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It is becoming increasingly hard for us, when looking at new products, to focus just on the product itself. Whether it's an iPhone 4 a TomTom or even a Kindle what's starting to matter as much as, if not arguably more than, the device itself is the ecosystem surrounding it.
Take the iPhone; criticise iTunes all you want - we certainly have in the past - it's hard to deny that for the casual user, who is happy to work with their music collection as iTunes asks of them, it makes purchasing music and loading it onto your phone an almost criminally easy process. Similarly the Kindle isn't anything special hardware-wise; but Amazon's two-pronged attack with its Whispernet service and an extremely comprehensive (and well priced!) eBook store turns the Kindle from an average eBook reader into a great one.
You might wonder if there's a point to this pre-amble. Well, here it is: having great hardware isn't necessarily enough any more. Gone are the days when you could ship a great product and let it speak for itself; consumers expect and deserve more. And this is what makes the Sony Pocket Reader PRS-350 such a disappointment.
There's no denying that Sony knows how to put together a lovely eBook reader; both the original PRS-505 and the later PRS-600 readers were lauded in these pages as the pinnacle of the eBook reader market.
But that was then, and this is now. And now competition is fiercer; in a world inhabited by the Kindle Sony needed to do better than Amazon. Unfortunately, it's merely done better than its own previous effort. Given the higher pricing of the Sony Readers than their Kindle rival, that might pose something of a problem. The Pocket Reader is, after all, some £50 more expensive than the Kindle, at £129 (via Waterstones, other retainers seem to be sticking to the £159 MSRP) versus £109 - and that's a difference worth considering.
In the Pocket Reader's favour is its industrial design. Measuring 104.3mm x 145mm x 8.5mm and weighing 155g the Pocket Reader definitely lives up to its name and will nestle inside most pockets. Although you'll want to keep the device out of any pocket its likely to be sat on inside of, as it won't take too kindly to 70-odd kilos of person resting on it. The brushed aluminium frontispiece also curves around the left edge, where it meets the plastic rear, giving the Pocket Reader a solid, quality feel to it that the Kindle arguably lacks. We'd be loathe to call the Pocket Reader a nicer device to use, as such distinction is too open to personal preference, but it's inarguably a handsome machine.
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