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Old 01-06-2009, 02:45 PM   #1
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Post Two Weeks With The PRS700

Two Weeks With The PRS700

Once again, the Sony Reader Marketing team has kindly, and generously allowed one of your MobileRead Editors the opportunity to examine and review their latest offering in the PRS line. From the PRS500, through the PRS505, and now the PRS700.

Two weeks ago, when the review unit arrived, I transferred my current reading list over to it, and set aside my trusty PRS500. I figured that at this stage, when others have given the PRS700 a thorough treatment as far as specifications and basic operation go, the best "review" I can offer you is a hands-on "road test," so to speak, and the best way to do that was to commit to using the 700 for as much of that time as I could.

Naturally, I will touch upon some hardware and software specific points, but within a context of how they affect the reading experience on the new device -- you already know the facts and figures, I'd like to try to convey what it's like to use a PRS700.

Which means that the Reading experience is probably a good place to begin. In normal reading conditions, by that I mean without the front light turned on, I found the display on the 700 to actually have less contrast and clarity than that of the 500 (if it needs to be said: keep in mind that the 505's display is more contrasty and clear than the 500's). Just like all e-ink, the contrastiness and clarity improve with brighter lighting conditions.

(I've attached some comparison pictures to illustrate the contrast and clarity differences. In taking the pictures I tried as much as possible to photograph both the 500 and the 700 in as close to exactly the same lighting, position, angle, distance and so on, as I could pull off -- I don't consider them identical, but they're pretty close.)

My impression of the contrast differences is much the same as that of others who have commented on the lower clarity: it seems to result from a combination of the touch-screen membrane, and the plastic involved in the front light. Just like everything else in the world, there's a trade-off for those feature set increases, in this case, it's a decrease in "regular lighting" readability. For all that, I found that after a couple of days, I didn't notice it much any more, and the overall readability is still quite good.

The other aspect (visually speaking) of the display that I'd like to remark on is that it is rather more prone to glare and reflections than the 500 or 505. It's the front light, again: in order to be read through, it has to be pretty transparent, which means more reflective. You can see in the third attached picture that there are some reflections on the display of the 700 that aren't there at all in the 500. Again, these were taken in more or less the same physical position beside a window, with the camera, photographer, and all lighting unmoved between them, and only a few tens of seconds time-space apart.

The glare and reflectance are more noticeable on the 700 than the 500. What this means in practical terms is that the reader (the person, that is) spends a bit more effort finding an angle where the display is free enough of glare and reflections to read from. In the interest of full disclosure, and being as accurate and informative as possible, I should acknowledge that I am a person who's rather sensitive to glare, so that you can consider that factor as well.

Something I'm not particularly bothered by, however, is fingerprints. Sure if they're really bad they bother me, but I'm not a fanatic about it. That being said, the touchscreen on the 700 does show some fingerprinting. This can mostly be seen when catching light on the display. I am in the habit of not handling electronics (especially other people's electronics) unless my hands are fairly clean, but I still see streaking and printing on the screen when I turn it to a light.

Regarding the touch screen operation, and the display operation, since it's hard to really separate the two, I was most pleased. The response of the display refresh is very snappy, noticably faster than even a 505's refresh. The "swipe and hold" motion for rapidly skipping through pages is as fast as could be hoped, not quite too fast to follow with the naked eye. It's really surprising to see e-ink responding so quickly! I used this feature some for navigating Bible chapters, and it worked like a charm. The touch-screen selection of links greatly improved this operation as well, allowing me to reach a particular passage in a few seconds (as fast or faster than I could with paper) where it was a minute or longer operation on the 500. I can see this feature being useful for reference works such as a straight dictionary: links to the start (and maybe middle) of letters, and then skip through to find the page. Most pleasing.

The regular page turning was interesting, if not quite as straightforward. I should comment here about the touchscreen itself. While it will respond to a fingertip, it really responds best to something small and hard, such as the included stylus (which I didn't find a need for, very much) or the tip of a fingernail (which I used a lot). What that means is that when using a fingertip, a firmer pressure was required, and a longer duration touch, to make the command register. Not much pressure, you understand, just more. I did find myself mostly using the hard-buttons to change pages when reading one-handed: when sitting up, the "swipe" worked great, but the buttons seemed to be more convenient for me when lying down, and certainly when doing something else with the other hand.

The menu system is a marked improvement over the 500/505 menus, mostly thanks to the touchscreen control. Navigating between books was simple and straightforward, I even found myself accessing the settings menu to check the time (no in-book time display in the loaner unit, of course), it was so easy to navigate that I mostly did it without thinking about it, once it occurred to me that I could.

Also related to general navigation, I found the buttons to be very well thought out. The functions they access were the ones I found I needed. The Home button is nice, going straight back to the main menu with a single click, much better than the previous click-and-hold approach. The Options button is very useful, offering a set of options that changes based on where you are when you press it. It did take me a few days to really "get" that it was there and start using it, but after I did, I found it quite useful. The page and return buttons are obvious in their functions, and work about as you'd expect them to. From a purely functional/tactile point of view, I found them easy to find with my fingers and the clicks are crisp and definite.

The Bookmarks feature has grown into the Notes feature, and the list of all notes can be accessed directly from the main menu. I only ever had two or three notes running at a time, but I can see that this page might get cluttered pretty quickly for someone who takes lots of notes. However, since the list of notes for each book can be accessed from the book in question, that's probably not a big deal.

That brings us to note entry itself. I found that setting the bookmarks took a bit of getting used to, and removing them a bit more still. They're set and removed by tapping twice at the upper right corner of the display. That tapping has to be done just right, or it launches into a note-entry mode rather than removing the mark. It's not difficult to get the hang of, but it's a bit frustrating until you do. In the interest of fairness, there's some possibility that the fact that this was a loaner may have been responsible for some of the finickiness there.

Note entry and searching worked nicely, though text entry for both is a bit cumbersome, due more to the layout of the on-screen keyboard than the e-ink's refresh rate (which, as I mentioned is quite snappy). Switching key sets to access numbers and symbols is a bit slow, but those wouldn't be used all that much by most folks.

Now on to the front light, and again, in full disclosure, my eyes seem to be more sensitive to light, so I don't require as much light as others often do to see to my satisfaction -- for reference I used the front lighting only on the lower of the two brightnesses. Others have mentioned that the lighting from it is uneven, and I found this to be the case myself. There is a noticeable decrease in illumination from the edges to the center of the page, the edges tend to be a bit brighter than I really preferred, and the center a bit dimmer, but I had no trouble reading any of it. The attached front light picture is blurry, but it represents the fade-off fairly well. One very nice touch on the front light is that it switches itself off when the Reader itself is switched off. An obvious touch, but a very nice one. It's good to see Sony not overlooking such details.

Related to the light, it does seem to have an impact on the battery life. You should understand that I'm hopelessly spoiled by the approximately three weeks per charge I still get from my two-year-old PRS500, and that the unit I reviewed was a passed-around (and perhaps mildly abused) one, but it gave me about four days of use per charge. That's with about two hours of front light usage per day, and several hours of non-lit use besides. That's a fair step back from the earlier models, but still a fair amount of time per charge, particularly compared to non-e-ink devices.

I did try to refrain from using the light for a time to see what effect that would have, but circumstances conspired to interfere, and I found myself using it at night, so I don't really feel I got a good enough measure of non-lighted battery life to offer a meaningful comment on that. I can point out that Sony specifies eight hours of usage with the light turned on, so my approximately two hours of light usage per day for four days, plus some hours of usage each day without the light is actually a good deal better than the official specification.

My conclusions? I very much agree with Sony that the PRS700 is not a replacement for the PRS505: it has some very different strengths. The notation and faster access features ought to lend themselves fairly well to light research and reference functions, and it's still a very usable reading device.

My thought is that for a person who needs or wants those added features, or has a strong need or desire for the built-in front light could be very well pleased with the PRS700, and the person who primarily wants to read, without taking any sort of notes or doing any reference type functions with their reading device might prefer the PRS505.
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Old 01-06-2009, 02:59 PM   #2
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Thanks for the Review. I am Very Well Pleased with my PRS-700. and the Light Makes it joy for me to Read in Bed, and while i wait for the Bus at 2:00am, and its Small Form Factor, Like the Rest of the sony Line make its better than the kindle for me, because the kindle could not fit in my pocket and im not a bag type of person.
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Old 01-06-2009, 03:02 PM   #3
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Great review, NatCh! If I were in the market for a new reader, I am sure I would jump on the PRS 700.
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Old 01-06-2009, 03:09 PM   #4
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yeah i keep trying to push my girlfriend into wanting a reader, that way i can buy a Second Device to play with
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Old 01-06-2009, 03:24 PM   #5
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I really liked your review. Though I think I'll stick with my PRS-505 for now. I just hope the next model has the improved folder structure and faster page turns but keeps the contrast I really appreciate in the PRS-505.
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Old 01-06-2009, 03:36 PM   #6
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Long review, but thanks!

Surprised about the batterylife of the 700 despite using light!

Perhaps take another shot of the last picture?it's a bit blurry.


Sony could try to achieve a newer model by making a semi-transparent -matte plastic background, that will allow ledlight from the back to pass through.

When having a layer of hard,tough, transparent plastic on the top, the e-ink layer, and a semi transparent matte white background, then a layer of fiberoptic and white or blue leds, and then a silverish foil that reflects the light to the screen, Sony might be able to get a backlit 505!

Plus, it's healthier for the eyes too! (in direct sunlight, the white will seem slightly less white than the standard background)

Last edited by ProDigit; 01-06-2009 at 03:40 PM.
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Old 01-06-2009, 03:38 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Amalthia View Post
I just hope the next model has the improved folder structure and faster page turns but keeps the contrast I really appreciate in the PRS-505.
I would expect them to start using the new Epson controller in whatever their next model ends up being, which would speed up the display response considerably. Since they just brought out the 700, I'd anticipate a new offering in the 5XX series, but if I had to guess (which is what I would have to do, since I have absolutely no actual information) I'd say we likely won't see anything along those lines 'til next fall -- they really seem fond of those October 1st release dates.
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Old 01-06-2009, 03:38 PM   #8
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thanks natch for telling us about your experience. very interesting to compare. i've also been really pleased with the reaction time and the ergonomy, which seems to be your experience as well.

my eyes are quite sensitive to light too and i really don't like reading on a backlit screen, so i never expected to use the lights at all, but then one night i was reading in bed and it was freezing, and i wanted to put my head under the quilt, so i pulled the reader in with me and read using the frontlight. amazingly enough i found it reasonably comfortable (i still prefer reading by ambiant light but i could easily imagine doing it again). plus you can regress to childhood nights of reading in bed with a flashlight when you were supposed to be sleeping.

i've not had any trouble with the bookmarks ; they work fine for me, and i've never gotten the notes screen instead that i can remember. but i usually quite naturally use my fingernail on the touch screen, which definitely gives more precision. and probably avoids fingerprints as well, since i've not had a problem with that either.

i've been using the notes a lot, to mark words i don't know or errors in the text to correct, and i really love that feature.

i would not be suprised if the people who are the happiest with the 700 are the ones who previously used an 1150 (or similar) and got really used to the features it proposes (like touchscreen, note-taking, search, and even lit screen, for many...), whereas people using the 505 or cybook might be less interested in those features. the use for research etc. is a good point but i think it's maybe only a partial answer ; i don't do research but i use the notes to mark errors in the text or to note a word i would like to remember or citation that i like, which i already did using the 1150.

overall i'm very happy with the 700 despite the somewhat inferior screen (although i hardly notice it now). i think sony is definitely on the right track with the 700, although it's not quite the perfect liseuse *yet*.
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Old 01-06-2009, 03:41 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ProDigit View Post
Surprised about the batterylife of the 700 despite using light!
Surprised by its length? Or its lack thereof?

Quote:
Originally Posted by ProDigit View Post
Perhaps take another shot of the last picture?it's a bit blurry.
Yeah, I know it's blurry, but I was trying to capture the pattern of light, rather than the text readability, which is actually better with the light than without, to my eyes.

I'm afraid another pic is rather impossible for me to take, as my loaner unit is now on its way back to San Diego.
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Old 01-06-2009, 04:03 PM   #10
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No justice... (Again!)

>>and the person who primarily wants to read, without taking any sort of
>>notes or doing any reference type functions with their reading device
>>might prefer the PRS505.


Thanks for the review.
But why the deliberate post of blurry pictures?

I think all it does it give off an already wrong impression
of a highly capable reader that the 5.xx people just can't
seem to stop slamming. In defense of Sony, The photos
taken in different light settings and angles displaying different
fonts are biased. In one photo (last one) even my son could
have shot better. Because of the touch panel extra care should
be taken when shooting stills. Its quite clear the reviewer is an
avid 5.xx owner which does no justice in giving a balance pictorial
of said review. Either way, the review effort was appreciated
(even if late)





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Old 01-06-2009, 04:10 PM   #11
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NatCh

Nice review. Great job...

Quote:
Originally Posted by NatCh View Post
Just like all e-ink, the contrastiness and clarity improve with brighter lighting conditions.
"Contrastiness"? heh heh...

BOb
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Old 01-06-2009, 04:21 PM   #12
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Thanks for the great review NatCh!

I've had a 505 for about eight months now and am still in love with it. My husband recently got a 700. Your review covered the differences quite nicely.

To be honest, if I had to get another reader now, I don't know which one I'd get. I really do like the clarity of the 505, but the other features available on the 700 make it very attractive as well.

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Old 01-06-2009, 04:37 PM   #13
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Great review!

I was settled for a 700 for christmas, but since my family decided not to get it for me, I'll be waiting for the 705 for next christmas instead..
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Old 01-06-2009, 05:32 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Server View Post
Thanks for the review.
But why the deliberate post of blurry pictures?

I think all it does it give off an already wrong impression
of a highly capable reader that the 5.xx people just can't
seem to stop slamming.
The first three photos were taken in as close to identical lighting and angle conditions as I could manage (as I explained in the fifth paragraph), with the "Text Macro" built into my camera. I didn't have a camera stand handy, so I had to take them free-hand, and it's true that they're a bit blurry at full size. However, since the pix are intended to be comparative, and they were taken in as close to identical conditions for each device as I could manage, I think they accomplish that purpose fairly well. Certainly it's fair to say that they should impose no more blurriness on the PRS700's pix than they do on the PRS500's.

If you're looking for a disclaimer that my photography skills are not professional-grade, please consider this gleeful and heartfelt one.

As I remarked earlier, the third picture was intended to capture the pattern of the front light on the display, and was, necessarily, taken in a darkened room, a situation in which most cameras have a bit of trouble focusing, and they all seem to have a bit of trouble focusing on e-ink in the first place.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Server View Post
In defense of Sony, The photos
taken in different light settings and angles displaying different
fonts are biased.
Now I'm not so sure it's clear what I was attempting to capture with those pictures, so in case I wasn't as clear about it as I hoped and meant to be: the first three are sets of two photos each. Each pair, as I've mentioned, attempts to replicate the same conditions in the photo of each device as closely as possible.

The three sets look different from each other, because I was going for three different sets of photographing conditions. I did try taking a single picture of both devices side by side, but the text macro didn't work all that well that way: All I got was lovely pictures of the two devices' frames -- not much help to anyone.

It's true that, the fonts and sizes vary some, however, by the time I got to the point of taking the photos, I was rather more pressed for time than I liked, so I skipped the step of loading an identical file on each device for photographing, trusting my readers to be able to make their own comparative evaluations of the photos, despite the variation.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Server View Post
In one photo (last one) even my son could
have shot better. Because of the touch panel extra care should
be taken when shooting stills.
If you, or your son, or anyone else, for that matter, can take better photos, please do share them with us! This is certainly an appropriate place to do so, and I would very much welcome them, I'm sure others would also.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Server View Post
Its quite clear the reviewer is an
avid 5.xx owner which does no justice in giving a balance pictorial
of said review.
I should hope it's clear, that I'm a 500 owner, I did acknowledge it several times in the article, after all -- specifically so that the reader would know what sort of background I'm approaching the 700 from.

Speaking as the reviewer, I think it's much more fair to characterize me as an avid Sony Reader owner -- in spite of which fact, I've recommended Kindles to many folks because I believed that would be the best device for their needs.

I do not have an axe to grind on the 700, in fact I had been planning to get one myself when I upgraded. After using one for two weeks, however, I feel that the 505 is probably better suited to my own needs, but I very much recognize that the needs of other people might well steer them to the 700, or to an iRex or a Cybook or a Kindle, or even paper.

My primary interest here is that folks get the device that is best suited to their individual needs, so that they will be happy with their purpose, not to boost any particular brand or model.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Server View Post
Either way, the review effort was appreciated
(even if late)
Thank you, I did the review just as soon as they sent me a review unit. I did realize that I was coming late to the game, which is why I departed from my usual focus on the hardware and specs, in favor of an attempt at an informed user retrospective. I don't know that I achieved that goal, but it's what I was doing my best to do.
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Old 01-06-2009, 05:44 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NatCh View Post
Surprised by its length? Or its lack thereof?
actually I expected the 700to last shorter. 8 days is like recharge every week; basically like a cell.
I can also imagine lots of people don't use the reader 2 hours a day, but perhaps 2 or 3 days of 3 hours. That would mean the 700 lasts 1,5 weeks.

Sounds pretty ok to me!

ofcourse, it's still better to have a device like this that just spans a whole month with it's battery.

I would have preferred Sony to equip that reader with double the battery capacity (costs only $20 more), but then some users might argue that the reader becomes heavy in wheight.
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