Sony Reader PRS-700: Part Two

When we last left off in Part One, I was standing there absolutely stunned by the new Sony Reader PRS-700.

But that was just the beginning of my shock and awe!

Let me go over the hardware design:

That press photo is actually a bit deceptive, but more about that point later.

Notice the new ribbing on the left side. This gives it a grip for people who prefer to use the Sony Reader without its cover.

Speaking of the cover, it attaches just like the one for the PRS-505. That is, there are two holes at the left side, top and bottom edges. However, the dimensions of the PRS-700 are different than the PRS-505, so existing color covers for the 505 won’t work. For one thing, the 700 is slightly thicker than the 505. It’s still surprisingly thin, just thicker than the 505.

The front of the new Sony Reader is clean, less immediately intimidating than past models. Notice the thin band of buttons beneath the screen:

Click = big

What’s probably not immediately apparent is the continued genius of the hardware design. The three left-most buttons are where your left-hand thumb would go with a printed book. It’s also where your left-hand thumb would go with the two prior models, the PRS-500 and 505 (if you’re holding them properly!). So, that aspect of the design has been preserved, even though the buttons are different and now actually separate.

Let me remark here that the Option button brings up many options. One of them anyone who’s used a PalmOS PDA will instantly recognize: Calibrate Screen! Remember: this new Sony Reader has a touchscreen!

Next is the Home button, right in the center. This brings us back to a brand-new Home screen:


(This photo really brought the Philips crapcam to it limits!)

Notice how large and finger-friendly the areas are. Continue Reading (with current book title underneath), Books (with the total number loaded — internally and on card[s] — underneath), All Notes (again with the number underneath), Collections (which has no number here, as there were none). Then Audio, Pictures, and Settings.

Remember, this new Sony Reader has a touchscreen. So each of those can simply be tapped on with a fingertip (or included stylus) to activate.

On the bottom side of it is a wrist strap/lanyard hole, Lighting control (Off, Setting 1, Setting 2), mini-USB port, headphone jack, power jack, and Volume/Hold switch.

Neither the left nor the right side edges have buttons.

At top is On/Off, a Memory Stick Mini slot, a Secure Digital (full-size) slot (yes, two slots), and the stylus well at the right (as with past Sony CLIE PDAs).

Viewing installed eBooks now offers two types of views. The classic Lists of the 505 as well as a new Cover view in which each icon is a miniature of the eBook’s cover! This new Cover view can take a while to build. It immediately shows proxies and then builds the miniature cover for each eBook. Each Cover icon is large enough to be tapped with a fat thumb! I can see this view being useful when someone can’t remember an eBook’s title but does recall what its cover looks like.

One more point about these views. Remember those ten buttons the 505 had on its right side, to select eBooks? Those are gone now. In their place is an alphabetical tab system at the right side of the touchscreen in List and Cover views, sort of like the alpha tabs found in the iPhone’s Contacts list. One of those tabs can be tapped on to, for example, select all eBook titles that begin with A or with T. This will be very handy for people who really put many eBooks on the Sony Reader. Being able to quickly jump to something has been much improved. No more page-page-page through Lists! (That’s something I recently saw Dave Farrow have to do on the Reader Revolution cam! He’s using the 505.)

Once a book has been selected, there is an enhanced Table of Contents which now includes being able to jump to each chapter of an eBook.

Within an eBook, there’s the ability to move through it in several ways:

1) Use a gesture to change the page — this can be a swipe to the left or right, a tap, or even a swipe up or down! This is totally user-selectable.

2) Use one of the three buttons at the bottom right (when using your left hand’s thumb)

3) A new swipe and hold gesture that allows incredibly rapid page flips.

This is where I must stop to comment about eInk. Anyone who has ever tried a Sony Reader (or any eInk eBook reader) is familiar with the “black flash” that accompanies turning a page. That’s still here on the new Sony Reader PRS-700, but it’s greatly reduced.

But get a load of this: When using that new gesture I described above to rapidly page through a book, there is no flashing whatsoever!

The eInk acts as if it was a conventional LCD screen! (More about this point in Part Three.)

Once in an eBook, the fifth button at the bottom, Magnify, will bring up a dialog box(!) with five type size choices: S, M, L, XL, and XXL. That’s two more choices than past models. In addition, changing type size is instant. No repagination delay! There’s a brief flash of the screen but, boom!, done.

In addition, there is also a Zoom In feature. Here Sony has done something that’s also absolutely stunning. A page of text suddenly acts as if it was a graphic. A slider appears vertically at the upper left of the page and manually moving that — by fingertip or stylustip — will zoom into the page. This might not seem practical for text, but it’s great for illustrations. In addition to the Zoom In slider, four arrows appear at centered edge left, right, top, and bottom (think of Google Maps!). Those can be used to shift the page. However, just like the iPhone, a drag of the finger will also move the image around!

And again: There is absolutely no eInk flashing during this operation. Again, the eInk screen acts like a regular LCD screen!

By now, those who have a Sony Reader will be asking, Hey! What about Bookmarking?! This is where the touchscreen is now used. Double-tap at the upper right corner of an eBook’s page to set a Bookmark! It’s easy and intuitive! And yes, the folded-down corner graphic has been retained.

Two new operations have been added to eBooks: Notes and Search. Here you get to see some really great pictures, courtesy of Sony’s Jim Malcolm who grabbed them for me on his real camera. (Which turned out to be a Great Thing, as the crapcam had gone on strike! Thanks much, Jim Malcolm!)


The above is showing Notes open (with a blank Note open above the keyboard), but that keyboard is also what appears when the new Search button is pressed. Notice the clean design of the keyboard and how the soft keys are large enough to be used with a fingertip! Notice also above the keyboard to the upper left are three words. These are the last three words that were used as Search terms. Grayed out is a Done button, to save the Note. At the upper right corner is an X to closer the dialog box. Again, the eInk acts like a regular LCD screen, when this or any other function is invoked. There is no flashing whatsoever!

One other way to invoke Search: Highlight a word and then press the Search button. The word will automagically be placed in the Search dialog box. Searching is breathtakingly fast. I tried it on a long eBook and there was no spinning wheel or any wait at all. Nor was there any eInk flashing as Search moved from page to page!

This is the Notes mode within an eBook itself:


Here you can see part of a word highlighted. That’s right. In addition to adding notes, text can also be highlighted! At the top left of this screen is the Highlight icon, the Erase (Highlight Delete) icon, the Notes icon, Bookmark icon, and the X to close the Notes mode. Highlights can also be made invisible.

Tap the Highlight icon and drag across a word (an operation that is probably more suited to the stylus than a fingertip) to highlight it. After highlighting, tap the Notes icon to bring up the Notes mode (seen in the prior photograph), to add a text Note. (I don’t know how long a Note can be, but in the prior photo notice the 1/1 enumeration. This might indicate very long notes can be created.)

There’s also an area to see all Notes. This has a great feature too. Tapping on a Note will open the eBook it’s from, to the page the Note is on! Each Note in the list view has a few words from the Note and the eBook’s title.

I brought along an SD card with a bunch of eBooks I willy-nilly plopped onto it at the last minute: LRF, PDF, and ePub. I didn’t get to systematically test these. This was a Just In Case on-the-fly kind of thing. I was able to put in the SD and try a few of the files.

Paul Biba from TeleRead was there witnessing all this. LRF and ePub went fine. The ePub, in fact, looked gorgeous. I ran into a problem with one PDF. The text reflow results were tragic. Biba said there was no way to tell what was happening with the file. He’s had plenty of experience with this and said results vary depending on how a PDF was created. The text reflow software is from Adobe and needs improvement. I’m sure that’s in the works too. Right now, this capability is best described — with some PDFs, at least — as Better Than Nothing. (I still recommend using the Sony guide to creating PDFs formatted especially for the Sony Reader.)

Three other items about this ad-hoc SD card thing:

1) The SD card was from my LifeDrive. It’s 1Gb in capacity and Windows Explorer reports 564MB used. I have over one thousand files on it, mostly Palm DOCs and videos. It took several seconds for the Sony Reader to parse the files.

2) The Sony Reader added all the readable files to the Books total on the Home screen (there were 15 eBooks already in it; my files pumped the total to 33). In addition to the test files I dropped on the SD — all of which were at the top level — the Sony Reader plucked five text files from within my Launcher folder! (Note to Paul Biba and Jim Malcolm: Sorry, they weren’t Palm DOC files as I mistakenly thought!) I opened one of these text files. The type size could be enlarged!

3) Keeping my record intact, I managed to thoroughly crash the Sony Reader! This happened twice. Once during one of the test files (I’ve forgotten which) and then a second time after a full reset (more about this shortly) during another operation (either Search or Notes). Don’t worry! This will not happen with the Sony Reader that goes on sale next month! These were special demo units, not from-the-factory finished units! I wanted to mention this because crashing demo units is one of my burdens specialties. I would have been shocked if I hadn’t whomped it!

That full-reset? It’s accomplished by removing the stylus, unscrewing one of the tips to reveal the threaded portion, and inserting it into a wee Reset hole on the back of the Sony Reader. Just as in the old PDA days!

The full-reset gave me the rare pleasure of seeing the splash screen new owners will encounter when first powering-on their units. It says something along the lines of, “Welcome to the Reader Revolution…” and displays a BBeB Book logo, the Adobe logo, and the Sony logo. It’s very exciting!

At the beginning of this post, I stated that the Sony press photo of the new Sony Reader PRS-700 was a bit deceptive. It is. Go back and look at the two great pictures Jim Malcolm took for me. Look at how the black tends to slip out of your vision, leaving you to see the page and the silver trim. It makes the Sony Reader look a lot smaller than it actually is. This new design really focuses your attention on the page.

I’m going to stop here. In Part Three, to appear tomorrow, I will give:

– my conclusions about the new Sony Reader

– details of what Steve Haber said about adding wireless to it

– what Jim Malcolm insisted were the facts regarding hardware pricing

– what someone from Penguin Books told me of their plans

– what I think the future of the Sony Reader is

– and more!

Go to Part Three!

Explore posts in the same categories: Books - Other, eBooks, Tech - Sony

19 Comments on “Sony Reader PRS-700: Part Two”

  1. Cliff Burns Says:

    Keep ’em coming, Mike. I’ve been dubious about these readers but I have to say, this one looks mighty sweet…

  2. AitchJaeEsse Says:

    Hi all…I’ve been a user of the 505 for quite a while. I’ve got a long commute everyday and the Reader does a great job of filling my time and attention. Right now I have over 900 books on it, and while I’ve probably read over 100 of them, there’s no reason to delete. I’ve still got roughly 2 gigs of free space left. My only complaint is that the battery isn’t quite as good as advertised. After a week of reading it for 1-2 hours a day, I still have to recharge it (as opposed to the 2 weeks advertised). Not as good as advertised but YARDS better than expected.

    Looking forward to the new Reader. I’ll be signing up promptly for it.

  3. mikecane Says:

    NINE HUNDRED books on it?! How in the world do you deal with finding one? And how slowly does the book list build? My head spins at the thought. I’ve read of people having problems with just 200-300 on it.

  4. Amalthia Says:

    I have over 1400 ebooks on my PRS-505 and as long as I add a few at a time it’s manageable. Collections are a necessity.

    Also for the person going through the battery. If you’re using the SD card it runs the battery down faster. At least that’s what everyone has been telling me. I get about 1 weeks worth of life out of my battery reading 1-2 hours every day.

  5. Dave Berk Says:

    What about part three?

  6. mikecane Says:

    Written. In final stages as I type this (well, once I’m done typing this!).

  7. Herbert Says:

    I’m curious to know if the casing of the PRS-700 is metal (like the PRS-505) or plastic ?

  8. mikecane Says:

    Yes, the casing is metal; aluminum if I’m not mistaken. If you’re anywhere near a SonyStyle Store, you can go fondle it in person now.

  9. amanda Says:

    Mike, your review was totally thorough, and I’m going to send it out to all the doubters who’ve been mocking my techlust for the PRS 700. However, I still have one question I’m not sure about– does the Reader allow you to keyword search your notes or view them by book, etc?

    The answer isn’t a dealbreaker for me–my 700 has been on preorder since October 6 (3 days after the Sony announcement)–but I have been wondering.

    I’m eagerly awaiting my reader. As a grad student, I’m assigned several hundred pages a week–much of which is text or photocopies of articles and book chapters in PDF form. By my estimates, the 700 will pay for itself twice over in what it saves me on print-outs over the coming years. The only reason I didn’t buy sooner was that I was waiting for Sony to come out with a note-taking feature. November 18 can’t get here fast enough. :)

    One last question: You said the Reader didn’t handle all PDFs well. How does it handle PDFs that are basically graphics files? I would assume you can’t highlight, but can you still take notes?

  10. mikecane Says:

    I don’t think Notes will work at all with PDFs as graphic files.

    As for taking notes with PDFs that are text, I’m going to have to ask Sony. I didn’t think to try that myself.

    I didn’t see keyword searching for Notes. Notes become a section and are displayed in a summary list form, IIRC. Taping on a Note will open it up and it will also allow you to jump to the eBook page the note is anchored to.

  11. mikecane Says:

    @amanda. Here is Sony’s reply, copy & pasted:

    1) No, you cannot attach a note to a graphics file. First you need to select text to “attach” the note to. So, what I do is choose the line before or after the graphic to add the note, which works fine for me. But, you cannot add notes directly to the graphic.

    2) Yes, you can add notes to PDFs that are text based.

    3) Search does work with notes when you’re in the notes section. Keep in mind, if you’re reading a book and conduct a search the query will only hit the text in the book and not your notes. Simply open your notes and repeat the search to find any occurrences in the notes themselves. When you click on a searched note the 700 will take you to that page in the book.

    4) No, the reader does not mark a book as “Read” but that’s a great idea…

  12. 700sony Says:

    Great review, but one question: What’s the deal with the reports popping up of a noticeably dimmer, fuzzier screen than the 505?

    See these shots here:

    Did you notice something similar? If so, it’s a deal-killer.

  13. Mark Says:

    Mike, I like your review, and it was the reason I pre-ordered the PRS-700, so I will ask again:

    Did you notice, during your testing of the unit, if the screen of the PRS-700 is considerably dimmer than the screen of the previous model, the PRS-505? Apparently the text is not as sharp.

    There are an increasing number of posts discussing the 700’s dimmer screen, and here are some pics:

    I haven’t seen the screen in person, and this is why I posted earlier (but my post was deleted, hopefully not because of the question, but because I didn’t give you an email address.)

    I am still curious about your take on the screen.

  14. mikecane Says:

    @700sony & Mark: Sony’s debut of the 700 was in a room with dim lighting (I hate when tech companies do that, by the way!), so the backlight was on all the time.

    I suspected myself there would be an issue with the new screen because of the *touchscreen layer and sidelights*. The screen has to be recessed, unlike prior models, to accommodate both touchscreen and sidelights. Both of these could account for some dimness.

    I’m not able to see the pictures referred to. All I see are IMG tags for the side-by-side photos. And I haven’t been to SonyStyle yet to check it out again in person under better lighting conditions.

    @Mark: I never saw your prior post with that question. Maybe it’s caught in the spam filter, which I haven’t checked in 48 hrs. If it’s there, I’ll just delete it unless it also has other points.

  15. Mark Says:

    Hi, Mike. I haven’t seen the PRS-700 in person yet, but will have to get to it before it ships.

    It’s pity you can’t see the photos posted, because the difference is quite noticeable. I can’t imagine Sony is sending out sub-par units as teasers, but really wish (against hope) that it is the case.

    Perhaps you can call your chips at Sony and let us know how they respond to the emerging “revolt of the disappointed” at

    Please let us know what your take on the unit is, when you’ve had some time to play with it. It’d be helpful to many.


  16. mikecane Says:

    Well, there are two good photos of the 700 in this report. Does it look bad to anyone? Still, I have not seen it at SonyStyle.

  17. Vadim Alatortsev Says:

    I have to tell you guys, that I’ve been reading all those reviews about Kindle and SONY for a while and still could not make my mind. Luckily, we have a Sony Style store in Annapolis, MD, which is 40 minutes drive from Baltimore. I am so-o-o-o glad that together with my wife we’ve decided to take a drive to Annapolis. We came prepared with memory stick cards, containing the files of papers and documents, which we wanted to test simultaneously on both PRS-505 and PRS-700 readers. Well, I can tell one thing for sure: If you have a chance to test it in Sony Style store near you, then you better do it, because NO review is going to help you until you PUT your own hands and FOCUS you own eyes on this ‘NEW’ and ‘IMPROVED’ SONY device. To tell you the truth, this is another example of wasting a good idea and ruining a perfectly good product.

    Yes, PRS-700 has a screen glare in direct light, and it is no so pleasant to read because of ‘foggy’ touch screen. I agree that a touch screen is a great idea, but not at the price of quality in respect to its primary function – reading books! If you are a student, who has lots of papers and need to take notes, ect., then obviously PRS-700 is a good choice, considering that this single benefit will outweigh its lack in text quality. As for reading image PDF files, i.e. those when text is ‘scanned’ and is ‘as image’ in the PDF file, then this new PRS-700 device is as useless as its PRS-505 predecessor. I haven’t had a chance to test image PDF files on Kindle, but my guess is that it would be the same as on SONY Reader. All I know is that my old Toshiba laptop with only 256MB memory module reads the same files much faster than the ‘NEW’ PRS-700. Yes, I admit that at least in PRS-700 you could zoom into such PDF page, but it would work only for a file with a couple of pages in it, not with a couple of hundred pages, because PRS-700 just ‘hangs’ forever with all its so-called ‘increased’ and ‘improved’ memory, etc. As I’ve told you already above, my old Toshiba handles those image based PDF ten times better and faster.

    There is also a good idea about built-in lights on left and right side in PRS-700, but I wonder why on Earth SONY didn’t put those lights all around the screen, i.e. including top and bottom, because it definitely would make it much better compared to the way it is done in PRS-700 now.

    You’ve probably guessed by now what my wife and I decided to purchase for reading books… Yes, we’ve bought PRS-505 (and we LOVE it), a much better choice for book lovers, because it really gives an impression of reading a REAL book, when compared to how text looks and feels on PRS-700. Forget e-ink technology on PRS-700, because there is nothing left of it, and you just get this feel which you have on all those PDA’s and cell phones.

    To read PRS-505 at night we’ve purchased a $69.99 leather book cover with the light, but even this one SONY couldn’t do right! I always wonder if all those SONY engineers, who design these things, actually try to use the products they design, or it is the case like everywhere and with everything, i.e. all those designers don’t really care how it is going to work? Instead of making (in the book cover with light) the plastic screen cover with equal thickness all throughout it, they’ve managed to make it thicker at the base, i.e. where it is attached to the center of the cover, and it becomes thinner and arrow-like the further you go from the center. Since the source of the light is in the base (i.e. closer to the center of the book cover) of the plastic plate, it gives a foggy ‘wave’ effect when the light is turned on and text looks uneven like if you are reading through a prism. If it wouldn’t be for this angled piece of plastic, the light would be spreading evenly throughout the plate, and it would be a pleasure to read at night, but… It is just another example of a perfectly good idea and its bad implementation. Jeez, I wonder how all these companies, including SONY, are actually staying in business, if they don’t even bother to test their products before offering them to consumers? What a waste of money….

    Yeah, there is one more thing! Neither PRS-700BC, nor PRS-505 have multi-language support. You would think that SONY should have thought about it, right? Nope, they didn’t. SONY probably thinks that EVERYBODY in the USA reads in English only, while everywhere you’d turn, you’d hear a foreign language. My point is, that in the USA and pretty much everywhere in the World we live now in a multicultural society, and it would be nice to give people a choice to read in language they’d prefer, say, for example, in German, Italian, Spanish, French, Chinese, etc.

    Actually, the multi-language support problem in SONY Reader was already solved for SONY by some programmer in Russia, who wrote a BIOS flashing program for SONY Readers. For those of you who don’t know, SONY uses free Linux platform as operating system for their Readers. I’ve downloaded this BIOS flashing program and already flashed my PRS-505, and now a can select and read in any language I would prefer, in addition to English, of course. In addition, there are much better sets icons and other cool additions, with which you could ‘flash’ your SONY reader.

    I think that what SONY should do, is to THANK and PAY that Russian guy for the program he wrote, and start distribution of his multi-language support program on SONY website, instead of making customers like me wonder the Internet in search of multi-language support.

    I hope that some of you have found my comments useful and got out the main idea:

    If you’ve got a chance, try it before you buy it, regardless of whether you consider buying either Kindle, SONY Reader, Irex Iliad, etc. It is especially important, if you would take into consideration the fact that SONY Style stores take a 15% re-stocking fee, if you decide to return or even to exchange your reader within 14-days from the day of your purchase.

    I cannot tell you what to do and what to buy. Obviously, it all will depend on what you really need. Actually, if I would need something like PRS-700 for school and reading all those papers and taking notes, I probably would end up buying a Tablet PC or a small laptop, but definitely not PRS-700, especially not for $400!

  18. As far as i’m concerned I will NEVER by another Sony product ever again. I had the PRS-500. And it was a flimsy piece of crap that broke twice within 3 months. First time was within a month and Bestbuy replaced it. Second time it was past the 30 day return of bestbuy so I sent it to sony and they refused to warranty it because they said it was abuse. NO this flimsy piece of crap is too fragile! Let me explain i’ve had portable electronics since I was 14 and for the past 20 years i’ve NEVER broke any of them! I’m an meticulously careful with them because there so expensive. This things screen would break on the slightest amount of reasonable pressure. DO NOT GET ANY OF THESE DEVICES BECAUSE IF IT BREAKS SONY WILL BLOW YOU OFF. I filed a complaint with the better business bureau. But I never heard anything back. Now I have an Amazon Kindle. Its BEAUTIFUL and well built I have not have ANY troubles AT ALL.

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