The Sony PRC-600 Reader aims to take on e-book readers such as the Amazon Kindle with its own touchscreen technology. And at first glance, the Sony's excellent build quality makes it a winner.

The Sony PRC-600 Reader Touch Edition replaces the buttons of the older 505 model with a touchscreen interface.

One quick feel of the Sony PRC-600 is enough to remind you why Sony has pretty much cornered the market in the UK. The build quality of the Sony PRS-600 Reader Touch Edition unit is much higher than that of many rival independent book readers on the market - with the exception of one other manufacturer, and it's the big one: Amazon.

With the Amazon Kindle now on the UK market Sony has some real competition at last. In the US the eReader market has been a very different story. Sony reported world-wide sales of 400,000 Readers to date in January 2009; Amazon is reputed to have sold 500,000 Kindles in 2008 and would have sold 750,000 if stock hadn't run dry. In other words: the Kindle pretty much rules the US market.

See also: Barnes & Noble Nook e-book reader launches

So the question facing many new customers really boils down to: "Sony Reader or Kindle?" That's not as simple a question to answer as you'd imagine, because both devices offer radically different approaches to the electronic book reading experience.

For those of you that aren't familiar with book readers, the electronic paper screen is unlike anything you will have used. The screen is monochrome with a grey background and black text. There is no refresh rate, instead the screen flashes black when you move to the next page and the pixels are pushed into the new position.

Because there is no refresh rate they are incredibly easy on the eye, essentially the same as a physical book, and the battery is general measured in page turns (approximately 7,500 in this case).

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Sony PRS-600 Reader Touch Edition: Interaction

At first, touchscreen interaction seems like overkill for a book reader, but it actually brings a new level of interaction to the device. First of all it removes all buttons from the Sony PRS-600 Reader Touch Edition.

Even the previous non-touch edition of the Sony Reader seemed more aesthetically pleasing than the qwerty keyboard crammed Kindle; but now it's just a screen. Rather than press a button to flip the page, with the Sony PRS-600 Reader Touch Edition you swipe your finger left or right across the screen to move between pages.

There's not much between a flick and a button press, but it's the additional features that set the Sony PRS-600 Reader Touch Edition apart. You can double click on a word to bring up the built in dictionary (Oxford English or Oxford American English) and highlight interesting words or passages. You can also scribble notes using your finger or the included stylus.

Anybody who's used one of these devices will be aware that the speed of the display is nowhere near in the same league as something like the iPhone, so don't get too excited by the touchscreen technology. Having said that, the Sony PRS-600 Reader Touch Edition does enable basic interaction with parts of the screen offering a virtual keyboard and the like. It's certainly a better form of interaction than the button offering found on other readers.

NEXT: file transfer and screen issues >>

The Sony PRC-600 Reader aims to take on e-book readers such as the Amazon Kindle with its own touchscreen technology. And at first glance, the Sony's excellent build quality makes it a winner.

Sony PRS-600 Reader Touch Edition: File transfer

Unlike the Kindle offering, with its built-in 3G connection, the Sony PRS-600 Reader Touch Edition relies on a more traditional transfer of files via USB. Books are managed and transferred using a program called eBook Library.

One particularly nice touch is that the installation of eBook Library is performed via the device when it is first attached to your machine. It did have to download files over the internet, however, which strikes us as odd considering it's only a 42MB application. The download worked fine on our test Mac Pro machine, but kept stalling on a MacBook Air and we had to hunt down a copy of the program on the Sony support site.

The eBook Library software is a good, if basic application akin to iTunes. It enables you to add and sync document formats from your PC to the Sony Reader.

Unlike iTunes eBook Library doesn't manage files directly, and you can't move or rename documents added to eBook Library. The application merely points to the documents located on your hard drive (so if you manually move them the application loses them). In this sense it's much more basic than iTunes, but it does have built-in support for Google Books (books.google.com) enabling you to browse and download books, and install them directly to your Sony PRS-600 Reader Touch Edition a la iTunes Store. Of course, Google Books doesn't currently have books for sale, instead offering a wide selection of out-of-copyright material and short extracts

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Sony PRS-600 Reader Touch Edition: Screen issues

In fact, if this is where we left the review the Sony Reader Touch Edition would get five stars, a recommendation, and we'd whole-heartedly recommend it above the otherwise clumsy-looking Kindle.

But there's a catch. And it's a big one. The Sony PRS-600 Reader Touch Edition sports a reflective screen, where you can see your own face beaming back out at you. Just why it has this particular feature is frankly baffling.

Our understanding of glossy screens is that they are primarily used on laptops to improve the vibrancy of colour reproduction and the presence a reflection in the screen is an unfortunate side effect. It's one that some people dislike on laptops, and understandably so, but others tolerate because of the colour enhancement. The only thing we can think is that the touchscreen technology carries an inherent reflective quality to it.

On the Sony PRS-600 Reader Touch Edition the reflective screen adds absolutely nothing, but takes away just about everything. The whole experience of reading is completely marred by the screen. It's like reading through a mirror.

All you see are lights obscuring the text and your own face. For some reason the effect is worse during low light conditions (which is the opposite of our experience using laptops with reflective screens) and we found bedside reading to be just about impossible.

The Sony reader supports a wide range of files. The usual computer text files include PDF, TXT, RTF, Microsoft Word; there are also some book reader specifics including ePub, BBeB Book and Adobe Protected PDF; finally there is image support (JPEG, PNG, GIF, BMP) and you can also use it an MP3 player - although we would really recommend it.

This is where the Sony Reader Touch Edition really has the edge over the Amazon Kindle. The Kindle has incredibly limited support for file formats, and the regular version on sale here doesn't even include support for PDF files. These have to be converted by Amazon and sent to your Kindle. Amazon charges $1 per MB to convert files over the wireless network; but they will email to you for free. And the PDF conversion process is far from perfect.

NEXT: our expert verdict >>

Sony PRS-600 Reader Touch Edition: Specs

  • 6in Monochrome E Ink Vizplex Touchscreen 800x600 Pixels
  • 512MB flash memory
  • 1x3.5mm Mini-Jack
  • 121x98x174mm
  • 0.286kg
  • 6in Monochrome E Ink Vizplex Touchscreen 800x600 Pixels
  • 512MB flash memory
  • 1x3.5mm Mini-Jack
  • 121x98x174mm
  • 0.286kg

OUR VERDICT

All this puts the Sony PRC-600 Touch Edition in a somewhat uncomfortable position. In terms of interface technology and approach Sony has hit the nail bang on the head. It's comfortable to use, supports all the formats you'd like, and the process of getting books and reading them is much friendlier than Amazon's approach with the Kindle. But the screen? Oh the screen! We just found it to be heart-breakingly unusable.

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