Sony Reader PRS 350 Review

Hot off the press: our full review of the Sony Reader PRS 350.

Introduction

The PRS 350 is the entry level device range of Sony's new generation of "Touch" readers. It's smaller than the PRS 650 with scaled down features (and a scaled down price). The 650 model is the mid range which offers more features than the Sony Reader 350 and a bigger screen. The top of Sony's Reader line for 2010 is the Sony PRS 950 "Daily Touch" (read our Sony PRS 950 review), which features a larger 7 inch screen and Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity but at a MUCH higher price.

sony prs 350 picture

Overview

  • Sony PRS 350 Review
  • Technical Specifications
  • Display – 5 “eInk pearl touchscreen, 16 level grey scale. This means a completely glare free display that can be read even in direct sunlight, the 16 level grey scale means clear and crisp display, particularly on images.
  • Memory – 2GB built-in memory.
  • Battery Life – Built-in rechargeable battery, 2 weeks usage
  • Supported Formats – ePUB, Adobe® PDF, Microsoft® Word, TXT, RTF, BBeB, JPEG, GIF, BMP, and PNG. As seen from the formatted files the Sony PRS-350 supports main document files, eBooks and graphic formats.
  • Dimensions – Width x Height x Depth = 104.3mm x 145mm x 8.5mm. Weight = 155g – As can be seen from the dimensions the reader is fairly slim and light making it easily transportable.

What's In the Box?

The Sony PRS 350 comes packaged in a very simple cardboard box with an image of the reader on the front. It is totally cardboard, which is environmentally friendly, which is an immediate plus for the Sony PRS 350, helping themselves in a very ‘Green’ orientated world.  When you open the box the reader is displayed before you, with the accessories being stored underneath. Alongside the reader, Sony gives you a 2.0 USB connection. This allows you to connect the device to a computer to add files and is also the main method of charging, unless you buy an adaptor that will allow you to charge the device from the mains. These are available from Sony at an extra cost, however something I believe is a good investment, particularly if you travel a lot. However with two weeks battery life this is not a major worry to have with the PRS 350. There is also a guide to getting started in the box, this shows the user simple actions, from turning the reader on, to adding files and genuinely gives the reader all they need to know to get started using the reader. Lastly, library software for the computer is also included within the box, making it easy to get started on downloading and adding books and image files to the reader as soon as you receive it.
How does the Sony PRS-350 compare with other readers on the market?

Sony PRS 350 vs...

Sony PRS 350 vs Sony PRS 650

sony reader models

The Sony PRS 350 was one of the first e reading devices that Sony released into the market, therefore the features found on the later models in the PRS range are more advanced, as would be expected. The main differences are only minor however, and Sony do not seem to have strayed away from the Sony PRS 350 that much, a sign of a good product. As is seen in the PRS 350, the later PRS 650 uses an eInk pearl screen, still considered to be the best display in terms of reader. With 16 shade grey scale the reader shows clear and crisp text and images. eInk display works on contrast, rather than a backlight and this means that whatever is being displayed can still be seen, even in direct sunlight, and genuinely reads as paper does. This is still a top of the range screen and can be seen in very recent models of not only the Sony PRS range but other makes of readers such as the Kindle and the Nook. The Sony PRS 350 is touch screen and Sony has continued to stick with touchscreen whilst incorporating a few buttons in order to turn pages. This has worked well for them and the market has reacted well to it, as less space for buttons means a larger screen space to be able to read from. The Sony PRS 350 was named ‘The Pocket Reader’ due to having a smaller 5” screen. The Sony PRS 650 has a larger screen, measuring 6”, which although it is only an inch, does make a massive difference on how the reader looks and how books display on the screen. In terms of quality, they both use eInk pearl displays, it is only the size that is different.  The other feature that Sony have included within the PRS 650 model (read our Sony Reader PRS 650 review) that wasn’t on the PRS 350 is the inclusion of a memory card slot, allowing the memory to be expanded.

The firmware and user interface on the PRS 350 is pretty much the same as seen on the PRS 650, the only exception being that the PRS 650 also has an in-built MP3 player to make up for the fact that the 650 supports audio files. The two of the readers have a completely different color range, with the PRS 650 coming in Red, Black and Silver and the PRS 350 coming in Pink, Silver and Blue. In this case, if the user has any strong personal preferences to the color of the device, this may be important.  The main let down on the PRS 350 is the lack of expandable memory, as 2GB is not an enormous amount, and if this is filled you have no choice in expanding memory, your only option is to constantly play around with what books are stored on the reader at any one time.

Sony PRS 350 vs. Kindle 3

sony prs vs kindle 3 size

Another reader on the market is the Kindle 3 (read our Kindle 3 review), price wise, they are very similar therefore the main differences are in the features and the actual device.  On memory, the Kindle 3 is able to hold a greater range of books, Amazon quoting around 3,500, with the PRS 350 only being able to store around 1200. This is a significant difference within the memory, as the Kindle 3 more than doubles what the Sony can hold. The Kindle 3 is heavier than the Sony PRS 350, however it does have a larger screen, and therefore this should be expected. Not only this but the Kindle3 also has the ability to connect to Wi-Fi, meaning books can be downloaded wherever there is a wireless connection. The Kindle 3 also has 3G connection, meaning that the device can be connected to the internet anywhere.

Sony PRS 350 vs. Nook Simple Touch

The Nook Simple Touch has been compared to the Sony PRS 350 a fair bit. Firstly, the screens, in terms of the technology used by Barnes and Noble and Sony on these two devices is exactly the same as they both have eInk pearl displays with an infrared touch screen feature, therefore the two devices are very comparable. The difference between the screens being that the Nook has a bigger screen.

The Nook has a price advantage over the Sony as its RRP is much cheaper than the PRS 350, bearing in mind it also has the larger screen. this does always confuse potential consumers, however Sony always tend to price their readers at the top end of the market.

Both of the devices support Adobe PDF and also EPUB, this is the extent of the Nook Simple Touch as it does not support any more document files, whereas the Sony PRS 350 also supports a few more such as TXT and RTF. In terms of book features, the Sony has the choice of font sizes, (XS, S and so on until XL) and also the ability to zoom in on the document, when reading a book this feature is fairly redundant, however it would be very useful for PDF files. On the Nook there is a much wider range of features that can be used in terms of texts and fonts.  There are a range of font sizes, as seen on the Sony PRS 350, however there is also the ability to change font, margin spacing and line spacing, allowing the user to create settings completely personal to them which may help the ease of read on the device. I feel this is a major advantage for the Nook, as at the end of the day, ease of read is the most important feature when buying an eReader. The only chance you have of changing the font on the Sony PRS 350 is changing the actual coding of the book, this may be achievable by following a how to, however for some people who are not so good with technology, this won’t be realistic and they will be stuck with the default font.

The PDF support is much better on the Sony PRS 350 as it includes many options with the PDF file, one of its strongest being that the user can choose from a whole bunch of pre-sets, for example, the overview of just one page, or the overview of four pages. You can also zoom in on the document, focus on a certain place and ‘lock’ it, setting the PDF view in that position. This really does outshine the Nooks PDF support as it does not have any options and does not always fit the PDF to screen, therefore it can be too small and not optimizing the screen space, or too large, meaning the user has to move the document around in order to view it. The Nook, unlike the Sony PRS 350 has a Wi-Fi connection, therefore all of your books will need to be loaded on to the Sony via the computer, whereas on the Nook you will be able to download them on the device. This may be a preference for some people who do not use their computer often, and opens the reader to the market of users who may not even have a computer, as it comes with an adaptor for mains power and the Wi-Fi connectivity, the Nook does not actually need a computer to function.

The Sony PRS 350 does have a lot more options than the Nook however, they both have the ability to make notes, I feel the interface for doing this is more superior on the Sony as you can write anywhere on the screen as if you were annotating an actual book. On the other hand, the Nooks note feature only allows you to select a word and then add notes on this, more like a glossary rather than annotation. The notes made on the Sony can also be exported, and this option is not given on the Nook. They both have the ability to highlight and bookmark, you can get the menus for these by double tapping on the Sony and pressing and holding on the Nook. Personally I prefer the double tap as it is a clearer command, however this may be different for other people depending on what they are already used to. Another feature the Sony has that the Nook is lacking is the ability to choose the orientation of the page. I think this is an important feature as I personally don’t like reading off a device in portrait, as no matter how much I play around with the font, I always feel it looks more crowded than it does in a landscape orientation.  Whether this is just me or not I have no idea, but to have the option is nice.

The Sony PRS 350 comes with a range of dictionaries, including translation dictionaries, allowing the user to look up words in a different language. This is particularly useful if you are reading a book in a different language and therefore it is a useful feature for Sony to have added into the interface. Both devices have buttons in order to turn the pages, one click turns one page, and if you hold down the button the pages scroll through very quickly. In terms of speed of page turns the Nook is slightly faster than the Sony, however it is not a massive difference. Another advantage of the Nook is that you can turn the pages by touch as well as button; therefore the user has more choice and can develop a personal preference to whichever feels more comfortable to them. The only touch page turns that the Sony PRS 350 offers is too hold down on the screen for the faster page turns, only suitable for scrolling through the book rather than turning one page. It is a good job that the Nook included the option to turn a page by touch however as the buttons are fairly hard to push down, and I would also say that being positioned on the sides of the device is fairly uncomfortable for the user.

About the PC Software

The Sony PRS 350 comes with fairly simple software which does its job. The software is good; the layout is a toolbar is on the left hand side of the screen with an area for content to the right. There is not a whole lot you can do on the software, however the reader is a fairly basic device, so all the software needs to do is to allow the user to transfer purchased books on to the device. Once the device is connected to the computer the software registers it and the reader appears in the toolbar to the left,  to import files you can use the menu>file>import files, or as an alternative you can drag and drop the files into the library. One of the best features about the Sony PRS 350 software is that you can view the store within the programme, meaning you do not have to go on to the internet separately, this is a nice touch as it means the books can be downloaded and transferred straight into your library without having to stray away from the programme, making it all in all a very simple process. The software is exactly what is needed for the reader and doesn’t over complicate things, it is completely user friendly.

Supported File Formats

The Sony PRS 350 covers a few file formats, however there is nowhere near as many as on some of the later models released by Sony in the PRS range. The technical specifications lists ePUB, Adobe® PDF, Microsoft® Word, TXT, RTF, BBeB, JPEG, GIF, BMP, PNG as the PRS 350’s supported formats. These are document and graphic files, which translates to being able to view images and eBooks on the reader. Compared to some other readers now on the market, the Sony PRS-350 may be deemed fairly pathetic. The Sony doesn’t have an endless list of supported file formats, but sticks to the basics, and I don’t think that this is a bad thing. As a result, it seems that Sony have put their efforts into refining the device to allow optimum pleasure when viewing the documents. For example, the PDF support is far more advanced than other readers on the market, allowing you to zoom, fix, change pre-sets and also re-flow text. As a result, the Sony reader is a basic device which allows for reading, rather than browsing the web in addition, and because of this Sony have been able to spend more time on developing the basics to be the best in the market and to give the reader a very easy read.

Memory

The memory on the Sony PRS 350 is 2GB in-built, with only 1.5GB being user accessible. Sony has not provided the reader with SD slots, so there is no way that memory can be expanded via this or any other method. At first I thought this was a massive mistake on Sony’s part, and has been bought up by many critics, however I have never met anyone who has filled up this memory on the Sony PRS 350. In other models, this memory would be a problem, but due to the Sony’s supported file formats the reader will not have music saved on the device like I have seen on many newer readers, and as seen on the PRS 650. I don’t think there is a problem with the memory on the Sony, if the user is planning to hold thousands and thousands of books yes, but this should be something considered before buying the reader. Other than that it’s going take a lot of books and images to fill up the memory as they are very small  files, the one problem is that PDF files can be quite large, therefore if the user is storing a lot of PDF files then the memory may fill up a lot faster. This needs to be considered when buying the reader.

Battery Life

The Sony PRS 350 holds up to 2 weeks battery life on a single charge, this has been reported at nearer 10 days when the device is being used regularly. One of the benefits of the eInk pearl display is that battery is only used when the page is refreshed, theoretically meaning that every time you turn a page on the reader, battery is consumed. Therefore the battery life on the reader is a fairly long time, and if you only read a page a day, then the battery will last much longer for you. Compared to some of the new readers on the market the Sony is still a fairly long battery life as the longest is normally around 3 weeks.  You can buy an adaptor for the USB cable that allows the user to plug the device into the mains, this means that time taken to charge is much faster and therefore might be worth investing in, particularly if you are planning to use the reader whilst travelling.

Screen Quality

The actual display used on the Sony PRS 350 is an eInk pearl display -- the latest e-ink screen technology as of the writing of this review. In terms of the display quality, there is no better on the market yet as other readers such as the Kindle 3 and the Nook are also using eInk pearl displays. As it includes this technology, the Sony PRS 350 has many screen features.

The display is still clearly visible in direct sunlight as there is no backlight, and the image is produced by contrast, therefore there is no glare. The screen has a 16 shade grey scale, this means that 16 different shades of grey are used in order to produce an image.  It is normally 8 or 16 shade, therefore the 16 shade means that the images that are displayed are much crisper and clearer. In terms of other readers on the market, the Sony PRS 350 matches up to other leading readers on the market. One problem with the Sony PRS 350 is that the screen is only 5”, this is slightly smaller than other readers on the market, for instance the Kindle 3 is 6” with screen sizes being as large as 9” on some other readers. This may not be a problem for some users however the extra inch makes a massive difference to the display and the screen can be hard to read from. The Sony PRS 350 does have a lot of features involving the text and its size, line spacing and also margin spacing, this means that although the screen is smaller there is no reason why the user cannot make their texts easily readable.

The screen is also touch screen and uses infrared technology in order to achieve this, as with the eInk pearl screen this is the best technology seen in the market of readers with the newer models in the PRS range and also the Nook by Barnes and Noble using the same touch screen technology.  The fact that the screen is only 5” may mean that some users find the touch screen keyboard fairly fiddly to use, but the Sony PRS 350 touchscreen can also be used with a stylus, therefore if the user is struggling to use the reader with their fingers, they might have large hands perhaps, therefore they can buy a stylus to use with the reader. It is an advantage that the Sony PRS 350 allows the user to choose how to use the touch screen.

Sony Screens vs Kindle Screens

The Sony brand of readers offer a less contrasty display of the text than the Kindle 3. The comparison could be made that the Kindle 3 shows text as more "bolded" on the screen while the Sony readers (350, 650, 950) show non-bolded text. Basically, this means text looks better on the Kindle. This is not anything to do with the actual screen technology, but the fact that the Kindle handles the contrast of the screen differently and supports different text styles while the Sony does not. Perhaps a firmware upgrade could fix this in the Sony Readers.

Build Quality and Design

The design is one of the Sony PRS 350’s strongest points. Firstly, the build of the device, the body of the reader is made from aluminium rather than plastic, as seen in other readers such as the Kindle and the Nook. Although this makes the PRS 350 slightly heavier , however as the screen is a touch smaller than any other readers this is not a massive problem. The overall look of the reader is very sleek and sophisticated and makes readers such as the Nook look childish. The Sony PRS 350 is also available in pink, as well as silver, this is a nice touch making the reader slightly more personal to the user. All in all the design looks very good, although the practicality of the design may not be the best due to the main material used being aluminium, the device will have the tendency to scratch very easily, therefore it will be a necessity to buy a case for the reader. Not only this but the use of metal for the main bodice means that the reader is slightly heavier, making it less transportable.

The Good

There are many strong points of the Sony PRS 350, firstly, the reader is very small and light meaning that it is easily transportable, and easy to hold and read from for long periods of time. The design of the Sony PRS 350 is very sleek and minimalistic and as a result the device looks very sophisticated, with the aluminium body setting it apart from its competitors.  Another advantage is that the reader uses top of the range technology, for example the eInk screen is still the best in the market, allowing the Sony PRS 350 to be read in direct sunlight without glare. The reader is very simple and only supports graphic and document files, this gives the Sony an advantage on the features it offers as Sony have put a lot of work into working on the additional features on the readers such as the notes system, the options for text appearance and so on.  Although the reader is dependent on the use of a computer, the Sony PRS 350 has good, easy to use software meaning that adding files and downloading books to the device is not a hardship. The touch screen on the device can also be used with a stylus, or fingertips, therefore the user gets a choice as to which they personally prefer, this is an advantage, and other readers such as the Nook Simple Touch, do not give this option. The use of a stylus with the device will also prevent the screen getting grubby from being constantly touched, unlike the Nook which may get smudges and fingerprints on the screen which could obscure vision of the display.

The Bad

There are a few problems with the Sony PRS 350. Firstly, the smaller screen, this may make the reader portable, however it is extremely small and means the book will read differently to how it would on a larger screen. The other problem is that for the size of the device the reader is fairly heavy due to the aluminium body, although this looks better than plastic, the practicality of the material is not great. As it is a metal the reader will scratch very easily, therefore it is necessary to buy a case for the reader in order to protect the metal. There are not many extras on the Sony PRS 350 and as the reader does not have wireless connectivity the reader is very dependent on the computer, as books cannot be added or downloaded without connecting to the computer. Alongside this is the fact that the only form of charging without paying extra for an adaptor is via the computer, therefore for users who don’t use their computer often this will be a pain, it also stops anyone that doesn’t have a computer from buying the product. The price is also a let down on this product, being the same or higher than many of its competitors however not offering as many features to the user.

The Bottom Line

The Sony PRS 350 is a good little reader if all the user is planning on doing with the device is reading eBooks. As long as the user is not looking for extra features such as wireless connectivity or music, then the Sony PRS 350 will be perfect for them. The price is slightly lower than other readers in the PRS range however is still more expensive than other readers in the market which may have many more features.

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Sony Reader PRS 350

Price: ~$150

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