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Touchscreen E-Reader Pushes Our Disappointment Button

Sony hasn’t exactly upstaged anyone in e-reader theater. But, the company’s pocket-sized PRS-350 is looking to change that. The impetus was clear: Make an attractive, travel-sized, idiot-simple e-reader for the masses.
Unfortunately, though the PRS-350 does many things right, there’s still a lot of room to kvetch.
Sony clearly nailed the hardware on the PRS-350. As the company’s flagship pocket reader, it’s small and feather-light at 5.5 ounces, while also supporting a spanking new 800 x 600 e-ink Pearl display. Nestled into the frame is a functional (yet cheap-feeling) stylus, and resting below the five-inch screen is a set of functional (yet cheap-feeling) soft keys. An aluminum and plastic chassis and an infrared-driven touchscreen add a touch of class, and at a little over four inches wide, the device sat comfortably in our hands during marathon reading sessions.
A lot of the PRS-350’s hardware high-points come with counterpoints. Though reading text on the screen is a delight thanks to 16 adjustable contrast levels, getting titles onto the device’s 2 GB of memory via a mini-USB cable and clunky proprietary software is old hat. And while it sports meat-and-potatoes ePUB, PDF, and TXT support, the Sony Reader Store pales in comparison to its competitors. As if that weren’t bad enough, the PRS-350’s lack of 3G or even Wi-Fi connectivity underscores all these issues.
Despite our issues with the PRS-350 as an all-around gadget, we can’t deny it’s a solid e-reader. Not only does it feel comfortable when you’re actively poking through the menus — or better yet, double-tapping words to pull up the integrated dictionary — but it also completely disappears into the background while you’re reading. Turning pages with mere finger whisks became second nature, and transitions were smooth thanks to a capable processor. Complaints aside, this is essentially what one wants in an e-reader, so we can’t fault Sony too much for its utilitarian delivery.
Of course, there’s the two-ton e-reading elephant in the room: How does the PRS-350 stack up against competitors like the Kindle and Nook? When it comes to important features like connectivity and software, Sony is clearly outmatched. But if you’re looking for an aesthetically pleasing bare-bones reader you can certainly do worse.
WIRED Compact design is both eye-catching and travel-friendly. Touchscreen makes highlighting passages and notation a breeze. Sixteen contrast levels makes outdoor reading a cinch. Screen stays smudge-free even after numerous swipes. Battery only needs a quick bi-weekly charge.
TIRED Missing Wi-Fi and 3G makes it $50 too expensive. Sony’s online store leaves a lot to be desired. Comes in robotic silver or cartoonish pink. No headphone jack means no audio books. Cheap-feeling buttons and stylus are unforgivable.

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