Despite what many tablet manufacturers claim, most people find reading for long periods uncomfortable when using a backlit screen. As such the humble eReader with its easy-on-the-eye e-ink screen has remained fairly popular in the wake of the tablet obsessed masses. There are, of course, other advantages to a dedicated eReader such as the extended battery life, built in dictionary options and the opportunity to explain to everyone what it is that you’re holding.
The demands on an eReader have changed, of course, with touch screens, annotations, social media integration and in-device shopping all being part of the feature sets that users have come to expect. We looked at two rather different takes on the eReader – the iconic Kindle Wi-Fi and the latest generation of Sony’s Reader Wi-Fi Touch.
You could be forgiven for assuming that the Kindle Wi-Fi is a bit of a down-grade from the models we were discussing this time last year. With no keyboard and no global-roaming 3G connection, some people may initially think – why? Some of the why is in the excellent price tag (locally you can pick one up for $139) but a lot is in the Amazon store, which we’ll get to in a second.
In terms of straight hardware, the Kindle Wi-Fi is a very light 170g and only 166 x 114 x 8.7mm size. In real world terms, this makes it easy to pop in a suit jacket breast pocket, so it’s not likely to be an issue for any size of bag or handbag, except for the slimmest of clutches. The construction is pleasantly solid, the hard keys and the cursor pad have nice feedback and a good “click sensation” as do the page turning keys. Because of the Kindle’s design, page turning works equally well for either left or right handed people.
The screen is seriously impressive – a 6in e-ink operating at 16-level greyscale, with a 600x800 resolution and 167ppi. Storage is 2GB, but it’s worth noting that that’s still around 1,400 books. Battery life is around one month according to Kindle, but that’s with the Wi-Fi turned off. We found that during our testing period, with Wi-Fi left permanently on, we recharged once during a three book reading spree, a pre-emptive charge too, rather than a depleted battery. Supported file formats are Kindle’s own AZW, TXT, PDF, MOBI, HTML, DOC plus some image files.
The greatest advantage of the Kindle is of course Amazon itself. While Amazon shopping is remarkably simple from within the device, we were also impressed with the Whispersync functionality. By ensuring that the Kindle sync regularly while on a Wi-Fi network, other devices using the Kindle App (in this case an HTC Android phone) not only get access to books and publications purchased via Amazon, but said books will automatically sync to the furthest page read. There’s also in-built dictionary support and social media connectivity allowing you to annoy Twitter followers and Facebook friends by posting book quotes directly from the Kindle.
So any niggles? Well, it’s minor, but the device felt ever so slightly slick when held one handed (usually during public transport) although no drops occurred. While reading a book with a lot of footnotes (Terry Pratchet’s latest, Snuff) the sync function hit some snags too – syncing the end of the book where the footnotes were, rather than the page we were actually reading. We did find the proceeding for getting files on the Kindle without it being USB connected to a PC to be a bit tricky. Essentially you’re given an email address unique to your Kindle which you can use to email file to yourself. However, you need to first set up your account with approved email addresses that the Kindle will take files from, or it won’t work. In the end, it was all good, but users may find it easier to simple use the USB drive function.
Sony Reader Wi-Fi Touch
Sony’s original Touch Readers were truly remarkable devices – but a dash over-priced. The Reader Wi-Fi Touch (PRS-T1 in terms of model number) comes in at $179 with enough clever features to make this well worth the price.
First and foremost is the touchscreen. While the Reader sports the same screen size and resolution as the Kindle, the screen uses Infrared tech to provide touchscreen functionality. This allows users to not only turn pages with finger swipes, but also to highlight words and activate the dictionary, zoom in and out and, of course, to choose books and menu options. Size wise, the Sony is a little lighter than the Kindle and slightly smaller across the face. With the gently curved back, this makes it almost perfect for one handed reading (at least for this reviewers’ hands). The Sony Reader also comes in three colours – black, white or red – unlike the Kindle. Whether this is important or not is really up to the user. Personally, we did like the slickness of the black Sony over the graphite of the Kindle.
Also unlike the Kindle, the Sony has expandable memory, taking a microSD of up to 32GB. Considering this would allow for around 32,000 books (taking an average eBook size of 1MB) we can only assume that this is more for people wanting to use the MP3 and AAC file support of the Reader, rather than OCB bibliophiles. Speaking of file support, the Sony support fewer non-eBook files (TXT and PDF only) but critically it does support EPUB, the free eBook standard and one of the more common formats for e-publications. This makes the Sony excellent for people with a pre-existing collection of eBooks or people who like to shop around rather than being tied to a single shopping source. Sony’s PC-based Reader software that work with the devices has built-in access to both the Borders and Angus & Robertson online stores, but these are just purchasing options.
In terms of problems, like the Kindle we experienced very few issues. The touchscreen, while useful, did make it essential to lock the Reader before tucking the device into a pocket or under an arm, but we only noticed this as a problem when hastily jumping on public transport. There were also a one or two times when our one-handed reading style caused a few fumbles with the Sony and we inadvertently jumped ahead a few pages, but this occurred so infrequently as be a non-issue.
Side-by-side, very little other than the touchscreen and the price separate the two devices. While we initially though the screen on the Kindle seemed crisper, this wasn’t backed up by the figures and seems to be more of an optical illusion. Both were excellent devices that performed well and impressed both in terms of form and functionality.
Making a decision between the two will come down to two choices – whether the touchscreen is compelling enough for the additional $40 cost and whether you want to shop around for EPUB files or are happy to work with Amazon and its own proprietary format. In either scenario, both eReaders come highly recommended.
Amazon Kindle Wi-Fi: 5/6
Sony Reader Wi-Fi Touch: 5/6
||166 mm x 114 mm x 8.7 mm
||173 × 110 × 8.9mm
||6in e-ink 600x800 167ppi 16-level grayscale
||6in e-ink 600x800 167ppi 16-level grayscale, Infrared touch capabilities
||2GB, with microSD up to 32GB
|Book file support
||AZW, TXT, PDF, MOBI, HTML, DOC
ePub, PDF, TXT
|Battery (manufacturer claimed)
||1 month (Wi-Fi off); 3 weeks (Wi-Fi on)
||1 month (Wi-Fi off); 3 weeks (Wi-Fi on)