Gadget Review: Sony PRS-900 eBook Reader
I have a ton of technical documentation in PDF format. Sometimes I need to browse this collection to find some specific piece of information. In other cases I may need to read an entire book or document. Searching PDFs using a computer is a no-brainer. If there is a computer nearby, of course. However, LCD screens of PDAs, tablet PCs, smart phones, laptops and desktops are not particularly well-suited for reading books.
My search for an appropriate eBook reader started with the Nook, purchased at a local Barnes & Noble for $259. The screen was beautiful. The image was sufficiently contrasty, sharp and very easy on the eyes at any angle and in most lighting conditions. Unfortunately, small screen size, no landscape mode, lack of the “go to page” functionality and other software limitations make Nook a very poor choice for reading technical and business literature in PDF format.
Photographed at just the right light and angle to eliminate glare, the PRS-900 looks very impressive. Unfortunately, to experience this image quality you would have to remain completely stationary while reading your ebook. Unless you are paralyzed from the neck down, reading PRS-900 may prove difficult.
My second attempt to find an eBook reader that is right for me resulted in buying the Sony PRS-900 (aka the “Daily Edition”) at Best Buy for $349.99. With a larger screen than the Nook, support for landscape mode, and enhanced PDF functionality the PRS-900 should have been the right choice. But just half an hour after unpacking the gadget I already knew that it was going back to the store. The mighty glare of the PRS-900′s screen was just too painful on the eyes to ignore.
Who said this screen was not color? This photo was taken using a tripod from normal reading distance and angle with low-intensity ambient tungsten lighting. In other words, your normal evening reading conditions while laying on the couch. Still, you can clearly see the reflection of the camera and my hand. If you were actually reading text on the screen, then you would have been staring at the reflection of your own face.
Under the hood the Sony ebook readers use the same E-Ink technology used by most other readers. Unfortunately, someone at Sony had the bright idea of equipping the PRS-900 with a touch-sensitive screen. It is essentially an overlay applied on top of the E-Ink screen. It reduces the screen’s contrast and adds glare. On top of this, the touch screen has very slow response time but excels at collecting greasy fingerprints. The E-Ink screen used by PRS-900 has lower contrast than similar screens used by Nook and Kindle. The white background is not as white, making it much harder to read in low light conditions. And if you add a light source, the glare from the touch screen will make reading even more difficult.
If you think turning on an overhead light would make reading easier, I suggest you think again. Turning on this low-power ceiling light made things even worse.
Sony’s PRS-900 features a clean design, solid construction, functional interface, Wi-Fi and 3G support, storage expansion slot, USB interface, a Linux OS, and a convenient pleather case with a magnetic latch. But the lousy screen overpowers all of these advantages with its glossy dullness.
Linux fans may rejoice in the knowledge that connecting your PRS-900 via USB to another Linux box will allow you to mount the reader’s filesystem and dig around in the guts of the gadget. Here’s a screenshot of PRS-900 connected to an Acer Aspire One running openSuse 11.2.
Sony has been trying very hard to come up with the perfect ebook reader. Over the past couple of years Sony released an impressive array of these gadgets. None of them were good. They key to Sony’s problems seems to be inability to create a quality E-Ink screen, forcing the electronics giant to turn to unnecessary features like the touch screen to boost sales. Despite higher prices, Sony’s latest lineup of ebook readers still cannot match image quality offered by first-generation Nooks and Kindles.