words, or write notes, but even just turning the pages quickly is much easier with the Sony (since you can make the flip motion and then hold down to make it flip quickly).
    So far have downloaded a bunch of Classics, but I also downloaded What The Dead Know by Laura Lippman (review coming soon) and Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (review coming less soon, but soon!) from the library. And I’ve made a huge list of other ebooks I can borrow from the public library that I’ll slowly start working my way through…
    @ Claire: I’ve never been a big dictionary person while reading, but the Sony just makes it so easy I’d be a fool not to look up those pesky words that always crop up and I’m never quite sure of!
    And we jest (in part) about the iPad… we both have mac laptops and ipods, so we’re not anti-Apple or anything like that. For us the iPad is just way too expensive and not ideal considering what we would want it for (reading books).

  7. 06/29/2010

    I don’t know why, but the Sony was never on my radar when I was considering an e-reader. Maybe because I spend a lot of time in B&N and on B&…I think I succumbed to their advertising. And the color nav bar. And Calliope and I have been quite happy together, even though she does have a few little quirks.

    My Little Psony is a brilliant name!

  8. 06/29/2010

    Great post! You did a fantastic job of laying it out there for everyone still struggling over the choices. Despite being a no-frills kind of person, I confess to being an unashamed Apple addict. Want everything they make. Somehow their products just think the way I think. Kind of scary. So iPad for me but glad that you are happy with your (second) choices. 🙂

  9. 06/29/2010

    I’m leaning towards Sony reader too, if ever I take the plunge, thanks so much for the great review.. very very helpful. I’m not convinced to get one yet though, but feel like the way I do about twitter, as if I’m the last person not on it, lol.

  10. mee

    Thanks for the extensive review! It’d be useful if I’m about to make a purchase. But as it is now, we don’t have many options in Australia, so I’ll have to wait for a while, unless I want to import something from overseas. But that way I can’t try them first hand first. Too risky.

  11. 06/30/2010

    @ softdrink: I think if we hadn’t run into the Sony that day at Target we would have just stuck with the nook. Neither of us was entirely happy with it, but we didn’t realize there was something out there that was pretty much exactly what we wanted. There were certainly things I liked about the nook, but I am definitely happier with the Sony now!
    @ Frances: As I said to Claire, Tony and I have a slew of Apple products here at S&TI! headquarters; I’m actually a long-time Apple user, as they’re the only computers I’ve ever owned! But for me the iPad is too pricey for what I’d want to use it for, and actually doesn’t seem to be the best e-reader on the market given the glare, weight, and battery life issues. We’ll write about this more at some date, but we intend to do some world traveling, and I need an ereader that’s not going to need a charge every 8 – 10 hours!
    @ claire: Don’t worry, I’m not on Twitter either… and probably never will be! I wasn’t really thinking about e-readers until suddenly I was and here we are now! 😀 Must say I’m really happy with the decision, because it’s helping me tackle some of those longer books that otherwise scare me! 😀
    @ mee: Yes, one of my concerns with an e-reader is its transferability to foreign countries, since we might very well return to Canada in a year’s time! I do know some people have purchased various e-readers overseas, but I agree that if you weren’t pleased it would be a nightmare to return them!

  12. Good review of both products. One of the things I don’t like about the nook is not having a touch screen — I often want to have a stylus to highlight and note with. So this is giving me a little buyers remorse, but not too much.

  13. 07/02/2010

    @ Kim: Yes, the few times I tried looking up words on the nook (and the dictionary doesn’t work for all files, it seems), it was more aggravating than it was worth. That said, I probably would have been satisfied if I had not fortuitously stumbled on the Sony. I’m very happy with what I have now, but obviously it took some time!

  14. 07/12/2010

    I did a similar round and then eventually settled on the ipad. Just because I could do a lot more with it than just read books – check email, blog on the go, stuff like that.

    Although reading books was not the main intention behind the ipad purchase, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised with the iBooks app, and expect to be reading quite a few classics 🙂

  15. 07/13/2010

    @ Nishita: It does seem like people who purchase the ipad seem to do so because they want to do more than simply read. For Tony and myself, we really wanted a product that was dedicated to reading. I like being separated from email and the like so that I’m not always feeling that pressure, but certainly there are people who like the convenience of having an all-in-one device.
    Having just got back from our first real trial with the e-readers (9 days in Puerto Rico with them as our only source of reading material!), I am even more in love with our purchases. They were perfect!

  16. 04/27/2011

    This was so so helpful. I will definitely be going to Best Buy (they have, I think, 6 different e-readers on display) to check them out.

  17. 04/28/2011

    @ jenn: I’m glad you found it useful! I definitely the best way to make a decision is to get some hand-on experience with each ereader since they all have their pros and cons!

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