No matter how slick an e-reader's physical design, it's hard to resist the urge to touch the screen. Now you can easily use the screen to navigate, with the Sony Reader Pocket Edition PRS-350SC.

Like its larger siblings in Sony's latest line of e-readers, the Sony Reader Pocket Edition employs Sony's unique optical technology to allow fingers to tap away.

The Sony Reader Pocket Edition has a 5-inch E-Ink Pearl display, the same kind of screen as on the third-generation Amazon Kindle but 1 inch smaller. Not surprisingly, the device weighs less, too: at just 155g, the Pocket Edition is easy to hold in one hand while you're curled up on the couch for a reading session.

The optical-technology touchscreen uses infrared sensors to detect where your finger is; it compares that information against a matrix that identifies your finger's position and what action you are trying to accomplish, and then performs that action. The result is striking. We found the display brighter and dramatically sharper than Sony's previous touchscreen technology, with better contrast and clarity, as well as crisp grayscale images.

Furthermore, we could make selections with featherlight touches to the Sony Reader Pocket Edition's screen. Previously, Sony used a resistive touch overlay on its Sony PRS-600 Reader Touch Edition; the effect was unfortunate, with muted responsiveness, a persistent glare, and fuzzy text.

In use, we found the touch navigation terrific and natural in feel. You simply touch to turn pages, and touch to get one of the 12 pop-up dictionaries, including conversion dictionaries for French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Dutch, plus American and British English. A simple row of buttons that lies beneath the screen consists of page-back and page-forward buttons, a zoom button, a font button, and an options button. At top of the Sony Reader Pocket Edition is the power switch, while the built-in slim stylus is at the upper right.

Among the Sony Reader Pocket Edition's options is the ability to adjust the contrast and brightness ratio further - a first among the e-readers we've seen. You can also choose from among six font sizes, from XS to XXL. If you opt for the last of those sizes, however, expect to do an awful lot of page turns on this petite unit. People with poor eyesight would do better to consider the 6-inch Sony Reader Touch Edition PRS-650.

The Sony Reader Pocket Edition unit also now charges via the increasingly common micro-USB port; previously, Sony used mini-USB. The e-reader has both Memory Stick and SD Card slots, and 2GB of on-board storage.

One of the Sony Reader Pocket Edition platform's strengths is its support for the ePub e-book standard, which allows you to buy books from Sony's own store (you upload to the device after downloading books to the Mac/PC Sony desktop client) and other stores with ePub, as well as to download books from libraries. One of its weaknesses is its pan-and-zoom approach to reading PDFs (though its PDF handling is still an improvement over that of the past).

Another weakness: no 3G or Wi-Fi. By contrast, the latest Amazon Kindle with Wi-Fi and 3G sells for just a little more, and adds an extra inch to the screen to boot. You pay a steep price for the slick design of the highly portable Sony Reader Pocket Edition.

Still, among the small, 5-inch-screen e-reader set Sony has leaped to the head of the pack. If you want your e-reader in a paperback size, the Sony Reader Pocket Edition is the best model you can get.

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Sony Reader Pocket Edition PRS 350: Specs

  • 5in/12.7cm E Ink Pearl touchscreen, 800x600 (h/w), 16-level grey scale
  • Built in flash memory (MB): 2GB (Approx. 1200 eBooks)
  • MemoryStick MS DUO slot
  • Built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery: DC 3.7 V
  • Battery Life (reading EPUB eBooks): 2 full weeks of reading
  • Hi-Speed USB
  • Unsecured/free eBooks & text files: EPUB eBook, Adobe PDF, Microsoft Word, TXT, RTF, BBeB
  • DRM (Secure/purchased) eBooks and text files: EPUB eBooks (Adept) BBeB eBooks (Marlin)
  • JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP
  • 104.3x145x8.5mm
  • 155g
  • Micro USB cable
  • Quick Start guide
  • Reader Library software
  • 5in/12.7cm E Ink Pearl touchscreen, 800x600 (h/w), 16-level grey scale
  • Built in flash memory (MB): 2GB (Approx. 1200 eBooks)
  • MemoryStick MS DUO slot
  • Built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery: DC 3.7 V
  • Battery Life (reading EPUB eBooks): 2 full weeks of reading
  • Hi-Speed USB
  • Unsecured/free eBooks & text files: EPUB eBook, Adobe PDF, Microsoft Word, TXT, RTF, BBeB
  • DRM (Secure/purchased) eBooks and text files: EPUB eBooks (Adept) BBeB eBooks (Marlin)
  • JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP
  • 104.3x145x8.5mm
  • 155g
  • Micro USB cable
  • Quick Start guide
  • Reader Library software

OUR VERDICT

For a small-screen e-reader, the new Sony Reader Pocket Edition is one of the best models you can buy - but you'll pay extra for Sony's unique touchscreen design.

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