The ebook reader market is polarising. Where there were once plenty of manufacturers pumping out over-priced E Ink devices, we now have a few big names gunning for glory. With ebook readers, the mantra that content is king really rings true.
The missing part of the puzzle for many has been the simplicity of the Kindle approach. With Amazon having become a first port of call for online shopping, it was no surprise that the Kindle line of devices would dominate the ebook market.
Sony's latest ebook reader, the PRS-T2, looks to fight its corner with Sony's own bookstore, Wi-Fi, a device that is lighter and which also throws in additional features, in the form of apps. But is this enough to give the Sony Reader a fighting chance?
We've always liked the design of Sony Readers. Gone is the metal finish from this model in favour of an all-plastic body. It's nice and tactile and feels solid enough to the touch, but essentially it is light. Weighing only 164g and measuring 110 x 173 x 9.1mm, the Sony Reader T2 will easily slip into your jacket pocket.
The curved rear edges are comfortable to hold and the big outlined buttons across the bottom of the display leave little doubt as to what they do. There's also a tidy flap on the rear of the T2 which reveals a slot for a microSD card, should you want to expand over the 2GB of internal memory, or simply to add a collection of books.
The 6-inch display is typical of this type of device, although this touchscreen panel is very sensitive. With a thin bezel, it is pretty easy to turn pages accidentally with the brush of a thumb, rather than a dedicated and intentional touch. You can't turn it off, or change the sensitivity, so you'll just have to be careful: we've found using the buttons to turn pages to be a much more natural anyway.
Fortunately, the days of overly reflective touch panels on ebook readers are behind us, so the Sony Reader T2 lives up to the expected requirement of being perfectly visible in direct sunlight. It has a standard 800 x 600 pixel resolution, but the background is nice and light too, so the contrast is good.
In recent months we've seen the emergence of a new trend in ebook readers: front-lit displays. This technology allows ebook readers to stick with the preferred energy-efficient E Ink panel, but integrate lighting to make reading in the dark an option. Unfortunately, this model doesn't carry this technology, leaving Sony somewhere behind the curve.
It is a touch display, however. The touch response is important because it does some clever things. The panel is fast to refresh so it will let you scroll through things like lists pretty well. There's some ghosting when this happens and when you stop, a full refresh clears the background, but it works well enough.
Being fast to refresh also takes the pain out of using the on-screen keyboard and if you are going to make the most out of the T2, then you'll need that keyboard to utilise some of the in-built features.
While on performance, it's worth mentioning that the T2 has a battery life of around two months, but it depends on usage. Wi-Fi will eat your battery, but we know from past E Ink devices that battery is usually measured in weeks rather than hours.
Content is king
With Wi-Fi bundled in, you'll be able to connect your T2 to your local network to access Sony's Reader Store, as well as take advantage of a range of other functions. This takes one of the fiddly steps out of using a Reader, as you can take the PC free route.
The Reader Store experience is pretty straight forward, you can sign in, once you have an account, to buy books at your leisure. The range of titles looks reasonable, but a quick search revealed that some hot books were missing: no sign of Game of Thrones or several current bestsellers, but many titles are competitively priced against the Kindle Store.
This being an open ebook reader, you're not limited to Sony's bookstore. You can buy from anywhere you choose, except those closed systems like Amazon. As the T2 offers a browser, you can sign in to other stores, so we navigated to Kobo, signed in and could download previously purchased DRM-protected epub files directly, without the need to use a PC.
However, connect your Reader to your PC and you'll be able to use Sony's Reader software to manage your device. It's clean and simple to use and in our tests with the Mac version, it was easy to drag and drop existing epub flies to transfer over to the T2.
One of the big advantages that Sony's Reader devices have offered for a number of years is support for library lending. In the UK this is something of a rarity and Sony has moved to integrate this into the T2, again looking to remove the dependency on a PC.
You'll find Public Library listed in the apps menu. This will then let you search for your local public library, using the OverDrive system that sits behind this arrangement. As long as you are a library member, you can then log-in and borrow books for free.
This, of course, depends on your local library having stock of that book (libraries have a number of licences for an ebook, just as they'd have physical copies of a print book), but you can then download and read, with access expiring once the loan period passes.
We're impressed that there are multiple avenues to securing content on the T2 and it's all fairly easy if you know what you are doing, and where to look, but it's not all as straightforward as using the Kindle, which still holds a big advantage.
Amazon might limit who can access its books, but Amazon offers Kindle apps on just about every platform you can imagine. This is where the Sony ecosystem runs aground. From the Kindle, the position you read to in a book will sync, so you can pick it up again on your phone, tablet or PC and continue reading. It's a great system, one that Kobo also offers, to a degree.
For Sony however, you're pretty much in isolation. You have the freedom to move those book files around to any Adobe DRM approved device/app, but you'll have to keep track of where you've read to yourself. Sony purports to offer apps to move your library to other devices, but we've failed to locate one. We've asked Sony for clarification on this.
Evernote, Facebook: The extras
Outside of the core functions of sourcing and reading books, there are a range of additional features that the Sony Reader PRS-T2 offers. Gone are things like the MP3 player: that's not an option on this model. But what you do get is apps.
We've already mentioned that there is a browser. You can use this to head to anywhere on the internet, so you can drop in on Pocket-lint.com should you wish, but we'd advise you to use your smartphone instead because the browser is rather slow and limited to greyscale. It offers pinch zooming, although re-rendering the page means you need patience.
But the real interest is support for Evernote. Once you've signed into your Evernote account, you'll be able to access your existing notebooks. So you can download existing notes to read and sync files you create on your Reader to pickup through your Evernote app on different devices. If you're one who likes taking notes while reading, or has a collection of Evernote reference works, then it's a convenient solution.
Facebook integration is a little less interesting, as it simply lets you inform the world what you are reading. You get the chance to add a note to post, but if you really want to browse Facebook, you'll have to do it through the browser.
There are some things that are sweet about the Sony Reader PRS-T2. It's lightweight, nicely designed and offers plenty of options for getting content on to the device without a PC.
But there's also something sour. It lacks the latest front-lit display that the Kindle Paperwhite, Kobo Glo or Nook GlowLight will offer you, so it doesn't feel like the most technologically advanced device out there. You also don't get the same sense of a universal cohesive ecosystem that you get from the Amazon Kindle.
With access to public lending libraries and Evernote support, there's no doubt that this is a capable ebook reader, but to get the most out of it, you need to do a fair amount of fiddling around. If you're in the market for something simple you might be better served elsewhere.