Kindle WiFi vs Sony Reader WiFi (an early look)

Let’s look at Kindle WiFi vs Sony Reader WiFi. Sony Reader WiFi is now available for preorder and comes in at a very competitive price. Sony finally decided to try to win the eReader Wars.

The Kindle WiFi version without ads is $139. The Sony Reader WiFi is $149.99. For this comparison we’ll compare the plain vanilla WiFi eReaders – Kindle WiFi vs Sony Reader WiFi. No 3G. No Ads. Just Reading on eInk.

Please Note: Sony Reader WiFi isn’t out yet. This is an early look and based on data Sony has made available.

Sony Reader WiFi vs Kindle WiFi – Sony Reader WiFi’s 5 Big Strengths

Sony Reader WiFi will have some big advantages over Kindle WiFi -

  1. ePub Support. That means you can buy books from pretty much any store except Amazon. 
  2. Touch including pinch to zoom. Take notes with a stylus or with your finger. Touch does make things faster and being able to use a stylus to jot down notes is a good feature. 
  3. Library support including wireless library downloads. Amazon has promised library book support in 2011 - Until that happens (December 27th?) this is a major advantage for Sony Reader WiFi. Not sure whether wireless library downloads is a killer feature or just a very useful one.
  4. Very compact and extremely light. Sony Reader WiFi will be 6 and 7/8 inches tall, 4 and 3/8 inches wide, and 3/8 inches thick. It will weigh just 5.9 ounces. The combination of the compact size and the light weight is very compelling.
  5. Adjustable Contrast and Brightness. If Sony really has a sidelight, or some other solution for reading at night, then it gains a big advantage.

Note: Some of these details are from this Sony Reader WiFi preview post at This is My Next (Ridiculous Name for a Tech Blog). Sony Reader WiFi comes with an eInk Pearl V220 screen. To the best of my knowledge this is identical to eInk Pearl.

Sony’s new eReader has some additional advantages over Kindle WiFi -

  1. A better looking device (at least in my opinion, despite my love for my Kindles) and a choice of three colors.
  2. MicroSD card slot to expand storage capacity.
  3. There are 12 included dictionaries. Kindle has dictionaries and language apps available – but they aren’t free.
  4. 7 different font choices – Original (whatever that is), Amasis, Frutiger Neue, Palatino nova, Really No 2 (really?), Univers Next, Verdana. Kindle WiFi offers just three and they are all variants of Caecilia (triple the chances of breaking your heart).
  5. There’s a decent range of in-built features – integration with Google Books, a Browser, a Handwriting section, and Text Memos.
  6. It supports both MP3 and AAC formats for music. Kindle supports only MP3.

It’s remarkable that Sony has distilled its eReader line to a single model and come in at $150. Low Price. Easy Choice. What has gotten into Sony? Next thing you know they’ll start offering wireless library book downloads.

Kindle’s 5 Big Strengths

The Kindle WiFi is the incumbent champion and has several big advantages -

  1. The Kindle Store. There are just a lot of dimensions to this – the biggest range of new books, the lowest prices, the largest number of free offers on new books, the easiest buying experience.
  2. Kindle Whispernet Infrastructure and Kindle Reading Apps. Perhaps Amazon’s biggest advantage is its ability to create an entire ecosystem around the Kindle. The Kindle WiFi doesn’t come with free 3G so you miss out on free Internet around the world. However, you still get the numerous reading apps and the good support infrastructure.
  3. Lower Lifetime Cost of Ownership. Combine factors like lower Kindle book prices, a larger number of new free books on offer, and the great resale price amd the Kindle wins the battle for lowest cost of lifetime ownership. There’s a section below that goes into this in more detail.
  4. Text to Speech. If you like having books read to you by R2D2 then Kindle wins hands down.
  5. Ease of Use. Sony’s new Reader might change this – However, Amazon has consistently delivered the easiest-to-use eReaders. 

Kindle WiFi also has other advantages over Sony Reader WiFi -

  1. Excellent Customer Service.
  2. Kindle Apps that cover everything from time wasting to time saving.
  3. Larger in-built memory. If all you’re going to use the Kindle WiFi for is reading, then the 3.3 GB of available in-built memory dwarfs the 1.3 GB of available in-built memory on the Sony Reader WiFi.
  4. Possibly longer battery life. All the measuring sticks are so confusing (half an hour of reading per day while standing on your head) that this might not be an advantage.
  5. Possibly a better web browser.
  6. Kindle Book Lending – Doesn’t seem like Sony will have this.
  7. Kindle and Kindle Books are available in more countries.

Kindle is still a better choice for a lot of people. However, Sony has closed the gap and might even pull ahead a bit. It’s strange how Amazon is sitting back and letting first Nook Touch, then Kobo Touch, and now Sony Reader WiFi become very competitive.

Sony Reader WiFi vs Kindle WiFi – Price, Value for Money, and Lifetime Cost of Ownership

One very interesting aspect is how the two eReaders stack up in value for money and total cost of ownership.

Kindle WiFi is $10 cheaper than Sony Reader WiFi. That advantage gets flipped on its head when you consider that Sony Reader WiFi offers a touchscreen, arguably better construction, and definitely better looks. It might even offer some sort of side-lighting.

Sony Reader WiFi is better value for money for the amount of eReader you get in your hands. Note: We’re not considering the $114 ad-supported version of the Kindle WiFi.

From that point on Amazon’s Store and Infrastructure start becoming major factors. Things gets especially tricky when we try to compare Lifetime Cost of Ownership.

For the moment we have wireless library downloads on Sony Reader WiFi and a million+ free public domain books from Google. Amazon offers more free offers on new books, better prices on books in general, and a million+ downloads from sites like Internet Archive. That makes it a tie.

By the end of the year, when Amazon will add free library book support, Kindle will become the better eReader in terms of total cost of ownership. New books are cheaper in the Kindle Store and there are more free offers on new books. Add in the excellent resale value of the Kindle WiFi and by end of 2011 Kindle will be the clear winner when it comes to total cost of ownership.

Sony Reader WiFi vs Kindle WiFi – Waiting for the Actual Device to Deliver a Verdict

Sony is offering lots of interesting things – touch with some semblance of multi-touch, possibly lighting of some sort, changeable screen contrast, a low price (finally), an ultra-compact eReader.

Once it’s out, and the reviews start coming in, we’ll get a good idea of which is the better eReader. There’s also the wildcard of a possible Kindle 4 release or a drop in the price of the Kindle WiFi to $99.

Sony Reader WiFi promises the be the eReader that re-establishes Sony Reader as a major player in the eReader Wars. If Sony can drop the price to $125 it would be enough to carve out a decent portion of Holiday 2011 sales. Wonder if Sony realizes that it absolutely must undercut Kindle on price.

Kindle vs Nook vs Sony (December 2010)

The Kindle, the Nook, and the Sony Reader are the Big 3 eReaders. If you want a dedicated reading device with an eInk screen you’ll probably end up having to make a Kindle vs Nook vs Sony decision.

This Kindle vs Nook vs Sony post will cover the strengths and weaknesses of each and help you decide which eReader suits you best.

Kindle vs Nook vs Sony – What Sony brings to the table

There are two new Sony Readers - the ultra-compact Sony Reader Pocket Edition (Sony 350) and the Sony Reader Touch Edition (Sony 650). Sony killed sales by introducing them at $180 and $230. However, these are now sporadically available for $150 and $200, sometimes even lower, and this makes them a lot more competitive with Kindle and Nook.

Sony Reader Strengths

Sony 350 and Sony 650 pack in some solid features -

  1. They both have touch. It’s touch enabled by using IR rays and in no way impedes readability.
  2. They have the new eInk Pearl screen.
  3. They support library books. 
  4. They support DRM’ed ePub which means ebooks from any store that sells books in DRM’ed ePub format can be read on the Sony Readers (except B&N as it adds its own proprietary DRM on top of Adobe’s DRM). In addition, Sony Store sells ebooks which can be read on any eReader that supports DRM’ed ePub – so you can switch to another eReader later without losing your books.
  5. Decent battery life of 2 weeks.
  6. The smaller Sony Reader (Pocket Edition) is incredibly light at 5.47 ounces and very compact at 5.71″ by 4.11″ by 0.33″. The Pocket Edition is also quite light at 7.58 ounces.
  7. They come with 10 built-in language translation dictionaries in addition to the standard English dictionary.
  8. They come with the ability to do freehand drawing in addition to scribbling notes.
  9. They have slightly better PDF support than Kindle and Nook.
  10. They are available in a variety of colors and are the best looking eReaders by far. Sony Reader Pocket Edition is available in silver and pink and Sony Reader Touch Edition is available in black and red.
  11. The Pocket Edition has a SD Card slot and a Memory Stick slot.
  12. The Pocket Edition lets you play MP3 and AAC files (Apple iTunes format).

The new Sony Reader Touch Edition is, arguably, the best eReader if you consider just the eReader itself. It’s let down by a poor ebook store and by poor infrastructure.

Sony Reader Weaknesses

The Sony Readers share a few weaknesses -

  1. The eBook store is painfully bad.
  2. There is very little in terms of infrastructure. For example: Sony reading apps for iPhone and Android are slated to arrive in December 2010 - That’s a long, long time after Kindle for iPhone and Nook for iPhone arrived.
  3. They don’t have wireless support – neither WiFi nor 3G.
  4. The user interface for taking notes and making highlights is awkward and wastes the touch capability.
  5. There’s no text to speech feature like the one Kindle has.
  6. There’s no ebook lending like Nook.
  7. No in-built browser.
  8. There’s no App Store on the horizon and no games.

Sony has, rather strangely, decided to forsake wireless support for the 350 and 650.

The Pocket Edition has some additional limitations -

  1. The Sony Reader Pocket Edition has a slightly smaller screen (5″).
  2. It’s also pretty fragile – more so than the other eReaders, which are quite fragile themselves.
  3. There is no SD card slot on the Pocket Edition.
  4. It doesn’t have audio support.

It’s a bit sad to see Sony limit the Sony Reader Pocket Edition so much. There really was no need to remove audio support and to get rid of the SD Card Slot.

Kindle vs Nook vs Sony – What Nook brings to the table

Nook is the only second generation eReader in the Kindle vs Nook vs Sony discussion. That means it doesn’t have the benefit of the eInk Pearl screen and is missing some of the newer technologies (such as Sony Reader’s touch screen and Kindle’s Voice Guide feature). It still manages to put up quite a fight.

We’ll consider only the Nook for our comparison since Nook and Nook WiFi are almost identical. The only difference is that Nook WiFi doesn’t have the 3G support the Nook has.

Nook Strengths

B&N has done a good job of supporting Nook with software updates, a good ebook store, and good wireless features.

  1. Nook is supported by a very good eBook store.
  2. Nook is also supported by good infrastructure - free Nook store browsing and free ebook downloads via AT&T wireless, lots of Nook reading apps for other platforms, and features like syncing your place in a book, and your notes and highlights, across devices.
  3. Nook has a LendMe feature that lets you lend a book once, to one person, for up to 14 days. Kindle is supposed to add this feature in 2010 but hasn’t yet.
  4. Nook gets some bonuses when you go into B&N stores – you can read any book for up to an hour per day, there are sometimes offers, and there’s B&N support staff to answer questions in person. 
  5. Nook supports library books.
  6. Nook supports DRM’ed ePub. We’ve already discussed how this means ePub books from any store can be read on Nook. Note that Nook’s own books aren’t readable on other eReaders – more on that in the Nook weaknesses section below.
  7. Nook comes with a microSD card slot.
  8. Nook has a pretty decent audio player. Kindle only lets you skip to the next track and pause.
  9. The Nook comes with a small 3.5″ color touchscreen that is used for navigation and flipping through book covers.
  10. Nook looks quite good. Not very pretty like the Sony Readers but passable.
  11. You can password protect your purchases.
  12. Nook is built on Android and there are hacks available for it.

Overall, the Nook has a lot of strengths and, despite being a second generation eReader, it stays within striking distance of the Kindle and the new Sony Readers.

Nook Weaknesses

Nook has quite a few weaknesses -

  1. It doesn’t have the new eInk Pearl screen. If you were to place Kindle, Nook, and Sony Reader side by side you would always pick one of the other two for reading. 
  2. It’s quite unwieldy as it weighs 12.1 ounces and measures 7.7″ by 4.9″ by 0.5″. 
  3. The color touchscreen for navigation doesn’t gel with the much slower eInk screen for reading. This problem is compounded by a user interface that is rather complicated.
  4. Nook has the slowest page turns out of the Big 3 eReaders (Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader).
  5. There’s no text to speech feature. 
  6. The Nook App Store is only going to be for Nook Color in the beginning. Given that only a million or so Nooks have been sold, Apps for the eInk Nook might never really take off.
  7. It doesn’t have touch for the main reading screen.
  8. Battery life is relatively low when wireless is on. Total battery life is also a bit low at 10 days.
  9. It doesn’t support Audible audiobooks and only supports MP3s for music.
  10. It’s only available in one color.
  11. It doesn’t support text files.

Nook suffers, in comparison to Kindle and Sony, and my recommendation would be to pick one of those if you’re looking for a dedicated eReader. Buying a second generation eInk based eReader makes little sense when multiple third generation eInk based eReaders are available.

Kindle vs Nook vs Sony – What Kindle brings to the table

The Kindle is a third generation eReader and also has a good ebook store and good infrastructure to support it. Amazon’s desire to preserve its eBook revenue stream means the Kindle imposes some limitations which end up being its major disadvantages.

Kindle Strengths

The Kindle is solid across the board -

  1. It has the new eInk Pearl screen which is great for reading. It’s the exact same screen as the new Sony Readers. It’s also a much better eInk screen than the one the Nook has.
  2. Kindle has the best eBook Store, with the best range and the best ebook prices. Nook Store is close, while Sony Store is a distant third.
  3. Kindle is the simplest eReader to use. You don’t need a computer. You don’t have to figure out complicated menus. It just works.
  4. Kindle has amazing infrastructure to back it up. Not only does it have 3G for free store browsing and free downloads - It also offers free internet browsing to US Kindle owners.
  5. Kindle has the best international support – It’s available to be shipped to over 150 countries, WhisperNet is available in 100+ countries, and it’s begun to add books in non-English languages to the Kindle Store.
  6. Kindle is great for travel for US Kindle owners as they get free Internet Browsing and free store browsing in over 100 countries.
  7. Kindle has the best battery life – It’s up to a month with wireless off, 3 weeks when using WiFi for wireless, and 10 days when using 3G wireless.
  8. Kindle’s text to speech feature is great – It lets Kindle owners listen to books, and also makes the Kindle more “accessible” to blind and low vision readers.
  9. To enable full “accessibility” the Kindle has a Voice Guide feature that reads out menus and book listings.
  10. Kindle has a physical keyboard – While Amazon has tried its best to nullify this advantage by removing the number keys and making the keys tiny, it’s still good to have a physical keyboard.
  11. Kindle has an App Store that’s begun to churn out games. There haven’t really been any life-changing apps released but there’s a chance killer apps start appearing eventually.
  12. Excellent customer service from Amazon.

If you factor in the entire ‘eReader + eBook Store + Infrastructure’ ecosystem the Kindle comfortably edges Nook and Sony Reader.

The Kindle is clearly the best dedicated eReader available.

It does, however, have a few significant weaknesses because Amazon wants to make sure that it keeps the eBook revenue stream intact. This leads to strange decisions, such as not adding PDF support until a competitor adds it, and staying away from ePub.

Kindle Weaknesses

Here are some Kindle weaknesses -

  1. No support for library books.
  2. No support for ePub.
  3. No support for DRM’ed books other than ones from the Kindle Store. This means that the only stores from which you can get eBooks for the Kindle are the Kindle Store and stores that sell DRM-free ebooks.
  4. It doesn’t have a touch screen. 
  5. It doesn’t support Apple iTunes format music. Also, the music player is hilariously rudimentary – the only options are Next Track and Pause.
  6. It doesn’t allow custom screensavers – Nook does.
  7. Kindle isn’t the prettiest eReader around.
  8. There’s no SD card slot.
  9. The battery isn’t replaceable.
  10. There is no ebook lending yet – though it’s supposed to arrive by the end of 2010.
  11. It isn’t as compact and light as the Sony Reader Pocket Edition.

The significant disadvantages are the first 4, with the first 3 being a direct result of Amazon’s attempts to keep its ebook revenue stream intact.

The Kindle vs Nook vs Sony Decision

At the moment it’s a pretty clear-cut decision -

  1. Kindle wins Kindle vs Nook vs Sony unless you really need one or more of – library book support, ePub support, a touch screen, lending, a SD Card Slot. If you don’t need these then get the Kindle.
  2. If you need one or more of these features then the new Sony Reader Touch Edition is the best option. It’s a latest generation eReader with the new eInk Pearl screen, a touch screen, support for ePub, and library book support. It’s a better choice than Nook.
  3. Nook is the third choice. It’s still a decent option due to the Nook Store being quite good, and because B&N provides good infrastructure and frequent software updates.

Kindle is clearly the best eReader available, and Sony Reader Touch Edition is a very clear second. Nook loses out in the Kindle vs Nook vs Sony comparison. Depending on which features are most important to you, my recommendation would be to pick either Kindle or Sony.

Kindle vs Sony is becoming an afterthought

After the new Kindle 3 and Kindle WiFi came out it became apparent that Nook 2 and the new Sony Readers would have to make some significant advances to keep up.

A much improved Kindle 3 meant Sony and B&N had their work cut out

Here’s a short list of Kindle 3 features that illustrates why Kindle was threatening to leave Nook and Sony Reader behind permanently - 4 weeks battery life with wireless off, faster page turns, Voice Guide, WiFi (Kindle 3 has both WiFi and 3G), free Internet with Kindle 3, better browser, more compact and lighter Kindle, low $139 and $189 prices.

In parallel Amazon has been improving its WhisperNet service, adding Kindle Apps for various platforms, and adding books to the Kindle Store. It has also released two free Kindle Apps and the first paid Kindle app.

B&N needed a very solid Nook 2 and Sony needed a very solid group of Sony Readers and a much better Sony Reader Store to compete. We don’t know what B&N’s answer is but we do know Sony’s answer – Sony 350 and Sony 650.

Sony hasn’t really delivered

Here’s my conclusion from my Kindle 3 vs Sony 350 post -

Sony comes very, very close and if not for its stubborn refusal to add wireless support and compete on price it would have had the better eReader.

As it stands, the Kindle 3 is a clear winner unless you need a touch screen or ePub support or must have an eReader that fits in your pant pocket.

Here’s Engadget’s wrap-up from their Sony 350 review -

The way we see it there are two main reasons you’d buy the $179.99 e-reader over the Amazon Kindle or Barnes & Noble Nook: its incredibly responsive touchscreen navigation and extreme portability.

However, if those don’t appeal to you or you really just prefer having a larger selection of e-books and the ability to buy books over the air via WiFi or 3G, it’s obvious that Amazon’s $139 Kindle with WiFi or its $189 3G version would be a better choice.

Notice the similarities – Touchscreen navigation, ePub support (including support for library books), and extreme portability are the only qualifiers. In every other case Kindle 3 wins.

Sony 350 and 650 have failed to re-ignite the Kindle vs Sony debate

Just to paint a picture of how lopsided the competition is let’s contrast the main advantages -

  1. Sony 350 and Sony 650 – very cute, 350 is super light and compact, ePub and library book support, touch screen, custom screensavers. Better PDF support too – slightly better.
  2. Kindle WiFi and Kindle 3 – much lower price ($139 vs $179, $189 vs $229), better battery life, much better store (book range and price), wireless support and browser, 60 second downloads, infrastructure, Kindle App Store, Text to Speech, Accessibility, and lots of small things.

Even if you’re pro-Sony and hate Amazon you have to admit Sony has dropped the ball. It hasn’t won back the #1 spot, it hasn’t won back the #2 spot, and it might end up an afterthought.

Engadget has been less generous than me and it’s right – There just aren’t that many reasons to buy a Sony Reader. If you really must have ePub support then Nook is a better choice as it offers a much better ebook store.

The gap is going to get bigger

B&N and Amazon are improving their infrastructure and adding apps for additional platforms and improving their stores and offering new features. Sony is offering hollow words – that they will fight on quality.

How can you fight on quality if you aren’t matching your competitors’ features?

No matter how shiny the aluminium of your Sony Reader’s casing it doesn’t make up for high book prices and low selection and the lack of wireless downloads and the lack of Internet browsing for reference.

Sony just isn’t keeping up.

The wild card is the Kindle App Store – It will mean that in addition to Amazon we will have lots of developers adding features to the Kindle 3 and 2 and WiFi. We only need a handful of developers to make killer apps and suddenly Sony is even further behind.

Perhaps most worrying for Sony is that people don’t seem to care about it any more.

Where are the Sony Reader Reviews?

Engadget posted its review on October 8th, 2010. That’s nearly a month after my review and 22 days after the official release date of September 16th, 2010. PC World posted on October 5th. CNet posted its review on September 26th and gave it 6 on features and 7 on performance.

Did Sony not hand out review units? Did people not want to review them? Why is everyone waiting 2 to 3 weeks before reviewing the Sony 350?

There were no ‘exclusives’ and there were no release day reviews. There was no big flurry of reviews and press coverage like we had for Nook and for Kindle 3.

Sony’s release strategy is a mess – either because they don’t care or because people and the Press no longer care. Even Nook WiFi got more press buzz than the new Sony Readers.

Think about that – Nook WiFi got more press coverage than the new generation of Sony Readers. That’s what Sony Reader has devolved too – People don’t even care enough to review the new Sony Readers or write about them when they are first launched.

It makes you wonder if everyone is gradually forgetting that Sony Readers exist. Sony can keep hiding behind excuses like ‘we are focused on international markets’ or ‘we only care about quality’. The truth is that if you release in the biggest eReader market and the Press won’t even review your devices you are just a few steps away from becoming invisible and irrelevant.  

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.

Kindle vs Sony Review – Kindle vs Sony 350

You’ve seen the Kindle 3 but what about the Sony 350? 

Well, it’s time for some Kindle 3 vs Sony 350 photos courtesy the fact that Sony 350 started shipping yesterday in Canada. The photos are after the jump (please see the later part of this post). 

Kindle 3 vs Sony 350 

There are a few things that jump at you right off the bat - 

  1. Sony 350 manages to add touch without interfering with the eInk screen at all. It does this by using infra-red sensors which are all around the edges of the screen. You’re not touching anything – just break the plane of the Infra Red beams and that’s interpreted as touch. It’s actually possible to ‘touch’ an on-screen button without touching the screen at all. 
  2. The Kindle 3, Sony 350 screens are almost identical – with different font settings one seems better than the other and then they seem the same. Both are infinitely better than the Sony 600 screen.
  3. The Kindle has a whiter background and it especially stands out in sunlight. Not sure how much of an impact the graphite casing has.  
  4. Sony 350 is ridiculously light and small. It’s so light you feel strange because it feels too light for its size. See the comparison shots below for the size comparison. It’s so small it even fits in my jeans though the screen might be too delicate to carry in a jeans or pant pocket.
  5. The lack of wireless in the Sony 350 is a pain. No instant downloads and no browser. 
  6. Sony 350 spoils the beautiful aluminium case by adding a strange white strip along the edges and by using a plasticky stylus that looks super-cheap. Actually, Sony 350 looks gorgeous despite the white plastic strip and stylus.
  7. Sony still has its annoying ‘two steps to do anything’ UI. You have to go into a special mode to add notes and highlights. Here’s how you start a note – Press Options, Choose Notes, Choose Create, Click on the special ‘Notes’ button at the top, and then add a Note. That’s 5 separate steps. You can’t write notes and use the touchscreen to turn pages at the same time - There are separate modes for each. The physical page turn buttons still work so perhaps it’s not that bad.  

Sony 350 is really good but it can’t beat the Kindle 3.

It almost makes you feel like crying because all Sony had to do was add wireless and a few features and it would have become the joint best eReader or perhaps even beaten Kindle 3. That in turn would have forced Kindle and Nook to evolve quickly and drastically. 

Yet, Sony doesn’t think adding wireless is worth it.

How can Sony still not get it? 

There are only two reasons Sony 350 doesn’t win – its relatively high price and its lack of wireless. If it had both it would equal Kindle 3.

Will read a book on the Sony 350 and get back to you about how the reading experience on the Sony 350 compares with the Kindle 3 reading experience. 

Kindle 3 vs Sony 350 – Main Areas Kindle 3 outshines Sony 350 

The Kindle 3 is still the better eReader in my opinion. Here are its advantages - 

  1. Much better value for money. For $10 more you get WiFi and 3G and free Internet.
  2. Convenience of browsing the Kindle store and buying books from Kindle 3 itself. Books in 60 seconds.
  3. Text to Speech feature. Some Publishers disable this for their books.
  4. Much better store with more new books and cheaper prices (except for Agency Model books which are 45% or so of new books).
  5. Much better infrastructure and apps for more platforms. Synchronize your place in a book and your notes and highlights across your phone, PC, and Kindle.
  6. Kindle 3 has a physical keyboard which is a factor if you prefer having a physical keyboard. There are no number keys so it’s not a huge factor.
  7. Stereo speakers and music player though with bare minimum functionality.
  8. WiFi and 3G. For US customers 3G store browsing and 3G Internet browsing is free and free in 100+ countries.
  9. A pretty solid Browser that’s great for reading blogs and sites (most sites work) and for checking email (all 3 main email providers work – you might have to use the mobile version of GMail).
  10. Larger screen – Kindle 3 has a 6″ screen while Sony 350 has a 5″ screen.

Kindle 3 also has two promising future developments in store that Sony 350 will probably not be able to match -   

  1. A microphone that might be enabled later on and there might be cool features added. 
  2. Kindle Apps - there might be a Kindle App Store by end of the year. It could end up becoming very significant if it takes off.

Kindle 3 vs Sony 350 – Main Areas Sony 350 outshines Kindle 3 

Thankfully, the screen is no longer one of them.

Here are Sony 350′s strengths - 

  1. It’s super pretty – especially the back.
  2. Touch is pretty cool.
  3. It’s so light and compact it’s amazing.
  4. It comes in at $10 cheaper at $179. Please note that it isn’t better value for money – just cheaper.
  5. ePub Support.
  6. Better PDF Support – Sony 350 supports PDF reflow but it breaks down often when there are tables and/or images. Highlights always work while on Kindle 3 highlighting often doesn’t work.
  7. Support for Library Books.
  8. There’s an option to ‘adjust view’ that lets you try out various screen contrast options like saturated and detailed. You can make your own ‘view’.
  9. There is a ‘word log’ for every book which keeps a record of words you looked up. A really cool feature.
  10. Small Advantages – The main screen and settings pages are slightly better. There’s an option to turn off the screensaver.
  11. Will confirm this in a bit but think Sony 350 allows custom screensavers.

Overall, the Sony 350 does have a lot of advantages - some are major ones (ePub, touch, compactness and lightness) and some are minor ones. However, the areas in which it loses to Kindle 3 are pretty major (value for money, 3G+WiFi, Free Internet, Book range and prices, Infrastructure). 

Kindle 3 manages to win the Kindle 3 vs Sony 350 contest – However, the gap is far less than the gap between Kindle 3 and Sony 600. 

Kindle 3 vs Sony 350 Photos … 

After the jump we have lots of Sony 350 vs Kindle 3 photos. 

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