Sony eBook Reader PRS-T1: First Look

I love a good book. Being spoilt with all the dynamic content that is available via the iPad for digital magazines, it’s sometimes refreshing to just read plain text and let the imagination do the rest. After all, the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Twilight franchises started out as books full of words and lavish description. There is something about using your own mind’s eye to recreate an author’s passage without the benefit of a TV screen or computer monitor, or even tablet these days, to fill it in for you.

Overseas, the eBook market is massive, with a lot of legitimate choice for buyers who genuinely want to purchase content as they would a book off a shelf at a bookstore. Although Australia is still lagging to some extent in terms of electronic content availability, it is good to see that it hasn’t stopped manufacturers releasing new and impressive eBook readers, such as the Sony PRS-T1, which I’m reviewing here today.

Sony Reader PRS-T1 Front page

Intuitive touchscreen elements, great reading screen and lightweight but solid build.

To start with, the Sony is well designed and is extremely lightweight. At only 168grams, you would not notice this reader in a bag, and is a touch less than 9mm thick. Its 6” display sits well in a holding position, large enough to read a fair amount of text on the screen, but not too awkward too hold in one hand.

As far as physical button and connections go, it has five buttons on the bottom face, and a micro USB port for charging and computer connection, along with headphones and a power button. A micro SD card slot is located on the side for loading additional books to the 1,200 book capacity already available.

Sony Reader PRS-T1 Inputs

Bottom of the Reader showing the Micro USB, headphones and power button

The E-ink screen looks amazing. In contrast (pardon the pun) to backlit tablet products that offer the same functionality, e-ink does not have its own display light, but acts like printed text and requires a light source to read by – just like a real book. It’s actually startling how different on the eyes the E-ink text is.

Sony Reader PRS-T1 Text Page

Just like reading the real thing.

It is deceptively easy to read whole chapters of a book without putting it down, partly because of the weight and partly because of the passive screen. The E-ink presents an effortless reading environment.

Page turning is a simple swipe motion on the screen, and no pressure needs to be applied to the screen, very similar to tablet actions. In fact, I found out today that the core software driving the operating system on the Sony Reader is an Android derivative.

Sony Reader PRS-T1 Buttons

Android platform provides a familiar platform and therefore intuitive navigation and functionality.

This actually makes lots of sense as the three buttons representing Home, Back and Menu are direct ports of Android buttons on earlier smartphones. Much of the navigation is icon-based, so in hindsight Android is perfectly suited to provide a seamless experience.

The Reader actually comes with a stylus but I haven’t seen the need to use it so far. The fact that there’s no holder on the actual reader makes me think a lot of others may make-do with their fingers. So far it hasn’t been an issue. You may want to use it for the free-form handwriting function, which you can save.

Sony Reader PRS-T1 Handwriting

Screen is reasonably responsive for stylus entry.

Battery power is quoted at around 4 weeks, with only a couple of hours charge. This is possible because the battery is consumed only when a page is changed – when a new page is displayed no power is required to retain the image. I’m still getting used to this – pressing the power button once puts the Sony Reader into sleep mode, and generates an image of the cover of the latest book you’re reading. This cover image remains until you press the power button again, and I kept doing double-glances before realising that this was its sleep mode.

Because of yet-to-be-finalised licencing agreements, the on-board bookstore and library (where you can actually “borrow books”) available to other countries is not yet functional in Australia. However, there are many places to find books online – the Book Bites blog lists over 30 currently available eBook repositories, both free and paid. The Sony Reader software also provides access to content from Borders & Angus and Robertson.

Transferring books has up to this point been an easy affair – I’ve downloaded an ePub title and then simply dragged and dropped onto the Sony Reader, which comes up as a drive once connected via USB. The Sony Reader software can also be used to transfer content that is DRM protected, specifically Adobe Digital Editions, but if your book does not have restrictions then using the standard Windows interface is simple.

The Sony Reader is also Wi-Fi enabled, and comes with a browser for connection to the internet. Most sites I visited defaulted to the mobile versions of each site, which makes sense for the 6” screen and lack of colours or flash playback. The touch screen also allows basic pinch and zoom actions, handy for web browsing when text is too small to be readable.

Sony Reader PRS-T1 with Ritchies Room in the Browser

Orientation can also be adjusted for website viewing. To avoid large downloads, the Sony Reader will load the mobile site if available.

In other countries the Wi-Fi would also serve as a portal for book purchasing and borrowing which would negate the need for an intermediary step to load purchased content from PC, instead directly through the PRS-T1 itself. This is obviously an advantage for the competiting Kindle, which has content available on tap through its range.

There are a few more features that enhance the reading experience. Touching a particular word in a book will bring up its definition and the option to search for that word on Wikipedia or Google. In fact, the Sony Reader has 12 built-in dictionaries, so you should never be lost for the meaning of a word.

Sony Reader PRS-T1 Dictionary

Built-in dictionary with direct search and wikipedia function, great for non-fiction books where you may want to dig further into a particular subject.

You are able to manage books by placing them in “collections”, and you have control over the naming conventions of these “folders”; you can choose to manage by genre, age or author – entirely up to you.

You can also load songs onto the Reader, so you can listen to music while you’re reading. If you were going to do this, I strongly suggest a large size Micro SD card, 16GB-32GB in size.

As far as e-book readers go, I think Sony is onto a winner here. The E-ink display is gorgeous and as long as you are willing to explore book titles yourself through the Sony Reader PC software and various websites as mentioned above, then the functionality of the PRS-T1 will reward you with many good reads over time.

Do you buy e-books yourself, and if so what websites would you recommend for users of e-book readers in Australia?