Kindle vs. Sony Reader PRS-700: Why I Chose the Reader

[UPDATES: Check out our ereader comparison for links to more resources, and summaries ofall major available ereaders.

Full review of the PRS-700 here. Also, you should know that if you buy a Sony Reader and get a lemon, you’re in for a headache. There are pictures of the 700′s screen vs. the 505′s screen at MobileRead; it’s a dramatic difference. I currently read on a 505 and I’ve been quite happy with it. Plus the screen hasn’t broken (probably helped by not being a touchscreen). The 505 is also the cheapest quality ereader for $270 on Amazon. [REUPDATE: The PRS-300 is now available for even less than the 505. There are also a few other options out there for around $200. Check our ereader comparison for quick summaries of the available ereaders out there.]

Despite the “advancements” made in Kindle 2, it’s essentially the same device. In retrospect, I wouldn’t buy another PRS-700, but I would absolutely recommend a PRS-505.

For potential Kindle customers: think twice before buying one, unless you read newspapers and magazines almost exclusively. Original article continues from here.]

I was in the market for an ereader for about a month. At first I was seduced by the Kindle’s wireless everywhere feature, and the fact that the Kindle store on Amazon has more ebooks than anywhere else, and almost always the cheapest books, too.

After a few weeks of research, though, I chose the Reader, the PRS-700. I’ve had it for about a

week now, and I haven’t looked back. I’m not going to get too exhaustively into the features of both readers in this post, you can find such things here, and here, and here. And I’ll be doing a complete review of my experience with the Reader in a future post.

So here I’m focusing on the criteria I used to decide on the Reader, including the best feature of all, which Sony seems determined to hide.

Availability– Advantage: Reader

It’s no secret that the Kindle’s been sold out for weeks, and that this isn’t the only time they’ve sold out. I don’t know how they’ve screwed up production so badly, and so repeatedly, but there’s nothing that tells me they’ll figure it out when Kindle 2.0 comes out.

When I decided I wanted a Sony Reader, I was able to walk into a brick and mortar store, check out the much-disparaged screen that was my last reservation, and, more importantly, buy one from a big stack they had already produced, and walk home with it that day. I have no problem waiting a few days for shipping, but waiting two months for what appears to be just a production charlie-foxtrot… I don’t think so.

Content management– Advantage: Reader

The PRS-700′s touchscreen puts its content management far ahead of the Kindle. You don’t have the big page turn buttons people complain about. You don’t have to match up side buttons to options like you’re at an ATM. And you don’t have a big physical keyboard taking up space, but you can still search, bookmark, and everything else.

Touchscreen page turning is also a great feature, and you can fast-scroll through pages, (watch this video for a demo, start at about 1:20 for fast page turn).

More on these features in my full review of the Reader, for now, suffice to say: once you have books on your Reader, you can work with them more easily and dynamically than with physical buttons and a keyboard.

Price– Edge: Kindle

The Kindle is $40 cheaper than the PRS-700, and $60 more than the PRS-505 without the touchscreen, which I wouldn’t use because you can’t search inside books. If the Kindle 2.0 sells for less than $300, that’s a real advantage, but then I’d look for Sony to drop its prices.

Kindle has a slight edge in this category, but not yet what I’d call an advantage.

Physicality– Draw

The biggest drawback to the Reader, by far, is its contrast ratio. If you have bad vision, this might be a real concern. For me, it wasn’t a problem. You need a bit more light than a real book, but that’s about all. There’s also a lot of kerfuffle about the glare; this also hasn’t been an issue for me, though I ordered an anti-glare screen (which turned out to be a disappointment. So these are Kindle advantages.

But the Reader has a better design, it’s prettier, only as big as it needs to be, and doesn’t have a ton of physical buttons. Also, at virtually the same weight as Kindle, the Reader feels substantial without being heavy.

The Reader also has a built-in light, and I’ll trade that and the touchscreen for the reduced contrast ratio and glare.

Kindle 2.0 might change some of this, but from the leaked pictures, it still doesn’t have a touchscreen and is still as ugly as ever.

Content Delivery– Advantage: Kindle

The EVDO delivery system is slick, it’s the first thing that got me interested in the Kindle. Also, the eBook Library software that comes with the Reader is god-awful. Really, really bad No question that it’s easier and cheaper to get proprietary-format books on the Kindle–books that you can’t use with any other device–and, despite that I hate all things proprietary, this almost had waiting for one, except for the catches that come with it:

DRM and Readable Formats– Advantage: Reader

You have to pay for everything you download on Kindle’s whispernet, even free blogs, so it’s not really free wireless. And all the content that comes from Amazon is chock full of DRM (digital rights management, the same embedded software that iTunes recently stopped using after years of complaints), which is a bit ludicrous after the lessons learned by the recording industry. You also have to pay to translate PDFs and docs into Amazon’s proprietary format. That’s annoying not so much for the 10-cent fee per document, but for backing up; presumably you have to back up the original copy, and the Kindle proprietary.

Hopefully the Kindle 2.0 will have PDF support, and won’t make you translate everything. Right now, reading PDFs on the Reader is a pleasure, with reflow and resizing, it’s my favorite way to read books. Also, hopefully publishers will sooner or later read a blog and realize that DRM is bad, people don’t like it, and it costs companies money, it doesn’t save them money. (Much more on that in future posts.)

Frankly, I don’t care about wireless everywhere if it lashes me so tightly to a system of proprietary DRM, and doesn’t offer any free content whatsoever.

“But wait!” you say. “Sony’s ebook store is smaller, more expensive and still DRMed.” That’s very true, and even though there will inevitably be an evening out of ebook inventory (not to mention a reduction in prices), this too almost made me wait for the Kindle. Except for one last thing.

Library eBooks– Big Advantage: Reader

Here’s the thing that finally got me on the Reader wagon: you can check out library ebooks on it. It takes a small bit of doing, and I think you have to have Windows, but that’s an enormous advantage. So big that I don’t know why it’s not in every ad that Sony prints for the Reader (both of them).

This is still in the initial phases; I had to use an old card for the Seattle Public Library to do it and they only have one copy of most ebooks (check out their ecollection). It looks like you can buy a non-resident card to the Ottawa Library, if your local library doesn’t do this yet. You’ve also got to get Adobe Digital Editions, and the ebooks you check out are DRMed (and expire in three weeks), but who cares, they’re free.

I’ve found about 50-75% of the books I want at the library. Soon, I imagine most, if not all, will be available, just like at the brick and mortar library. I can’t say enough about this feature, it’s happening and Amazon is missing the boat. With the current state of buying ebooks as abysmal as it is, paying for books is currently my last resort.

The Seattle Public Library also has Mobipocket versions, which Kindle might play, but it looks like Kindle only plays unDRMed Mobipockets. (If you make a library ebook work on a Kindle, let me know.)

Conclusion: Reader Wins, and It’s Not Close

There are clear problems to fix with the Reader: contrast, ebook store selection, ebook store software etc. In the future, ereaders will have perfect contrast ratios, but they’ll also damn sure have touchscreens. Sooner or later, all online stores will have the same selection at around the same price, and eventually they’ll all be DRM-free.

Subsequent versions of the Sony Reader might have wireless everywhere, but until it can provide access to non-DRM books and magazines from different stores, I’m not going to go out of my way to get a device with it.

Ultimately, it’s a compromise to get good, cheap content on either. As long as I’m compromising on content acquisition, I’d rather have the ereader with the much, much better content management system.

32 comments to Kindle vs. Sony Reader PRS-700: Why I Chose the Reader

  • Mark Johnson

    This comparison is just sad… You ALREADY OWN the Sony, AND don’t own a Kindle, seemingly because you couldn’t wait for one to become available to get it…

    Thanks for your opinion, however slanted it may be…

    • Hi Mark,
      Nico is out of the country and I don’t want to talk for him too much. But I will say he was very careful to research and get his hands on different devices before making a choice (between the original Kindle and his Sony 700), and continues to do so as new devices are unveiled. While our opinions may in fact be a little slanted, they are so not because of some sort of rabid, anti-Amazon fanboydom, but based on our own observations. We won’t begrudge anyone their choice in devices, and know plenty of people who are quite happy with their Kindles. To us, what is important is that A.) people are reading books and B.) people are making informed decisions on this new technology. The decision they come to is ultimately up to them. For Nico, the Kindle left a bad taste in his mouth, for others it may not. Thanks a lot for visiting the site and for taking the time to comment.

    • Hi Mark,

      Thanks for checking us out and commenting. I have been out of the country, so I wasn’t able to reply earlier.

      Anyway, when I wrote this post, it was because I, like many people, was about to blindly buy the Kindle because I assumed it was the best ereader out there–$9.99 book prices, and all that.

      After a lot of digging, I discovered the crucial difference between the Kindle and the Sony, i.e. that the Sony is open/can borrow library ebooks and the Kindle isn’t/can’t. That was the killer feature for me, and the deciding one. I don’t care that I can get books wirelessly with the Kindle, if it can’t do library ebooks, I’m not interested.

      I wrote this post to make that key difference a little easier to find. If it’s not the killer feature for you, so be it.


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