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Sony Reader Wi-Fi review

Verdict

A light and portable ebook reader with an excellent display, sensitive touchscreen and masterful PDF-handling capabilities, but it’s still a little expensive

Review Date: 1 Jan 2012

Reviewed By: Jonathan Bray

Price when reviewed: £108 (£130 inc VAT)

Buy it now for: £90
(see more store prices)

Overall Rating
5 stars out of 6

Features & Design
6 stars out of 6

Value for Money
4 stars out of 6

Performance
6 stars out of 6

PCPRO Recommended

Sony has been a leading light in the UK ebook reader industry for a long time now. Since the launch of the Kindle in 2010, it’s been the only alternative worth considering – and this new model maintains that record.

The first thing you notice when you pick up the Reader Wi-Fi is how light it is: it weighs only 162g. With no keyboard, it’s small enough to slip into an inside jacket pocket, and although it’s a touch plasticky, it’s well made, and the slightly rubberised rear provides a nice grippy surface to hold on to.

Sony Reader Wi-Fi front

The screen is 6in across with a resolution of 600 x 800, and you get 1.4GB of usable memory – expandable via a microSD slot. There’s also an infrared touchscreen. This lets you sweep your finger right to left to turn a page, make handwritten annotations with the bundled stylus, and highlight text effortlessly. That’s nothing new for Sony, though. Where this device differs from predecessors is the device's 802.11n Wi-Fi adapter.

Once logged into your network using the onscreen keyboard, it offers direct access to the Sony ebook store, and through that a free subsection of Google Books, plus free ebook loans from your local library via the OverDrive eLibrary system.

Or it will do when the service goes live. Unfortunately, Sony has delayed the launch of its Reader store in the UK, so anyone buying the new reader may have to wait to make the most of those integrated services.

The onboard WebKit web browser, however, is fully functional, and with the Reader Wi-Fi’s sensitive touchscreen this works surprisingly well. It will never rival a tablet for ease of use, but for accessing free ebook sites such as the Gutenberg Project, and even checking the odd email, it’s perfectly functional. Even inertial scrolling and pinch-to-zoom operations function, although you may find the constant screen refresh sends you cross-eyed after a while.

Elsewhere, the Sony exhibits similar strengths and weaknesses to previous Sony models. It’s a superlative PDF-reading device. The multitouch screen means even complex pages can be manipulated quickly and simply. And there are all manner of other ways of reading such documents. In Navigate Page mode, for example, the reader can be set to zoom to the first column on a page, then follow the flow of text.

Handwritten annotations can be made and text highlighted. A long press of the finger on a word displays not only a dictionary definition, but also quick links to Google and Wikipedia searches.

Sony Reader Wi-Fi screen

The device also holds its own in terms of screen refresh speed and readability. EPUB pages flip by in a single second, and as the Reader uses an E Ink Pearl panel, contrast is very good. The Kindle’s screen demonstrates a touch more contrast and crispness, but there’s very little in it.

This is clearly a capable device: it’s quick, readable and can handle PDF files in a more intuitive way than any other reader – plus it’s incredibly light. We’re disappointed the store isn't yet ready, but even without it the Sony Reader Wi-Fi is the best alternative to the all-conquering Kindles; we only wish it was a little cheaper.

Author: Jonathan Bray

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User comments

Good performance?

I went out to buy from a shortlist of this model and the Kindle after reading the comparative review in the magazine. After playing with both in PCWorld and the Sony in an official Sony Centre I ended up buying neither. After experiencing the touch-screen on the Sony, the Kindle felt just too clumsy. But the performance of the Sony on some material was just unacceptable. This is not screen performance - this is fine when changing between the device's menus, but there often seem to be very long delays fetching content from memory and formatting it. The PCWorld unit had one 3-page PDF file on it and this was completely unreadable as it took maybe 10 to 20 seconds for the display to settle down after every change. The Sony Centre unit had a large collection of free books on it and while some of these were fine, many of them also featured very long delays on initial opening and on page turns.
Performance seemed very hit and miss even within a format such as epub or PDF.
I got the impression that material could be tuned by the publisher to work well on the Sony, but if this was not done, performance would be very variable. This factor, of course, puts a new complexion on the value of having an "open" format like epub!

I am left wondering how thoroughly PC Pro tested to get that 6-star performance rating?

By JohnAHind on 2 Jan 2012

@ JohnAHind

I have the sony 350 and based on the reviews it seems to be virtually the same in terms of performance and display. I have programming reference books in PDF with pages that contain pictures, lots of oddly formatted text and watermarks and it can take two, sometimes three seconds (and if I’ve made lots of notes in the screen five seconds) to display these complex pages. Perhaps it was just a badly formatted or extremely complex PDF file which would be far from typical.
I have been able to create my own epub files (using a program called sigil) and these are the fastest in terms of opening and page turning. I haven’t done anything to make them work any quicker on any particular ereader but these do lack DRM, graphics and have been validated to ensure there are no formatting errors. Even so, I am afraid that the only instant on reading device remains the humble paper book (better battery life too).
If this new ereader could download audio books too I’d get one but for the moment I don’t see it as a must have. I have seen the 350 for £90. If you’re going to have to download audio books via a PC anyway I don’t see much point in spending the extra cash.

By JamesD29 on 3 Jan 2012

Suggestion

Yes, the speed when changing page reading PDF files is a bit slow, but it does a good job presenting the pages.

I would urge anyone who hasn't yet found the free Calibre software to give it a try. It is so far beyond the rubbish that Sony provide for organising an managing your library that you will never use the Sony Reader software again

By SimKaz1 on 5 Jan 2012

Who are Sony kidding

I was given a PRS-T1 for Christmas, but it is going back this weekend as it is completely useless. The Sony reader store does not exist (on the Sony help desk a very polite lady in Sweden? told me it is still being worked on and might be ready around the end of January). So try the Wi-Fi - oh no, we do not have any reader software that will work with Mac OS 4.11, you need to upgrade your computer (i.e. I need to buy a new one with the Intel chip and replace all my software).
A complete fraud.

By miketap on 5 Jan 2012

Caveat emptor

I bought a Sony WiFi last month, primarily on the claim that I could access books from the Public Library and other sources, via "the Sony Store".
I accepted that it's opening had been delayed until "sometime in December", but I now (6th January) find it's opening date is still unknown, and I am left with a very expensive, useless, toy.
I suppose I should have been more wary of the company which is reputed to have sneaked spyware on to it's CDs - UhOh! don't tell me I have bought another Rootkit as well?

By ssscotty on 6 Jan 2012

keithd

What is going on.
I have reached the conclusion that Sony are at total disgrace in having the brass neck to market a reader without the supporting Reader Store.
There has been a string of broken promises as to when the Reader Store will be available to their customers-it`s now March 2012 and still nothing,just more dumb insolence.
I dont know if consumer protection law has been contravened - I wouldnt be surprised.
What I do know is that Sony have destroyed my faith in them as a reliable and ethical company.
I also think Sony should reimburse all of us in full that were unwary enough to trust them.
Yes I am disgusted by them and I do feel strongly that they have done much damage to their reputation.Personally it`s once bitten twice shy.

By keithd on 29 Feb 2012

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