In 2009, Sony put out the Reader Touch Edition (model PRS-600), an E Ink reader with a 6-inch touch screen that looked sleek but had a few design flaws. For 2010, Sony has delivered an upgraded Reader Touch Edition, the PRS-650. While it looks a lot like its predecessor, the new Reader Touch Edition is slightly trimmed down and has two major upgrades: 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 and is glare-free. The product is available in red or black for $230.
Alas, the Reader Touch Edition, which weighs in at 7.58 ounces and measures a compact 6.61 inches tall by 4.68 inches wide by 0.38 inch thick, doesn't have any sort of wireless capabilities--but we'll get to that in a minute. For now, let's start with the good stuff, namely that 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 licensed from Neonode for the touch mechanics, so you barely have to touch the screen to get a response.)
The 6-inch screen is, so far as we know, identical to the E Ink Pearl display found on the latest version of the Kindle--600x800 resolution, 16-level grayscale, and improved contrast (compared with older E Ink screens, like that of the Barnes & Noble Nook). Six adjustable font sizes let you customize the view to your liking, so there's never a need to squint.
While the touch screen may not be quite as responsive as that of the iPhone (due to the slightly laggy nature of E Ink), it's more responsive than it was, and, as we've said before, this type of 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.
The touch screen isn't just for navigation--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 the 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 dictionaries (there are 2 English-language and 10 translation dictionaries). Furthermore, the reader keeps logs of the words you've looked up.
In addition to the winning screen, the Reader Touch Edition has 2GB of built-in memory, which is enough to store around 1,200 e-books. Additional memory is available thanks to SD and Memory Stick expansion slots. The Reader delivers two weeks of reading on a single battery charge, and the sealed-in battery (not user-replaceable) is charged via a standard Micro-USB port, so any newer cellphone charger should suffice.
On the file compatibility front, the Reader supports PDF, Microsoft Word, and other text file formats, as well as EPUB/ACS4 and connection with Adobe Digital Editions. It can also view JPEG, PNG, GIF, and BMP image files, and play back MP3 and AAC audio files (there's a standard 3.5-millimeter headphone jack).
As you can see from the descriptions above, the one big omission from the features list is wireless connectivity. There's none, which seems a bit odd given that both the Kindle and Nook now come in Wi-Fi-only versions for less than $150 (those models also have 6-inch screens). One can only assume that Sony simply couldn't produce the PRS-650 in a Wi-Fi version for a similar price and turn a profit (or even break even). Obviously, the touch-screen interface is more costly to implement, but it's truly a shame that Sony couldn't include Wi-Fi.