Sony Reader PRS 950 Review

Ebookreader.org takes on the Sony PRS 950.

Overview

The Sony PRS 950 is also known as ‘The Daily Edition’ and is the latest in the Sony PRS range. The previous model was the PRS 650, known as ‘The Touch Edition’. There are many differences between this model of the PRS range and the others. There was a lot of features added into this model that were not seen by its predecessors, one of the main features being the inclusion of Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity, as Sony has not offered this in the 650. This means that the PRS 950 can be used without a computer at all if an AC adaptor is purchased. This is a major advantage, and opens up the device to users who may not have a computer, and provides a benefit to those who use their reader often, however don’t regularly turn their computer on.

sony readers

The other big feature is the 7" screen -- an inch bigger than the PRS 650. Because of the bigger screen, you can read PDF's much more easily on the 950 than the smaller 650. In fact, you can read full PDF's without having to scroll around on the screen.

As with the PRS 650 the device does not come with an adaptor and the user has to buy it separately, this is clearly an inconvenience, and also fairly annoying that the user has to pay extra for the adaptor, particularly when the reader is so expensive in the first place.

sony reader 950


Technical Specifications

  • Dimensions: 199.9 x 128 x 9.6mm, Weight = 272g
  • Screen: 7.1” eInk pearl, touch-screen, grey scale 16 levels – The screen on the Sony PRS 950 is fairly large meaning the display will be clear and easy to use, the touch-screen uses infrared technology and the 16 shade grey scale means a clear image and display will be delivered to the user.
  • Memory: Built in flash memory 2GB, SD and Memory stick PRO duo slot. – The memory on the Sony PRS 950 can be expanded up to 32 GB meaning that many files can be stored on the reader.
  • Supported Formats –  ePUB, Adobe® PDF, Microsoft® Word, TXT, RTF, BBeB, JPEG, GIF, BMP, and PNG, MP3 AAC, - The supported format allows users to read eBooks, view PDF files and also playback music.
  • Wireless Connectivity – 3G connection, Wi-Fi – This means that the user can connect to the internet anywhere using the device, allowing for downloads of books wherever the user is.
  • Battery Life – 27 Days – The battery life is quoted as up to 27 days with Wireless connectivity disabled and 10 days with wireless connection.

 

What’s In The Box?

The Sony PRS 950 comes packaged in a cardboard box with an image of the reader on the front, when opening the box the first thing that is visible to the user is the reader, the accessories that come with the reader are then stored/packaged underneath the reader. The box includes the actual reader, a USB cable, a quick start guide and the device warranty. The accessories that come with the Sony PRS 950 are the basics and what is expected of any reader. The one accessory that the Sony PRS 950 should have come with is an AC adaptor, considering the high price of the device, however this still has to be purchased separately. Other than that the reader comes with everything that is needed, the quick start guide allowing the user to start using the device easily without any problems.

sony reader in box

 

Sony 950 Vs...

Sony 950 vs. Kindle 3

One of the Sony PRS 950’s greatest competitors is the Kindle 3 by Amazon. In terms of the screen display the two both use eInk pearl screen, however the contrast on the Kindle 3 is slightly brighter than seen on the Sony PRS 950, and as a result, fonts appear bolder and easier to read. This (like the Sony 650) has more to do with the fact that you can't select different font types on the Sony. To bring the comparison down to layman terms, you might say the The Kindle 3 screen shows the text on the screen as "bolded" while the Sony screen does not.

The Sony's screen is bigger than the Kindle 3. Sony's screen is 7" compared to the 6" of the Kindle. It might seem like the Sony 950 is a much bigger device, but it's actually the same size as the Kindle 3 (just with a bigger screen). Currently, Sony is the only manufacturer offering a 7" screen (the rest offer 5, 6, or 8-9 inch screens).

The Kindle 3 also includes a much larger range of font options than the Sony PRS 950 with the Kindle 3 offering  8 font sizes compared to the Sony PRS 950’s 6 and also giving the user the option to change line spacing, margin sizes and Words per line. The Kindle 3 also has the text to speech function which unfortunately the Sony PRS 950 does not offer. Both of the devices have around the same speed page turns however the Sony PRS 950 allows the user to skim through pages by pressing and holding the touch screen or holding down the button, the Kindle 3 does not allow this.

The major difference between the Sony PRS 950 and the Kindle 3 is that the PRS 950 uses a touch screen interface rather than the Kindle 3 which uses a QWERTY keyboard and buttons. The touchscreen is an advantage and makes interaction with the device much easier for the user. The QWERTY keyboard on the Kindle 3 is fairly small, therefore it takes a lot of using for the user to get to grasps with it, not only this but for users with larger hands, the keys may be too small and hard to use, this is not a problem with the touchscreen on the PRS 950 as if the same problem happens, the user has the option to use a stylus rather than their fingers, therefore this problem is eliminated.

One of the major advantages that the Sony PRS 950 has over the Kindle 3 is design with the body being made out of an attractive silver metal, this gives the reader a much more modern and sophisticated look than the black plastic Kindle. However one concern with the PRS 950 is that the aluminium could be scratched very easily, which would completely ruin the look of the reader. The screen on the PRS 950 is slightly larger than the Kindle 3, this could be an advantage or a disadvantage, for users who prefer a larger screen to read from, then this is definitely an advantage, however it does hinder how transportable the device is as it may not fit in some bags and so on, therefore it depends on the use of the reader, whether it will be used in the home or out and about and constantly on the move.

There are aspects where the features on the Kindle 3 are better than the Sony however. One of these is the 3G connectivity, as the Kindle has a much faster download than the Sony PRS 950 gives its user. Another advantage is that the Amazon eBook store has a much large range of content than the Sony store, therefore it is more likely that a user will be able to find everything they want all within one store rather than having to search over a range of sites. The biggest however is the price, the Kindle 3 being much more expensive than the Kindle, to a certain extent this is understandable, with the extra materials used to create a larger screen, that and the fact that aluminium is used in preference to plastic would be another factor adding to the price. Therefore if you are looking for a lower priced reader then the PRS 950 is probably off the menu.

Sony PRS 950 vs. Kindle DX

The Kindle DX is a much bigger device than the Sony 950. The Sony has a 7 inch screen while the Amazon DX has a 9.7 inch screen. The DX is way bigger a device to hold. DX is really good for reading textbooks, PDF documents, and technical manuals. The Sony 950 can allow you to read a PDF file without having to scroll around, though the PDF may be resized. Still it's MUCH easier to read PDF's on the 950 than the Kindle 3 or 650. The DX offers FULL size PDF support, however. So if you need a pure textbook reader, the 9.7 inch screen of the DX is better.

The DX lacks some basic features such as the ability to underline, add notes, or use a dictionary on PDF files. The Sony can do all of those. This is strange, since the DX is billed as a PDF reader.

The bottom line is that the Sony 950 is more of a well-rounded ebook reader. You can read PDF's on it with ease as well as ebooks AND easily bring it with you due to the small size. The DX is way larger and really is better suited as ONLY a PDF reader.

Sony Reader PRS 950 vs. Nook Color

In terms of price, the Nook Color is the most comparable to the Sony PRS 950 as they both have around the same screen size (7 inches). There are clearly some differences between the Nook and the Sony, the most noticeable being the Color screen that Barnes and Noble have incorporated on the Nook while the PRS 950 opts for the more traditional e-ink screen.

I feel that this is however not the best feature to have included on the reader. After releasing the Nook Color Barnes and Noble heavily promoted and marketed the Nook ‘Kids’ which were children’s books, specifically designed for use with the Nook Color as with the new VividView technology, the color screen would be able to cater to the requirements. In this area, the Sony PRS 950 does not compete, children’s books would not work on an eInk screen due to the lack of color I really do not think that the children’s books would be used that much, as the general consumers for an eReader tend to be avid readers, which are mainly going to be adults, reading novels. The option to have children’s books on the device is a nice idea, however I feel it would not be a deciding factor. The main problem of the color screen is that it includes a backlight, therefore the screen does have a glare, and this could be a problem when reading outdoors, a massive downfall, particularly when the eInk display on the Sony PRS 950 has no glare, and can be read in direct sunlight.

One area where the Sony PRS 950 beats the Nook in leaps and bounds is the battery life. Due to the color screen requiring a backlight, the device is constantly using battery, in comparison to the eInk display on the PRS 950 that only uses battery when a page is turned. The battery life on the Nook Color is only 8 hours, this is with the Wi-Fi disabled, with the Sony PRS 950 having a battery life of around 3-4 weeks with connections disabled, there is no competition in this area. If the color screen is not essential to the user then the features that are limited due to it are really not worth losing out on. The Nook Color allows the user to download and run apps on the device, this is a nice feature however it is up to the user to decide whether this feature is worth losing out on the battery life and the quality of read.  The memory on both of the devices is pretty much the same as they can both be expanded to 32GB. The Nook has 8GB internal memory however, which is much larger than the PRS 950’s 2GB, however Barnes and Noble limit the memory so that the majority can only store purchases from their own store, which personally I feel makes the internal memory redundant. For example if the user previously had a Kindle, and had made their purchases from Amazon, they would not be able to transfer their library to the Nook Color, therefore they would still have to purchase a memory card anyway.

The main feature that the Sony has over the Nook is the design, as for a more expensive product, the design of the Sony represents its value more as it looks more sophisticated than the Nook which looks bulky and quite childlike. The Nook kids idea does coincide with the Nook Color design however, which in all fairness looks like it could be bashed against a rock and survive. In terms of weight the Nook is much heavier than the Sony PRS 950. This came as a massive shock to me and probably will to many other users as the metal used on the Sony normally makes it much heavier than its competitors which use plastic to construct the device. The Sony PRS 950 has a good weight however, it is heavy enough to feel solid and well built, yet light enough to be easy to transport and hold for a length of time when reading.

About the PC Software

The Sony PRS 950 uses the same software that has been used with other readers in the PRS range, it is slightly altered in order to suit the reader however the basics are the same. The Sony software has never been brilliant however it does its job. The programme is very simple with a navigation toolbar to the left of the screen with a window to the right which shows the content. The online Sony store is accessible through the programme however the software tends to lag and freeze a lot when the user is trying to browse or add books to their library. To add books to the device the user just needs to drag and drop the files into their library and then sync the device, this is very simple and the software is user friendly. On the other hand the software does freeze and has also crashed a few times when I have been using it, which is down to the software not the computer running it and can be extremely frustrating when trying to sort out the library. A task which should take minutes can take up to an hour on the software, which lets it down massively. The only thing that counteracts this is that the Sony PRS 950 has Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity, therefore it is not essential that the software is used as books can be downloaded straight to the device, eliminating the need to use the computer.

Supported Formats

The range of supported formats on the Sony PRS 950 are fairly basic, and expected on most readers, with the technical specs listing ePUB, Adobe® PDF, Microsoft® Word, TXT, RTF, BBeB, JPEG, GIF, BMP, and PNG, MP3 AAC. This supports all main eBook formats, meaning that the user can download the books they wish to read and the reader will support them, something to be expected for a reading device. The PRS 950 also supports MP3 and AAC files which means that the device can also playback music to the reader, a feature seen in other readers such as the Kindle 3. Other than that the support of PDF is a benefit, although common amongst readers now it is still a key format which allows the reader to be used in a number of scenarios including education and professions. For example students can view textbooks on the reader. Other than that the supported format files are for graphics, which will display in good detail on the PRS 950 as the 16 shade grey scale allows for the display to give the user greater detail in their imagery.

Memory

The memory on the Sony PRS 950 is more than sufficient. The internal memory is 2GB, with only 1.5GB of this actually being user accessible, therefore for storing books the internal memory will probably suffice, however if MP3 files are being stored on the device then a memory card will probably have to be purchased. The device has two memory card slots, making the total expandable memory up to 32GB this is plenty big enough and should be sufficient for storing both music and books. The fact that this memory is split up into two cards can be good for organization of files, perhaps using one card for music and the other purely for books. If the user has more than 32GB of data in their library there is also the option to have more than one memory card and to swap them around as and when the user chooses.  

Battery Life

The battery life on the Sony PRS 950 is up to 27 days, around a month. This is dependent on the use of connections. If the wireless connectivity is disabled then the 27 day battery life is achievable. However, if the user reads a great deal a day then this will be considerably shorter as it is worked out on an estimated average worked out by Sony. Therefore if the user reads more than this their battery life on the device will obviously not be as long. Nobody actually knows what Sony considers a daily average and I feel it would be much appreciated if users were told, this or Sony quote battery life in terms of page turns rather than weeks, as possible consumers would have a much more accurate idea of battery life. The average Sony have quoted seems to work however as most users agree with around 3 weeks battery life. The battery life is significantly shorter if the wireless connections are enabled, being around 10 days. If the connectivity is managed efficiently then the user can maximise the battery life on their device, for example only enabling Wi-Fi when downloading a book, then disabling it again. This isn’t the best thing however is an unfortunate feature of Wi-Fi connectivity as is apparent looking at the battery life of any device that has connectivity, however if it really is a problem to a user, they do not have to enable the connections at all, and therefore can completely eliminate the problem.

Screen Quality

sony reader 950 screen

One of the main differences to the Sony PRS 950 to its competitors is that it has a 7” screen with most of its competitors having 6”. In terms of screen quality, the Sony PRS 950 matches all others on the market by using an eInk pearl display for the device. eInk is the digital answer to paper, the display is completely black and white (using 16 shade grey scale) and works by the contrast between the black and white, rather than a backlight fitted into the device. There are many benefits of the eInk screen, firstly, the user can read the PRS 950 outside, even in direct sunlight and will not get a glare on the screen, therefore the display won’t be obscured and the user can read it just like they would a real book. The 16 shade grey scale means that the display consists of 16 different shades of grey in order to make up the display. On some readers there is an 8 shade grey scale, for example the Cybook Gen 3. This means that the detail on an image will be shown much better on the Sony PRS 950 as the reader has more shades to make up the image. However in some cases it has been said that the font is easier to read on 8 shade screens, particularly when viewing smaller size fonts.

The Sony PRS 950 has the 7” screen, this is a nice variation and gives the PRS range a larger screen, as it already has the 5” (Sony PRS 350, also known as the Pocket edition) and the 6” (Sony PRS 650, also known as the Touch edition). The larger screen doesn’t really make a difference on eBook files, as even on smaller screens the text can be edited to look similar, however the Sony PRS 950 does show PDF files much better than other competitors which have the 6” screens. Although it is only an inch it does make a fair bit of difference and PDF files fit to the screen much better, without appearing too small.

Build Quality and Design

This is always Sony’s strong point with the overall build suggests quality and sophistication. The metal bodice on the device has advantages and disadvantages. Firstly, the metal makes the device feel well built and a much better quality than some of its competitors, for example, the Kindle 3 made completely out of plastic. The metal also looks much better, available in the silver and a pink color there is some room for preference with the Sony PRS 950, yet again this is a feature which most eBooks do not employ. There are two major problems with using metal as an alternative to plastic, firstly it makes the reader much heavier than a plastic device. This can be a problem if the user is going to be carrying the reader around with them all the time. Not only this but with the bigger screen, some people may not be able to fit the PRS950 into their bags. The second problem with the metal body is that if the user does not buy a case for the reader then the metal is likely to scratch very easily. The touchscreen on the design is one of the best features of the design, as it allows for the exclusion of a QWERTY keyboard, which would take up room and make the reader much bulkier.

sony reader 950 sizesony reader 950 case

Unlike the PRS 900 the PRS 950 does not have a removable back, this means that if the user has the reader for a long time and the battery deteriorates, then the user cannot change the battery and will probably have no other choice than too buy a new reader, which is a lot more costly than simply buying a new battery to replace the old one. One thing I do like about the PRS 950’s design is that the device is lighter than the previous version by 25%. The weight of the device is surprisingly lighter than many other plastic readers on the market, which comes as a surprise bearing in mind it has a metal structure, this is a massive advantage as it gives the user the advantage of a nicer design without having to sacrifice the transportation of the device.

Some Notes About Reading PDF's on the Device

Note that PDF's when not shown at their full size are not displayed optimal: the excess white area must be clipped to fit the PDF on the smaller screens. Simple text PDF's should usually be ok displaying on this device because the text can reflow (some page breaks might be messed up though). However, complex PDF's with charts and such can't be reflowed properly so they will look funky. This is not the fault of the ereader -- but just the limitations of reading a PDF on a non-native screen size.

The Good

There are many positives to the Sony PRS 950. Firstly, the overall technology used in the device, the eInk pearl display is top of the range and allows for reading anytime anywhere, although you do need light to see of course. The touchscreen on the device now works using infrared technology rather than having a touch layer across the screen, this is a development on the previous models as the touch screen layer previously used created a glare in the sun, obscuring the screen at times and making it awkward if not impossible to read. This development on the PRS 950 has meant that the screen holds all its properties and isn’t affected by the touch screen.

One of my favorite features of the Sony PRS 950 is that there is an option to view two pages in landscape, this means that the actual screen looks like a book which is a nice touch and for people who like to have the layout of a regular book is a key feature. Another feature on the Sony which is a big benefit is the ability to take freehand notes and annotations, the handwriting tool allows people who may not enjoy using a touch screen keyboard to take notes at ease. Not only this but unlike other devices where a word is highlighted and the notes are then attached to this, the Sony lets the user draw on the actual text, as if they were annotating a book in real life. This is a massive advantage, particularly for students who are using the reader to view a textbook as it represents the actual action.

The Bad

Some of the features involving Wi-Fi connectivity are not as developed on other readers due to the fact that Sony have not included this feature in another reader before, and as a result, they don’t particularly know what works yet. The web browser on the PRS 950 is very basic and the 3G connection does not actually work with it -- you have to use the Wi-Fi connection. As for being fully functional, it's pretty painful to surf the web with the browser. This is hopefully something that Sony will work on and address in future updates of firmware for the device.

Some people have reported issues with the page turning being slow. There are other issues that the Wi-Fi connection on the device tends to be spotty. We've never noticed these issues, but people have reported them.

A minor annoyance I have is that the device does not come with an AC power adaptor, therefore there is no option of charging the device from the mains unless the user purchases an adaptor from the store. This isn’t the best move by Sony as the reader is already so much more expensive than others on the market which still include a power adaptor, as it is an accessory that most people are interested in. Sony know this however, and it annoys me that they feel the need to exploit their consumers.

You'll also have to pony some more money to buy a case for the Sony Daily Reader as there is no case included. Not surprised as most of the competing devices like the Kindle make you purchase an optional case. But again, for the price you pay, Sony should have tossed in a case. This is one thing you are going to have to buy.

Another feature on the Sony PRS 950 which I don’t particularly like, or see any reason for being there is that on the left hand side of the device there is a ridge running alongside the screen, this is there I think to represent the crease in a book, however none of the other readers in the PRS range have this, and I can’t help but feel it is slightly gimmicky, which goes against the rest of the spartan design.

The Bottom Line

The Sony PRS 950 is not a bad device by any means. It's actually a "better" device than the PRS 650 since it includes the "missing" connectivity of the 650 with 3G and Wi-Fi. I'd say the only real advantage the Kindle devices offer over the Sony 950 is the text is crisper on the screen (as I mentioned, it looks like it's "bolded" while the Sony does not). But this is not a game changer by any means and the Sony screen is just fine for reading -- I'm nitpicking here.

Toss on the larger screen and you have a real winner. So in terms of sheer features, the Sony Reader PRS 950 beats out the Kindle 3 AND the PRS 650. It does a good job against the DX too for PDF reading.

However, there is a big negative: the price is far too high at about $320 dollars -- bearing in mind some aspects of the device are not very developed and are lagging behind other readers on the market, which does make me question how Sony can justify the pricing. That in consideration, if money is no object, then the Sony PRS 950 is one of the nicer readers on the market, and the design does look more premium in comparison to readers such as the Nook and the Kindle.

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Sony Reader PRS 950

Price: ~$300

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