After 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!