Kindle vs Sony continued

Please check out the Kindle 3 vs Sony 350 review for photos and a more formal comparison. This particular Kindle vs Sony comparison is just going to look at how the Kindle 3 stacks up against the Sony 350 (and by association the Sony 650) in a few specific areas.

PDF support on Kindle 3 and Sony 350

After checking PDF support in detail on Sony 350 and Kindle 3 it’s clear that Sony 350’s PDF support is better. It would have been a lot better since Sony 350 supports reflow – However, the reflow doesn’t work properly.

Here’s what happened with the first PDF –

  1. Changing the Font setting to ‘XL’ did a PDF reflow and everything was great.  
  2. Navigated to a Page with a Table and the PDF defaulted back to its tiny, unreadable size because the 350 couldn’t handle re-flowing the table.
  3. Couldn’t get re-flow to work on that page.
  4. Next Page had a table and re-flow was broken again. 
  5. Moved to the next page which didn’t have a table and reflow was working again.
  6. Moved to a page further on which had images and it reflowed but images stayed the same size (as in the original PDF).

Basically, PDFs reflow but they sometimes won’t reflow if a page has tables or images. That makes it a half-complete feature in my book.

On the other hand, the highlighting always work. Highlighting doesn’t always work on Kindle 3 so Sony 350 wins.

PDF support is better on Sony 350 but it isn’t a huge difference. Tables and Images are very common in PDFs and if your reflow breaks down a lot when there are tables and/or images that lowers the usefulness drastically.   

A Kindle 3 advantage is that PDFs are cropped by default. In Sony 350 you can go to a cropped page view but if you want to go into Notes Mode that view disappears. We’ll discuss the super-painful Notes Mode later.

We won’t talk about the 6″ screen vs 5″ screen but keep that in mind if you’re thinking of getting the 350. The difference between a 5″ and a 6″ screen is noticeable – 650 would be much better than 350.

The final caveat is that 6″ screens are way too small for PDFs. Anything smaller than 9.7″ and it’s not a very practical PDF reader.

First Use Experience

If you subscribe to the theory that wireless downloads and the ease and convenience aren’t a bonus – that’s fine. We can agree to disagree.

However, if your eReader can’t get books wirelessly you better make it super easy to move files to your eReader. There are a few problems with what Sony does –

  1. You have to download Sony Reader software to your PC or Mac and install it.  
  2. Your Reader software has to ‘authorize’ your Sony 350 for books.
  3. You have to transfer books through this software. Was able to find a way to move PDFs without using the software but couldn’t find a way to move books themselves – not sure if it’s possible. 
  4. To make things worse the software is terrible. It doesn’t work a lot of the time – Took 5-6 attempts to get books on to my 350.
  5. The Reader software has an in-built store. The only problem is you can’t open multiple book pages at the same time. It’s remedied by using the browser to navigate to Sony’s Reader Store website. The store in general is not very good and there are hardly any reviews.

In summary – It’s not just that you can’t get books to Sony 350 wirelessly in 60 seconds. You can’t get books to it in 60 seconds period.

Sony proves that it’s a hardware company and not a software company. Also, Sony probably doesn’t have anyone tasked with making things easy and convenient for users.

Ease of Use – Sony 350’s Notes Mode

It’s as if Sony asked its design team –

We have this awesome touch-screen.

Now, in theory, it should make it easier and faster to add notes and highlights. However, we would like you to completely mess it up and make it super awkward to add notes.

If you could do something like add a separate mode for each function that would be even better.

If you don’t do it, we’ll fire you.

Can’t think of any other reason a reasonable human being would design what Sony 350 uses as its ‘Notes Mode’.

Sony 350 has two different modes –

  1. There is a normal mode. The things you can do using the touchscreen in normal mode are –  turn pages, double tap a word to see its meaning, double tap and highlight a word, double tap a word and search for it in the book.
  2. There is a separate Notes Mode for adding notes and highlights. In this Notes Mode you have to tap a special button for each function. Tap the ‘highlight’ button and then you can add highlights. If you’ve tapped ‘highlight’ you can’t add notes and you can’t turn pages using the touchscreen. Tap the ‘Notes’ button and then you can scribble notes. If you’ve tapped ‘Notes’ you can’t turn pages using the touchscreen and you can’t add highlights. Basically, there is a special mode for highlights, another one for notes, and a third for deleting notes. It’s the worst user interface ever – You would be hard pressed to find anything more awkward.

Sony has a working full-screen touch screen and it chose to not use that and instead use a separate mode for each function. In comparison on Kindle 3 you can use the cursor and keyboard to add notes or add highlights or delete either or check a word’s meaning – All without going into special modes.

Sony could have used single tap, double tap, pinch, vertical swipe, and various other gestures to make everything quick and simple. Instead, it totally messed it up.

Places Sony does well on usability

There are a few places where Sony does well –

  1. You can tap any word twice to get the word meaning or to search for it or to highlight it. You don’t have to go into Notes Mode for this and it’s faster than using the Kindle 3’s 5-way. 
  2. You can add scribbles and write in the margins or on the words themselves. A nice feature. Note: Only available in Notes Mode.
  3. While reading books there is a zoom option that has a sliding scale. You can lock-in a particular zoom level. This is in addition to the different font sizes so Sony 350 basically offers 6 font sizes plus zooming and panning for books.
  4. The new user interface is touch based and quite nice. Sony should have put more thought into the home page – It would have been much better to show the last 10 books read or the last 5 books read and the 5 collections last accessed.
  5. It’s nice to have the Handwriting/free style drawing feature and the Memos feature. The memos feature is something Amazon should consider adding.

So Sony does improve the usability on some fronts but it sticks with its very faulty ‘separate mode for every function’ book interface design – a design that severely limits the benefit of having a touch-screen.

Compactness and Weight and Handling

Sony 350 is super light at 5.47 ounces while Kindle 3 is pretty light at 8.7 ounces. The weight of both is very low and unless you need a super low weight eReader the weight difference shouldn’t be a concern. Holding either for hours and hours, even in one hand, feels fine.  

Compactness is more of an advantage for the Sony 350 since it can fit into pant pockets and into tiny purses. Sony 350 is 5.75″ by 4.125″ by 0.343″. Kindle 3 is 7.5″ by 4.8″ by 0.335″.

Kindle 3 has a texturized rubber back that is easy to hold and provides a good grip. Sony 350 has an aluminium back that provides a decent grip. Both feel very good in your hand and handle well.

Page Turns

Page Turns take about the same time on Kindle 3 and Sony 350.

In terms of location of page turn buttons and ease of use and amount of effort required we have –

  1. Kindle 3 has page turn buttons on the left side and on the right side. You can hold it such that, regardless of whether you are left-handed or right-handed, your thumb rests right on the page turn button (you’ll have to make sure the pressure is not downward). Then all you have to do is press down. So Kindle 3 has really, really optimized page turns.  
  2. Sony 350 lets you use the touchscreen to do page turns and also has page turn buttons on the lower left. For the touchscreen based page turns you have to put in a tiny bit of effort since you move your finger off the edge/bezel and swipe the screen. The page turn buttons on the lower left are useless if you want to hold it in your right hand. You can use your left hand and then your finger would be resting on the page turn buttons and you could turn pages more easily.

Kindle 3 handles page turns better – There’s just more thought put into making page turns easy and reducing the amount of effort required.

One Handed Reading

Both devices are very good for one-handed reading due to their low weights and compact sizes. Kindle 3 is a little better at page turns (less effort) so it starts with a slight advantage. 

If you want to do more than just page turns the Sony 350 starts losing points quickly – 

  1. One handed highlights are almost impossible on Sony 350 since you have to click a button at the top left of the screen to go into highlight mode. You could switch to using your left hand but then you run into a different problem – the bookmark button and the button to exit ‘notes and highlights mode’ are on the top right.
  2. Since the menus are touchscreen based you have to be able to move your finger all over the page. That makes it really difficult to handle things with one hand.
  3. The Page Turn buttons and the Options (Menu) button are on the lower left and lower right respectively – So you have to move your hand around (and/or readjust your grip) quite a bit if you’re doing anything beyond turning pages. With Kindle 3 the 5-way and Menu button are quite close to the right side page turn buttons so everything’s easier.

Adding notes on either Kindle 3 or Sony 350 generally requires using both hands. However, you can do most other things easily on the Kindle 3 and, with a little more effort, on Sony 350.

Kindle vs Sony – Closing Thoughts

We end up with two significant advantages for Sony 350 – better PDF support, very compact size. If 5.4 ounces vs 8.7 ounces is significant for you weight is an advantage too.

We also end up with a significant advantage for Kindle 3 – a much better experience when it comes to buying books and getting them on the eReader. This is, in my opinion, the second most important eReader feature after the quality of the reading experience. Part of its importance stems from the fact that it’s a huge (and perhaps only) source of recurring revenue.

Kindle 3 is slightly better at page turns and is clearly better for one-handed reading.

Perhaps the most surprising realization is that despite having a touch-screen Sony 350 has slightly worse usability than Kindle 3. Sony’s lack of focus on making things easy and convenient for users shows up in a lot of places – it’s difficult to get books on to the 350, the notes and highlights mode user interface is a joke, Sony didn’t factor in that page turn buttons should be where the hand would naturally rest. Sony hasn’t put much thought into how readers would actually use the Sony 350.

The Kindle 3 is a better choice than the Sony 350 – do factor in your own needs along with the things discussed here and definitely wait to see what Nook 2 is like.

9 thoughts on “Kindle vs Sony continued”

  1. Hmm
    This has me leaning back towards the Kindle 3.
    I may just have to forget about Library books for the time being at least digitally.
    I really wish Amazon could work something out in that regard.

    I knew the Sony app/store was terrible because I have it on my Mac but it sounds like they haven`t put a whole lot of thought into their Readers other than they look great.

    1. J. M.
      You should try and play around with both. Kindle definitely has better software and better infrastructure.

      Sony do make very good base eReaders but the software isn’t that good. Plus they leave out the ‘getting books’ part.

      If you want a complete solution then Kindle is definitely a better choice.

      But you might find something about the Sony 350 really appeals to you.

      It’s perhaps the only non-Kindle eReader I’ve bought that feels like it’s worth owning.

    2. The reason I went with a Sony is because I want to borrow ebooks from public libraries. This is an important feature. I don’t understand how the reviewer didn’t mention it.

      Also, I love how much lighter the Sony is.


  2. switch11,
    I am curious. When you mention:
    “It’s perhaps the only non-Kindle eReader I’ve bought that feels like it’s worth owning.”

    How many e-readers have you bought? How many do you continue to own?
    Are you a private individual, who buys these e-readers, with your own money? or do vendors give you free items (or reduced priced) to try out – in exchange, for your reviews?

    I am an “average Jane Doe”, who feels lucky to be able to afford to buy one e-reader. It is a tough economy, and I am on a budget. I think many of us, would only be able to buy one e-reader.

    1. I return review units in the rare case that I get them.

      Since my work is reviewing products I have to buy them and to compare reading have bought iPhone, iPad, Kindle 1 through 3, the two Kindle DXes, Nook, Nook WiFi, Sony Touch Edition, Sony 350.
      Continue to own all of them – need them for videos and photos and to see what the experience is like.

      The iPhone is great but it wastes a lot of time due to games – literally hundreds of hours of my life.
      The iPad haven’t found much use for.
      The Nook is good but it doesn’t really make itself indispensable.
      The Touch Edition is close to unreadable though love the freehand drawing.

      Kindle 3 is my preferred eReader and the lighted case stole the iPhone’s role as night ereader. Kindle DX 2 is very good but a little too big for me. Would recommend it for someone who wants a PDF reader.

      Sony 350 carves out a unique niche because it’s so small and because it has a touch screen. It’s almost like

      Kindle 3 – main eReader.
      Kindle DX 2 – PDF reader.
      Sony 350 – the carry in your pocket ereader.

  3. Nice detailed review covering all aspects.
    But where you saw a problem with Sony not offering wireless connection I see a huge +.
    I don’t want anybody to remotely remove books from my reader (Remember the Kindle “1984” incident).
    I also want to be able to read DRM free epub public books.
    I’ll definitively go for the Sony 650 next week.

  4. Odd that you didn’t mention format compatibility. A huge point in favour of the Sony reader is that it’ll work with standard epub files, whereas the Kindle doesn’t support them. I didn’t find it particularly hard to get books onto the Sony either. I’m a linux user, so I plugged it in via USB. A few seconds later it had mounted and I could drag epub files onto it. Unmounting it causes the Sony reader to spend a few seconds refreshing (presumably hunting though its filesystem to see what changes were made) and then the new books show up on it, with a thumbnail and everything. Dead easy, and done in under 60 seconds. For the openness shown in reading standard formats, and for playing nicely with Linux, the Sony gets my money.

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