One of the main reasons for the existence of the Sony Reader PRS-650 Touch is the screen issues its predecessor, the PRS-600, suffered from. It used a resistive touchscreen, which requires an extra layer of plastic to be laid upon the E-ink screen. This increased reflections, reduced the vividness of the display and essentially robbed the underlying E-ink screen of its key benefits.
The PRS-650 uses a completely different kind of touchscreen, one that doesn't require an extra layer of plastic on top of all that lovely E-ink. Instead, it uses light sources firing over the surface of the screen to tell when there's something touching - or just over - it. This tech means it works as well with a finger as the stylus.
When matched with a high-quality Pearl E-ink screen, the result in the 6in PRS-650 is exceedingly clear, high-contrast text. Sharpness is slightly better on the smaller PRS-350, which uses the same screen resolution of 600x800 pixels but in a smaller space, but the reading experience here is still exemplary.
The glare issues inherent in the PRS-600 are gone, while contrast and sharpness have improved significantly since the days of the PRS-505. Like the Kindle 3, it offers 16 levels of contrast (effectively 16 shades of grey).
Like all E-ink devices, there's a slight lag between page turns, but it's a lot quicker than older-generation ereaders. It's between a third of and half a second, and whether it'll irritate or impress you will depend on whether you're an E-ink virgin or not. For an E-ink ereader it's fast, but is slower than LCD devices like the iPad.
It's part of the learning curve when using E-ink, but worth it for the significant benefits - primarily the paper-like display. We did notice some minor ghosting, where part of a previous screen's image is visible, but this is generally sorted with a screen refresh.
The reading basics are spot-on, but there are neat extras that take the PRS-650 beyond the simple book experience. Whip out the stylus from the right edge of the device, double tap on a word and its dictionary entry will pop up at the bottom of the screen. The full Oxford Dictionary of English is built into the reader, along with 11 others including translation dictionaries between English, German, Spanish, Italian and Netherlands. This functionality is brilliant, especially if your reading tastes extend beyond Dan Brown and J. K. Rowling - it's also the best use the PRS-650 has for the touchscreen.
Some customisation of how the text looks is available too. There are six text sizes on offer - the largest will probably only be of interest to those with sight issues and the resolution isn't high enough to render text properly at the smallest, but it certainly covers all the bases. Contrast and Brightness controls are available, but without a backlight to control you can effectively only make the text less black, or the background greyer. Most will be happiest with the default setting. We were.