Other Media Review

Sony 700 Review: Individual All-Around Competition

Sony 700After more than 6 months using Kindle I: Triangle Man, I had the chance to try the Sony 505 and the Sony 700 almost at the same time. Both devices arrived within days of one another and I wasn’t sure which to test-drive first. Full disclosure: the fine, marvelous folks at Sony USA sent me devices to test out, and to them I say, “YOU ARE AWESOME.” MWAH and big honking glasses of wine to Sony. Surely they intend to lure me to the dark side.

Or from the dark side. Or over to a bar with awesome creatures dancing, more likely.

I decided to test drive the Sony 700 because I knew Kindle II: Matzoh Edition would be arriving soon.

Side note: Kindle II: Matzoh Edition is so named because it is about the same size, shape, weight, and substance as a piece of matzoh. Matzoh, if you’re not familiar with it, is a big honking cracker that we of the tribe eat during Passover. It’s also known as the “bread of oppression,” and since Amazon is a bit of a monolith, the Kindle does link the end user to a bit of mercantile oppression in terms of shopping options. Thus: Kindle II: Matzoh Edition.

In terms of looks and appeal, the 700 is more sturdy and a bit heavier than Kindle II. What sets it apart is the built-in light, and the touch screen. I didn’t think that the touchscreen would make such a difference, but, much like the on-board light, it does indeed. It’s not just ease of use, which is very seductive. The touchscreen is the biggest element to the Sony 700’s friendliness in terms of adaptability for the user – by which I mean, this device most easily adapts to the way I use ebook readers, versus my having to adapt to the style and layout of the reader itself. 

For example: page turn. As Jane noted in her comparison of the Sony 700 and the Kindle II: Matzoh Edition, the touchscreen enables the device to almost fluidly adapt to how, where, and in what position I use an ebook reader. With the touchscreen, I determine where the page turn is, and I adapt the device to how I sit on the bus, how I read in bed, how and where I like to hold the device. For example: if I’m into a book, I will be reading in the following locations:

  • On a bus, squished in by winter coats, bags, and possibly tilted away from the window to avoid the sun.
  • Standing on a subway, holding on to a pole with one hand, or “surfing” because the train is too crowded, in which case I’m standing with my legs spread a bit, not holding on to anything because I can’t reach a pole, so I’m trying to keep myself from falling down. Both of these positions require one-handed reading.
  • Sitting at my desk or in the park, eating with one hand and reading/turning pages with the other.
  • Waiting in line at the bank or the post office.
  • Again on the subway, standing or sitting, then on the bus.
  • At home in bed, under the covers (I’m always cold and sleep like a burrito)

So, I can’t always hold the device in the same way in the same hand or even in the same location on the unit itself. I might be holding it from beneath, with my fingers curled over the top, in my left hand or my right, or balanced on one leg. My point is: the entire screen is the page turn. I can’t tell you how liberating that is as a reader.

To compare the benefit of a full-size touchscreen, let’s look at the other options in the eReader Olympics. With Kindle I, I have options for page turning on the right and the left, but it was way too easy to turn the page without meaning to. But Kindle I allowed me a lot of page-turning real-estate, and while there were very few locations on the device itself that I could hold the Kindle without turning the page, I had more left- or right-handed options.

With Kindle II, the buttons are smaller, and they’re on both sides, but the actual length is decreased to about 3” on each side, and so I’m bound to holding the device on either side.

The Sony 505 is the most limiting: there are two small half-moon buttons on the right side, and a circular tilting button on the bottom left. Neither, particularly the bottom left, are comfortable holding positions for the reader, since my hands get tired if I’m holding it with one hand, holding onto a subway pole with the other, and trying to both keep the unit in my hand and turn the page at the same time. 

Another element as to how the 700 adapted to me was the text size options: I have five choices with the 700, from small to LID OF A PIZZA BOX HUGE. To be fair, both the Kindle I and Kindle II: Matzoh Edition have five sizes, but alas, the 505 only has 3. I have terrible eyesight. I’m cross eyed and the muscles around my eyes are extremely loose from years and years of crossing my eyes even slightly to bring things into focus. It’s a short stop to headaches and muscle/eye strain when I have to squint or read something that’s too small, so I crank up the text size to make the reading more comfortable. Kindle and the 700 have that all worked out. Five text size options plus touchscreen is a double fudge win with whipped cream.

And, as Jane has mentioned, the 700 has the built-in light. Yes, it makes the device heavier than Kindle I and Kindle II: Matzoh Edition, but, much like the touchscreen, I didn’t realize how much the 700 could adapt to the different places and manners in which I personally read. Stuck in the tunnel, bus lights not working? No problem! In a dim room? Lights on! In bed, and Hubby wants to go to sleep? Click! It’s amazing the number of times I use the light when I didn’t think I’d use it much at all.

That said, the light does drain the battery, and Kindle I and Kindle II: Matzoh Edition definitely have the advantage over the Sony 700 when it comes to battery life. But I’m so used to charging things at the end of the day – iPhone, headset, Blackberry, etc. – that plugging in the 700 isn’t that much of a problem. It’s one more thing to plug in, and it’s not that big of a deal. But I am in particular a battery-challenge for the 700 because I use both the light and I crank up the text size – which means I turn the page a lot more often.

The 700, speaking of page turning, is faster than the 505 but just a hair slower than Kindle II: Matzoh Edition. I’ve never noticed speed as an issue except when taking notes on the 700, the Kindle I and Kindle II, and all three of them are slow enough to drive me batty. It’s not a feature I use that often because of the delay.

A note on software: loading content on the 700 is incredibly easy with Calibre, and to be honest, it’s so easy I haven’t tried the Sony software on the Mac as of yet, nor have I tried the Stanza desktop app. I think the software will end up being a separate examination, so stay tuned.

Besides the battery life, which one can combat with remembering where one put the USB cable, the major flaw of the 700 is the screen quality. It’s difficult to describe exactly what the problem is, but because of the glass that creates the touchscreen and the distance between the e-ink and the screen because of the light fixtures on both sides, there is a distinct lack of crispness to the text on the 700. Some call it “muddy” or “fuzzy,” but to me the problem is fuzzy borders to the text, and a lack of contrast. The field on which the text appears is a greenish tint, and because the text itself isn’t dark enough, there isn’t nearly enough contrast, and coupled with the indistinct border of the letters themselves, which is particularly noticeable in large-text settings, the quality of the text reading experience itself is not nearly as good as both Kindles, and the Sony 505, which is the badass motorcycle king of e-Ink crispness and sharp quality.

I’m used to the distortion and slightly frosted quality of the touchscreen glass and the lack of contrast between the text and the background, but if I could make one request of the Sony folks, it would be to add a better screen quality and some wireless connection to the 700. The two real areas in which Kindles I and II triumph over the Sony 700 are screen quality and onboard wireless, especially as that wireless facilitates loading ebook files. Honestly, the smack-down king of them all would be a device that isn’t as substantial as a piece of Manischewitz matzoh but does have a touchscreen, on-board wireless connectivity, and a touchscreen.

ETA: I’ve been using Kindle II because I’m reading files that are only available for the Kindle (some free copies of books I purchased months and months ago) and I can’t tell you how much I miss the 700 now that I’m not able to read a file on it. I miss the page turn. I miss how much faster it could back up a page or two so I could re-read a scene. Kindle II goes quickly forward but backs up like a cruise ship. I miss the light. I miss the screen allowing me to turn the page wherever I want. I miss it like I can’t even say. And it makes me more irritated at the monolith that is Amazon for restricting me from reading their files on whatever device I want. Feh!

 

 

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Kaye says:

    Well, I can say that in no way will I EVER be purchasing a Kindle.

    Is the 700 screen quality really bad? I can deal with a little bit of fuzziness, but if it’s actually a chore to read, then that’s a bigger problem.

    I LOVE these reviews, by the way – they are ridiculously helpful.

  2. 2
    Jennie says:

    How is the page-rate? Do you feel like you need to pause and wait at all for the next page? Really, aside from DRM issues (and the thought of re-purchasing all of my books…dear god), that is my biggest problem with the ebook readers right now. 
    I must admit I’m tempted.  And my husband would LOVE for me to have an ebook reader that had its own light and would free him from listening to me turn pages constantly.

  3. 3
    shaunee says:

    So who gets the gold?  After the first round of E-Reader Olympics I did some comparisons of my own, but I, as recently as yesterday, was all, “when is Sarah going to finish her review so I can make a proper decision?”  Co-dependent?  Maybe just a touch.

  4. 4

    So is there any point in trading up from the ebookwise? I have the touch screen and the backlight, and at half the price. Plus, with Barnes and Noble buying Fictionwise (and ebookwise I think) does that mean they want to spruce it up a bit?
    Interesting times.

  5. 5
    SB Sarah says:

    Lynne:

    I have had a hard time reading with the ebookwise, mostly because of the lower contrast between the ebookwise and the Sony, and because the screen has a greenish cast to it.

    Angie James’ picture comparison illustrates what I’m talking about. It’s more difficult for me to focus on the ebookwise than on the Sony.

  6. 6
    Jessica G. says:

    @Jennie- Just an FYI, you don’t have to buy DRMed books. There are lots available out there without the DRM, not to mention you can get oodles and oodles of library books (a lot of people get the NYPL library card for $100 a year for out of staters).

    Also, the page refresh is something you get used to very quickly. I usually click the button before I finish the page, so I barely notice it (and I have a 505, which has a slower rate than the 700).

    ROFL @ Kindle II: Matzoh Edition

  7. 7

    Angie James’ picture comparison illustrates what I’m talking about. It’s more difficult for me to focus on the ebookwise than on the Sony.

    Thanks! I don’t have any problem with that, so I’ll wait awhile, methinks. But I do know what you mean about the tinge. If you turn the backlight up, you don’t get it, but I like the light fairly low.

  8. 8
    Melissa S. says:

    I have the 700 and I LOOOOOVE the touchscreen. It was really my one gripe when I looked at the 505. you don’t even need to pull your finger all the way across the screen in order for it to turn. Plus a lot of the reviews I read said it takes one or two swipes to get a turn, but I think that very rarely happens.

    I rarely use the light except at night, but I find the best light to avoid issues with the text (which could be crisper) is to read in natural sunlight. It doesn’t even have to be a full blown sunny day.

    Since I don’t use the light often and I read at S to M text size I can usually get through 2 1/2 romances.

    I think this thing is the best birthday gift ever! EVER!

  9. 9
    Rosemary says:

    I bought a Sony 505 about 3 weeks ago and I love it.  When I went into the Sony store so I could touch them, they had the 700 and the 505 on display.  I was just looking at them when the salesboy came up and I was saying that I was looking at buying a reader while I was standing in front of one of the 505s.  He said, “Well, we have a newer one, the 700, but it’s not as good and the 505 is cheaper.”  The screens are what sold me on getting the 505.  The text was SO MUCH CLEARER.  Gah!  I love it!

  10. 10
    Sally says:

    Thank you for the great reviews!  With the touchscreen, does it leave fingerprints on the screen, which might add to the fuzziness?

  11. 11
    SB Sarah says:

    Sally: I haven’t noticed, really. But it’s not like I read ebooks while eating pizza. If I notice a particular schmutz buildup, I’ll definitely note it here. So far, the fuzzy quality of the text seems more due to the glass than any buildup of fingerprints.

    I notice smudges on the Kindle II, now that I think about it, more than on the Sony 700.

  12. 12
    jenny says:

    Since you compare the batteries, how long do the batteries last on one charge? How long does it take to charge? Can you read comfortably while charging?

    On my palm, I can read untethered for at least 3 hours and the number of times I change the page doe not affect that. I think it can go about 5 or 6 really, but I don’t like to push the battery because I don’t want to have to buy a new one anytime soon. As long as I can make it through two long train rides, there and back, that is all that I have needed. 
    I can have the palm plugged in while I read in bed. There is a function to change the amount of light on the screen, but I haven’t really played with that. (I am running it in the middle setting, I can read in a dark room, a well lit room, a shady spot outside in the day, but not in bright daylight or even next to a really sunny window.) Losing the ability to easily read outside has been my biggest complaint about the palm and the most seductive feature of the sony.

  13. 13
    Irie says:

    Here in the UK we have a The Reader by Sony.  I got one for Xmas and love it! Amazon doesn’t have a Kindle for us here yet, but I can’t imagine that it could possiby be any better than my Reader!

  14. 14
    SonomaLass says:

    I think I’d be with you on the touchscreen.  My son lets me play with his iPod touch occasionally (I’m fascinated by the Koi Pond app.), and I can see that being the best way to simulate page turning in paper book reading.  I’m still going to wait and see if Apple comes up with a reader, because it will be an awesome one if they do.

    Oh, and mad props for Triangle Man!  They Might Be Giants FTW!!!

  15. 15
    ev says:

    Ah, Sarah, the Force is With You. Have a drink on me.

    I am so glad I kept my 700 and didn’t go for the Matzoh.

    I will admit I like hubby’s lighted book cover on the 505 better than the backlight on my 700, but all in all I made a good choice for me. I charge it almost every night too, so I don’t notice that much drain. He may charge his once a week and he has it on for hours every night. The cover runs on AAA batteries that are seperate. It was worth the price. He finally had a chance to use it in the car the other night and really liked it. I was driving, not him.

    I don’t have a problem with smudges on the touch screen. Sometimes I just give it a quick wipe with a soft cloth if something is handy. I also keep a soft cloth over the top of it between the glass and the cover. But that is me being anal. NOT a problem with Sony.

    As for the quality of the print, I haven’t had a problem. I usually keep it at Med or Large if I forget my glasses. Works good outside. The 505 is a bit crisper but I like the options of page changing the 700 has. He wishes the buttons on the side were bigger but other than that, I imagine I will have to pry it out of his cold, dead hands someday.

    I saw on Twitter where you had Kindle II:Matzoh Ed. problems. oops.

    Can Kindle files be converted using Calibre?? Or is someone working on that???

  16. 16
    Rosemary says:

    Since you compare the batteries, how long do the batteries last on one charge? How long does it take to charge? Can you read comfortably while charging?

    I can answer this for the 505.  I charged this a week ago and I’ve read a book and a half, and according to the battery meter I’ve used 25% of the battery.  And that includes showing it off to other people.  It takes about 2-3 hours to get up to a full charge I charge it while it’s syncing with the computer, so it is unreadable at that moment, but I haven’t had a problem with that.

  17. 17
    theladyferris says:

    In the interests of fairness will you be reviewing a good old-fashioned printed book too???

  18. 18
    ev says:

    One thing I have not seen mentioned about the 700- the stylist that comes with it. I tend to forget it is there, but that can also be use on the touch screen to turn pages, among other things.

    And some idiot TSA agent decided mine was a weapon and confiscated it. Sony quickly replaced it.

  19. 19

    These reviews have been most helpful.  It looks like what I’m waiting for is the 701:  The features you’ve mentioned, without the “muddy” look.  But this is wonderful information for those of us looking to move into the digital book age with a dedicated ebook reader.  At this point I’d be inclined to go with the 700 based on the reviews I’ve read here and elsewhere.

  20. 20

    OMIGOD when I read “Kindle II: Matzoh Edition”, I thought I was going to choke. That is the most unique comparison/name I’ve seen for the new Kindle. So fitting. Love it.

  21. 21
    Tae says:

    have you seen a BeBook yet?  A co-worker is getting one delivered this week.  It’s also e-ink technology, but reads more formats than my Sony 505.  I’m a little jealous since I have to break the MSlit drm before I can convert it and load it on my Sony (Fictionwise is not friendly for Sony ereaders for the most part). 

    I’ve only had my Sony for 2 months now and I can’t believe I lived without it before.  I could have saved myself so much money my first year in Korea (and the shelf space) if I didn’t have to buy paper books all the time.  I love being able to download Library PDF books.  I’m reading Kim Harrison’s latest right now with a couple of Silhouette books coming up as well. 

    I’m also looking at what I will eventually buy after my Sony (probably going to give my current one to the hubby or buy him something a bit more advanced that has note taking ability available and can adjust text sizes for math papers without screwing up the computations)

    I still don’t think I’d be interested in the Kindle (I don’t want to spend all that time converting my current books to Kindle extensions), but the maybe the Sony 700.

  22. 22
    Deirdre says:

    The battery life for the Kindle 2.0 is great. The last time I charged it was a week ago. Since then I’ve read 2 books and I haven’t turned it off. It does go into sleep mode when not in use. You can also get a longer charge by turning off WhisperNet.

  23. 23
    Trumystique says:

    This is interesting. Before reading this I was about to buy the 505 with the reward points I have at Citibank. Now I am confused- should I get the 700 or 505? Guess I have a trip to Sony store coming. But would love to hear any feedback.

  24. 24
    Kaetrin says:

    I agree with your comments about the Sony 700 Sarah.  As I am in Australia I didn’t have the privilege of actually seeing a Sony 505 or 700 (or a Kindle) prior to purchase.  I went with the 700 because it was the newer model and I thought it must be better. 

    When I first got it, I was disappointed by the (lack of) contrast between the background and the writing.  I thought it was supposed to be (nearly) white and it was really mid gray like an EtchaSketch and I thought it was blurry too. 

    I did some research (well, hubby did!) and found out that my 700 was not broken (like I had thought).  But, I also found out that the contrast improves markedly if the ambient light is better. 

    Most of my reading is done in our lounge room so we bought me a reading lamp and all is sweet.  I can read with the Sony light, but it takes me a while to get used to it – as it is 4 little lights in each corner, the middle of the screen is darker and I find this (personally) distracting.  After a while I don’t notice, but if I have a choice, I use a reading lamp or open the curtains to let the sunshine in.

    I love the touchscreen and use my little stylus mostly to turn the pages – it give me something to fidget with in the interim too!  I did find the reader a little heavy for my wrist, so I bought one of these cool little “bookseats” which is like a beanbag for your book.  So, I sit on the couch with the bookseat on my lap, prop the reader on the bookseat and turn the page with my stylus and it’s all sweet!

    When reading in a cafe (which tends to be the main other place I read) I usually prop the reader against my handbag.

    Oh, and I totally don’t notice the blurry thing now….

    In a nutshell?  After some initial disappointment, I LOVE my reader.

    Yes, I’d like the screen to be clearer and have a greater contrast but I’m pretty happy with it as it is. 

    Given that I’m in Oz, wireless isn’t a big deal for me (and I’m not sure it would be anyway).

    thanks for the review!

  25. 25

    Tae, please grab your coworker’s BeBook and compare it with your 505! I need help deciding between the two.

    Trumystique, did DA Jane’s comparison of the Sony and Kindle help any? (Linked by Sarah on post.) I found it highlighted nicely the differences between the 505 and 700. Also, as Jane noted, it’s about what features you prioritize above others.

  26. 26
    KatherineB says:

    I just have to link you guys to the ultimate e-book comparison by the great guys at Penny Arcade, the ones who brought you that comic a while back on Anita Blake and lycanthropic sex.

    http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2009/3/9/

    plan37 – get me an Itouch for 0 yen! How happy am I?

  27. 27

    I’ve decided that I want a big Ipaq. All they have to do is make the screen a bit bigger, keep it light and I’d be thrilled with that. Batteries I can swap out on long journeys, just like now, that beautiful clear screen, adjustable backlight and shazam.

  28. 28
    Sandia says:

    Sarah – do you read the paper on your Kindle? 

    For the longest time I had wanted to buy the Sony Reader but always held back b/c you don’t have any periodical options on it.  Now I read both the NYT and the WSJ on the Kindle and it’s delivered daily.  I find I read more of the paper now than I ever did b/c I don’t have to sit and fold and worry about ink stained finger. 

    I’m a huge Kindle fan-gurl but I find that in a lot of the reviews of the Kindle, the most important application for me (daily paper deliveries) is often left out.  Am I the only one who is absolutely in love with this functionality?

  29. 29
    SB Sarah says:

    @Sandia: No, I don’t read the paper on the Kindle, I or II, but I have turned many colleagues on to the Kindle papers for the very reasons you’ve stated. They love it – especially because they no longer have to peel the pages of a soggy, snowy paper apart while on the train.

    The wireless paper delivery is a wonderful feature, and when I reviewed Kindle II, I mentioned that if you were a big mag or paper reader, the Kindle couldn’t be a better option. The newspaper feature is marvelous.

  30. 30
    Jessica says:

    I have to agree about the newspaper feature, and the blogs (which you do have to pay for, I think $2 a month). On vacation recently, I deliberately left my laptop at home, but I loved getting the NYT and top 2 blogs (not romance related. sorry!) delivered daily to my Kindle.

    At home, though, I am too cheap to pay for these features, and use my laptop instead.

    I’m curious why no one has mentioned the grayscale difference. Pictures on my Kindle, say from the NYT, look really good for black and white.

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