Sony PRS-650 - a Review

by Tina Holmboe 19th of December 2010 (archive)

I don’t grok dedicated e–book readers. I really don’t. They are, without fail, far too large to b easily carried anywhere (No, V, your ten gallon handbag does not count as «normal capacity» ;), and don’t really do flexible.

My ideal e–book reader is a Maemo–based smartphone with a nice, say 4«, AMOLED screen. Ain’t happening. »

Yet I find myself the very proud owner of a red Sony PRS–650 … a contradiction indeed. It is quite likely a result of having spent the last thirty years or so staring at various quality computer monitors. It’s starting to become unpleasant to my eyes.

So I’ve devised A Plan. Acquire a reading–board which can be used for specifications and other documents while not in front of a regular computer monitor. Something with an e–ink screen, preferably. It would, by necessity, support PDF and ePub; Linux integration highly desired.

All right already! So I got an e–book reader. A dedicated one :). Gotta be allowed to change one’s mind now and again.

For various reasons — most of them boiling down, one way or another, to «supports epub» — I purchased a nice, red, Sony 650.

What follows is a highly unprofessional «review» of the gadget. This, in short, is my experiences after a couple of weeks. Let’s start — as I am a terribly negative person — with what it doesn’t do very well. It’s a surprisingly short list:

  • The screen has a distinct glare. This is no surprise; it is, after all, glass. Or, well, high quality plastic. A reflective surface will, if you add a directed light, reflect. In practise it is rarely a problem.
  • It plays audio, but only MP3 and AAC. Where’s the OGG and FLAC support, guys? It’s embedded Linux; no need to be difficult. Again, in practise, not much of a problem.
  • No MOBI support. Honestly? That’s almost a gold star taken away! This is something of a problem, as, for example, Amazon Kindle books are based on the Mobipocket format.
  • The touchscreen is based on infrared sensor technology. In itself not a drawback, as it does at the very least do away with the old–fashioned capacitive screens, but requires a distinct bevel along the edge of the screen for the electronics involved. This, in turn, isn’t a problem either — except that the upper bevel, at times, cast a shadow on the text. Again a minor problem.
  • Semi–transparent PNG images used as CSS backgrounds tend to not render very well at all. Actually, they don’t render. At all.

So what does it do right?

  • Weight clocks in at 215g metric. That’s 26g less than the all–plastic Kindle 3, and 456g less than the lightest 1st gen iPad – that’s a third of the weight. Gold star to Sony. It’s easy to hold in one hand — four fingers with page–flipping reserved for the thumb. And yes. It can be operated by righties and lefties alike. Good for bothies like me. Page–flipping is done either with hardware back– and forth–buttons, or by a very light gesture on the touch–screen.
  • It doesn’t have a keyboard, making the actual device not much larger than its 6« screen.
  • It runs on Linux — if MontaVista Linux. This, for example, makes it very easy to talk to from various computers. Nothing special required.
  • And since it does, it can be managed from Calibre, which is the software to go to for general e–book management, despite a truly horrendous UI. I’ll stick with rsync, but it’s a good feature to have.
  • It uses an e–ink (»Pearl«) screen. This, as has been noted before, gives the impression of paper, and is quite, quite excellent. It’s surprisingly good, even. At 600x800 — portrait is its natural orientation, although landscape is available — and 166ppi it’s pleasant to read.
  • The Oxford Dictionary of English. The thing has a dozen to chose from, and I prefer the English–English variety.
  • ePub. Let’s chant it together: ePub. Open, standardised, formats are always an advantage. It translates to a plethora of tools, and more importantly: the ability to get at the book content even if the format change some day in the future. Another gold star.
  • Surprisingly good handling of justified text. Due to a bug in Calibre 0.6.42 which made every single paragraph justified despite my effort at persuasion, I suddenly had all my home–grown e–books sporting text–align: justify. Annoying, but quite well handled. Kudos to Sony for not just repeating the mistakes of the past.
  • Stylus. Yes, I know, consider and colour me old–fashioned, but the pen is the ultimate survivor as technology goes, and being able to make a quick note by hand is priceless. It could be a little bit more substantial.
  • Memory slots — one Sony MemoryStick, one SDHC. In a pinch, although it does draw more power, I can add 32 gigabyte of extra bookshelves. Never was expanding the library as easy. In perspective, that’s roughly 48,000 ePub books at 700 Kb a piece. It’ll do.
  • And in the oddly–satisfying category we have the sleep mode background images … which you can add yourself. Not asked SO for an opinion of being a background image, but hey–ho … »

There won’t be a conclusion to this little rant. Whether you prefer the iPad, the Kindle, the Sony eReader, or any other device is entirely up to you. If you are tempted by the PRS–650, tho, this might be helpful.

Even the e–reader Luddite me — that’s the one with the decade long experience in electronic books, but no love for Apple — get enjoyment out of this device. Good work, Sony.