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. 

Continue reading Kindle vs Sony Review – Kindle vs Sony 350

Kindle WiFi vs Sony 350

We looked at the Kindle 3 and the Sony 650 earlier and now it’s time to do a Kindle WiFi vs Sony 350 comparison.

Kindle WiFi and Sony 350 are the entry-level eReaders for Amazon and Sony and it’s interesting to see Sony price the Sony 350 at $179 which is $40 more than the $139 Kindle WiFi and just $10 cheaper than the Kindle 3.

Kindle WiFi vs Sony 350 – Areas Sony 350 wins

The Sony 350 gets a lot right and has some solid advantages –

  1. Sony 350’s touch screen is a definite advantage. You can’t really argue it’s a super important feature since page turns work fine with buttons but it’s undeniably a cool feature and it makes navigation outside of books easier. It also helps to be able to touch a word for the meaning and to be able to scribble down notes.
  2. Sony’s support of ePub, DRMed ePub, and DRMed PDF is pretty important if you’re outside the US or if you want to be able to buy books from other eBook stores (Note: Kindle Store books don’t work on anything other than Kindles and Kindle Apps).
  3. Support for DRMed ePub also means Sony 350 supports library books.  
  4. Sony 350 weighs just 5.64 ounces (Kindle WiFi weighs 8.5 ounces) and it’s really compact at 5.75″ by 4.12″ by .344″ (Kindle WiFi is 7.5″ x 4.8″ x 0.335″). Please note that part of the difference is because Sony 350 has a 5″ eInk screen while Kindle WiFi has a 6″ screen.
  5. There are 10 translation dictionaries.
  6. It’s quite pretty and is available in silver and pink. Kindle WiFi is available only in graphite and isn’t quite as striking.

It’s interesting that Sony 350 is missing a few of the Sony 650’s good features – there’s no memory card slot and there don’t seem to be speakers.

Kindle WiFi vs Sony 350 – Areas they tie

Sony 350 and Kindle WiFi are in a tie in numerous areas –

  1. They both use eInk Pearl.
  2. They both have page turn buttons on both sides.
  3. They should have the same readability since the touch Sony 350 uses is infra-red based and no longer a physical layer over the eInk. 
  4. They have changeable font sizes.
  5. They have in-built dictionaries.

Kindle WiFi and Sony 350 are also both focused on reading and neither is trying to be anything beyond an eReader.

Kindle WiFi vs Sony 350 – Areas Kindle WiFi wins

Kindle WiFi is Kindle 3 with the 3G missing but everything else intact. It has several important advantages over the Sony 350 –

  1. It has a 6″ screen which is a more readable size than the Sony 350’s 5″ screen. 
  2. It has WiFi. This makes a world of a difference if you have WiFi at home or at the places you work or at your favorite coffee shop.  
  3. A $40 price difference. $139 is certainly a more manageable price than $179.  
  4. It’s likely that Kindle WiFi will have better PDF support.
  5. Kindle WiFi has 4 GB memory of which 3.4 GB is available while Sony 350 has 2 GB memory of which only 1.4 GB is available.
  6. Kindle WiFi has 4 weeks of battery life with wireless off and 3 weeks with WiFi on. Sony 350 has two weeks battery life.
  7. Kindle WiFi has Text to Speech and the Voice Guide. It’s accessible to blind and low vision readers.
  8. Kindle Store is a better store than Sony Reader Store.
  9. Kindle WhisperNet provides a lot of benefits like syncing across devices – If you have access to a WiFi network you get all these benefits.

The gap between Kindle WiFi and Sony 350 is quite a bit more than the gap between Kindle 3 and Sony 650.

How important is touch? Is it as important as WiFi?

While there is little doubt Touch is a useful feature and makes navigation easier there is also a lot of hyperbole around the necessity of the feature. Consider this bit of nonsense from the New York Times –

Many a Kindle screen has been sullied by errant fingers before their frustrated owners realized that readers turn the pages of an e-book using buttons on the side of the device.

What are you talking about?

The Kindle 2 had Previous Page and Next Page printed on the buttons and Kindle 3 has direction arrows. That’s enough for most people to figure out they don’t need to touch the screen. Besides, it’s touching the Sony 350’s touch screen that is going to leave smudges.

The article ends with this little ode to replacing buttons and keyboards –

The next generation of screens might not even need a touch. Instead, they will understand the gestures of people standing in front of them and pick up on eye movement and speech.

“The future’s going to be in fusing together several different natural human behaviors — how people point, gesture and coordinate with each other,”

Well, Amazon already has the patent for a gesture based Kindle.

You could actually argue that WiFi is more important than touch. Touch adds a little bit to usability but you’re mostly reading books and there’s not much difference between pressing page turn buttons and swiping the screen. Being able to scribble notes is useful as is freehand drawing. WiFi on the other hand adds a lot when WiFi is available – store browsing, 60 second downloads, Internet browsing (relatively decent browsing using WiFi), WhisperSync.

At best, WiFi beats Touch. At worst, Touch is a little better than WiFi. If you don’t have touch you have to use the cursor to move around (a few extra seconds) or use page turn buttons to turn pages (just as fast). If you don’t have WiFi you have to find a computer to download a book – much more effort and time than finding a WiFi network.

Kindle WiFi vs Sony 350 Closing Thoughts

It’s not surprising that the Kindle WiFi vs Sony 350 comparison ends up being rather similar to our Kindle 3 vs Sony 650 comparison. Sony 350 is missing some of the pluses of the 650 like expandable memory and WiFi is not as convenient as 3G+WiFi – However, the rest of the comparison is almost identical.

Sony 350 clearly wins in – touch capability, support for library books, support for ePub, choice of color, looks, compactness/portability, lower weight.

Kindle WiFi clearly wins in – larger screen size, WiFi, lower price, text to speech, more battery life, accessibility, more memory, better store, better infrastructure.

The much lower price of the Kindle WiFi might be the decider for a lot of readers. Also, Sony 350 is just $10 cheaper than Kindle 3 which adds on 3G support and free Internet to the Kindle WiFi’s already compelling package. Sony has failed to match Kindle 3 and Nook on price and wireless support and it might have lost the battle before its begun.