Bonnie Cha

Sony Reader Gets Smarter, but Not Head of the Class

When you think of e-book readers, you might think of the Amazon Kindle or the Barnes & Noble Nook. But you’re not limited to just those two choices.

Sony also offers a line of e-book readers, and this past week, I tested the company’s latest model, the Sony Reader PRS-T2. Available now for $129, the Reader features a touchscreen and offers a number of improvements that bring it more in step with the competition, namely the Amazon Kindle Touch ($99 or $139) and Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch ($99).

Some of these catch-up features include more fluid page turns, smoother zooming capabilities, and integration with Facebook. It also syncs with the note-taking app, Evernote. But while it’s a good e-reader, it’s still in third place behind the Kindle and Nook, as it trails in performance and content selection.

Design is definitely not a downfall of the Reader. It’s compact and weighs less than either the Kindle Touch or the Nook Simple Touch. It’s easy to carry in a bag, and the tapered edges and matte finish make it comfortable to hold.

The six-inch E-Ink touchscreen is easy to read — even in bright sunlight — and you can adjust the font size and switch the screen orientation. The latter is a manual setting, so the orientation doesn’t change automatically if you rotate the Reader. The Kindle Touch offers a similar feature, while the Nook Simple Touch does not. The Reader doesn’t have a backlit display like the Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight for nighttime reading.

To turn pages, you can simply swipe from right to left on the touchscreen, and the page turns were quick. The screen flashes briefly after a couple of page turns, a subtle but annoying feature that doesn’t happen as frequently on the more sophisticated Kindle Touch or Nook Simple Touch. Occasionally, I also noticed faint outlines of text from the previous page.

You can zoom in on a page by using the pinch-to-zoom gesture, and the touchscreen comes in handy for other functions, as well.

For example, you can do a long press on a word to look up its meaning in one of six built-in dictionaries, or add notes. You can also perform a search on Wikipedia or Google using the Reader’s Web browser. This came in handy while reading Susan Casey’s “The Wave,” as I was able to get more context on some of the historical references in the book.

The Nook Simple Touch does not offer a true browser experience, but you can look up words using the preloaded dictionary, and share passages via email, Facebook and Twitter. Kindle offers a built-in dictionary, Web search capabilities and a feature called Xray that brings up a book’s characters, historical references and more, so you can quickly find more information about them.

I found that it’s difficult to select text on the Reader or jot down notes using just your finger. Often, I’d end up selecting the wrong word. Sony includes a stylus with the Reader, which helps you be more precise, but there’s nowhere to store the stylus on the Reader so it’s easy to lose.

I appreciated that Sony included physical buttons below the display to help with page turns, jumping to the home screen and more. These controls, though not the most comfortable, made it easy to operate the device with one hand.

You can post a short excerpt and an image of the book cover from any title purchased from the Sony Reader Store to your Facebook wall. The process is simple, but the execution isn’t flawless. After logging into my Facebook account on the Reader, I selected some text and then chose the Send to Facebook option from the pop-up menu. Afterward, I found it posted on my Timeline, but the excerpt wasn’t formatted correctly.

The Evernote feature is really cool. Evernote is a free digital note-taking app that’s available on multiple platforms, and you can sync any notes you take on the Reader back to your account.

What really came in handy is a feature called Evernote Clearly, which strips down blog posts and Web articles to make them easier to read on mobile devices, including this Sony Reader. I used it to save several Web articles from my MacBook to my Evernote account, and then synced them to the Reader over a Wi-Fi connection. It was great way to catch up on the day’s news on my bus ride home from work.

Aside from the flashing issue, the Sony Reader has some other downsides, including user interface and content selection. Though Sony revamped how books are displayed on the device, I didn’t find the interface to be as intuitive or easy to use as the Kindle or Nook. I also preferred the organization of the Amazon Kindle Store, since it offered a clearer breakdown of categories.

I bought a copy of “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened,” by Jenny Lawson, from the Web-based Sony Reader Store, and it wirelessly downloaded onto the device. The Reader has a microSD expansion slot for more storage, and it offers up to two months of battery life, which is on par with the competition.

The Sony Reader first came out in 2006, but the Reader Store still doesn’t offer as vast a selection as Amazon or Barnes & Noble. For example, I wanted to purchase “The Anthology of Rap,” by Adam Bradley, but it wasn’t available from the Reader Store; it was, however, available from Barnes & Noble’s and Amazon’s e-book stores.

The Reader is compatible with file formats, such as EPUB and PDF. (The Nook Simple Touch supports both, while the Kindle Touch supports PDFs but not EPUB.) That means you can view any e-books using that format, including those from the Google Play store. It requires a fussy USB transfer process, but I was able to get my Google Play copy of “Bourne Dominion” over to the Reader.

As with the Kindle Touch and Simple Nook Touch, you can check out e-books from your local library with a valid library card. You can read purchased books on your computer with the desktop Reader software. There’s also an Android app, but there is no iPhone or iPad Sony Reader app, so you can’t read your content on any iOS devices.

Sony has done some nice work to bring its Reader up to speed with the competition, and it’s definitely worth considering. The Evernote integration and best-in-breed design are particular highlights. But when it comes to content, performance and ease of use, Amazon and Barnes & Noble remain at the top.

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