Sony's PRS-950 Daily Edition is the company's current flagship e-reader and it possesses one feature that the step-down siblings (the Reader Touch Edition PRS-650 and Reader Pocket Edition PRS-350) in the 2010-2011 product line lack: wireless connectivity in the form of both 3G and Wi-Fi.
But that wireless connectivity comes at a price. This e-ink model carries a list price of $299, and while we've seen it discounted for less at times, it's still well over $100 more than both the 3G ($189) and Wi-Fi ($139) versions of the Amazon Kindle, as well as the more versatile $250 Nook Color. In other words, we can't say PRS-950 is a bargain, but it is a decent e-reader.
Instead of the 6-inch touch-screen found on the PRS-650, this e-reader has a 7-inch touch screen. Like Sony's other models, this one also has the new higher-contrast E Ink Pearl display found in the latest Amazon Kindle and Kindle DX and a touch-screen interface that finally works well.
The PRS-950 Pocket Edition Reader does have a nice look and feel to it and is comparatively lightweight and compact considering it has a larger 7-inch screen. Weighing 9.5 ounces and measuring 7.8 inches tall by 5.1 inches wide by 0.4 inch deep, it's just about an ounce more than the third-generation Kindle, an inch taller, and slightly wider all around. (It weighs about 25 percent less than its predecessor, the PRS-900.)
As noted, the touch navigation is the same much-improved experience found on the current step-down Sony Reader models. Sony's engineers managed to remove a layer of screen protection that previously hurt the contrast (the letters weren't as dark as on the Kindle or Nook) and caused glare issues due to increased reflectivity. Those matters are now resolved, and it's great to see the concept of a touch-screen e-ink e-reader finally hit its stride. (Sony is using infrared technology for the touch mechanics, so you barely have to touch the screen to get a response.)
While the touch screen may not be quite as responsive as the iPhone's touch screen (due to the slightly laggy nature of e-ink), it's more responsive than the previous generation of e-ink readers. Moreover, as we've said before, this type of touch interface is ideal for e-readers because it allows the designers to cut down on buttons and whittle the device down to just slightly bigger than the screen itself. You can also mark up text with the included stylus, jot down notes (you can use the virtual keyboard or the stylus), and turn pages with a swipe of a finger (yes, the device is zippier than its predecessor). We also liked how you could double-tap on a word to bring up its definition in the built-in dictionary (the reader keeps logs of the words you've looked up).
Here are the key specs of the Sony Reader Daily Edition PRS-950:
- • Price: $299.99
- • 7-inch "clear touch" screen (600x1,024 resolution; 16-level grayscale E Ink Pearl screen)
- • Weighs 9.5 ounces
- • Measures 7.8 inches by 5.1 inches by 0.4 inch (HWD)
- • 2GB built-in memory (stores around 1,200 e-books)
- • SD and Memory Stick Duo Expansion slots for adding additional memory
- • Plays back MP3 and AAC audio files (headphone jack on board)
- • Text and handwritten note-taking capabilities
- • Two weeks of reading on a single battery charge
- • Embedded multilingual dictionaries (two English language and 10 translation dictionaries)
- • Six adjustable font sizes to customize
- • USB 2.0 data and power connection (Micro-USB)
- • Supports PDF, Microsoft Word, and other text file formats, as well as EPUB/ACS4 and connection with Adobe Digital Editions
- • Reads JPEG, PNG, GIF, and BMP image files
- • Reader Library software for PC and Mac
- • Battery life: 20,000 page turns (10 days with wireless on, 22 with it off)
- • Available in silver only
While the PRS-950 has a very similar core feature set to the PRS-650, you do get a few extras that you won't find on Sony's non-wireless models: a Web browser and link to Google Books (free, pre-1923 public-domain works), which you can access directly from the device. There's also a special landscape mode that allows you to view two pages of an e-book side by side--just like a book. That's kind of nice.
Like the Web browser on the Kindle and the e-ink Nook, the Web browser is fairly basic and works better with text (aka mobile) versions of sites, and it loaded sites as quickly as the Kindle's browser does. (Note: the Sony browser only works with the Wi-Fi, not the 3G, connection.) The browser home has some bookmarks to several mobile versions of sites--including a link to CNET's News.com--and all those load very quickly. HTML sites like CNET and NYTimes.com took around 30 seconds to fully load. You can't zoom but you can increase and decrease the font size, which acts as a form of zooming. Overall, it's not a great experience, but the browser is usable, and what's on the screen looks pretty good.
While we didn't check all the e-mail Web clients for various providers, we didn't have any trouble sending and viewing e-mail from a Gmail account. Needless to say, video does not display in the browser--if that's what you're looking for, the Nook Color or iPad would be a better way to go.