Sony Reader PRS-T1 review
Sony's latest eBook reader weighs only 163g, and its slim, plastic case is a far cry from the original Sony Reader PRS-505 with its metal trimmings and leather case. Although it doesn't feel as sturdy, it's a far more advanced device, with a touchscreen, Wi-Fi and integrated dictionary.
Although it works with Adobe's Digital Editions software, it has its own software which lets you manage your music, pictures and notes as well as eBooks and periodicals. Unfortunately, Sony's own eBook store isn't yet open, so the software links to online bookstores from WHSmith, Waterstones and Mills & Boon. Buying from one of these shops will add the book to your desktop library.
On the Reader itself, links to Sony's own store and to Google Books both redirect to a holding page, despite the fact that Google Books is now available in the UK. Hopefully a firmware patch will fix this soon. Sony wasn't able to tell us when its own store would be available in the UK, but when it is, you'll be able to subscribe to periodicals such as newspapers and magazines as well.
The Public Library link is the Reader's secret weapon - it lets you search for and browse local libraries that let you borrow eBooks, and the selection is surprisingly large. You'll need to visit your library to sign up, but once that's done you can borrow eBooks directly from the Reader, or using the Overdrive Media Console app on your iPhone or Android device.
Thankfully, Sony hasn't used its own Memory Stick format for storage: there's microSD card slot. With support for up to 32GB there's room for plenty of MP3s as well, although listening to music will use up the battery considerably faster than reading books.
Unlike a traditional touchscreen, the T1's IR-based system reacts to your finger's presence rather than actual touch (like a resistive or capacitative screen). This means you can swipe to turn pages as well as using a fingernail or the blunt end of a pen to add notes or underline words in a book, or create your own notes from scratch. The on-screen keyboard is surprisingly usable, so adding text notes and web browsing are less of a pain than we expected.
With all these advanced features, we were surprised there wasn't a built-in accelerometer: you have to manually change screen orientation, but this isn't a big deal most of the time. Otherwise, the interface is intuitive, and the menu system and status bar reminded us of Android. You can long-press a book to bring up a menu which lets you protect a book, so that it won't be deleted if you remove it from your desktop library.
Reading is comfortable thanks to the Reader's low weight and great contrast, and page turns are quick. A choice of font faces and sizes are available from the menu, and there's a clever Page Mode option for eBooks with fixed fonts: you can tell the Reader that the page is split into two columns, for example, and it'll automatically split the page in half and read down one side before starting again at the top of the second column.
Long-pressing a word highlights it with bounding boxes, which you can stretch to highlight a phrase, and pops up options to highlight, add a note, search or look up on Wikipedia or Google - a dictionary definition is automatically displayed at the bottom of the page.
Sadly, the Reader lacks the Amazon Kindle's ability to save your place in a book across multiple devices, but we really like its Public Library service, the advanced touchscreen and music support. It's a shame that Sony's store isn't yet launched, making Kobo's eReader Touch slightly better value, but if you want to read books and listen to music, it's the best choice, and wins an Ultimate award.