The Sony PRS-T1 Reader uses an E-ink Pearl screen. This is the same generation of E-ink's paper-like screen technology seen on all the most popular ereaders currently on sale in the UK. And it still looks great, with greater contrast and improved rendering of text than you'd see in older ereader models.
Most importantly, though, it offers the glare- and eye strain-free surface that makes E-ink readers more desirable as book-replacers than LCD alternatives.
The E-ink Pearl display is capable of rendering 16 shades of grey and has a resolution of 800 x 600 - just like the Kindle and Kobo Touch. Stepping back from the technology a second, Pearl's contrast remains clearly limited - its white shades still markedly grey - but the reading experience it offers is nevertheless great.
Spreading 800 x 600 pixels over a 6in display, the PRS-T1's 166dpi "pixel" density doesn't sound too hot when new smartphones offer 300 dpi, but the nature of E-ink keeps text looking fairly sharp. The images of screens like this are formed of charged black and white microcapsules, giving them a physicality that LCD screens can't replicate - and a style of pixellation much easier on the eye.
However, higher pixel density is something we're looking forward to in future waves of ereaders as "real" books printed properly offer much greater sharpness.
Unlike Amazon's latest Kindle, Sony hasn't implemented partial screen refreshing as standard here. The Kindle can turn pages much faster than this ereader using partial refresh, but it leaves E-ink residue until a full refresh is performed - which looks bad and can cause headaches.
A full refresh - the black flash that's an ereader staple - happens at each page turn with the PRS-T1 and page turns aren't instant, but it's among the quickest around and on-par with the keyboard'ed Kindle. You can side-step the full refresh by holding down on the page turn button, but this is meant for quickly flicking through a book, not reading.
Instead of using a capacitive or resistive surface, the PRS-T1 has an IR (infra-red) based system. Your finger disrupts the IR signal sent across the screen, letting the ereader know where your finger is. That this new one knows where two fingers are at once may sound trivial, but it enables the popular pinch-to-zoom gesture - a major boon for some.
We found it wasn't all that useful for normal reading sessions, but to navigate around PDFs, it's a godsend. No more awkward tapping away at zoom buttons, you can zoom about with graceful gestures here. Re-scaling of text takes around half a second, but zooming around is very quick - E-ink isn't always slow.
Touch control also comes in handy when looking-up words and making notes. Hold a digit down on a word and a UI layer pops-up. The OED definition appears at the bottom of the screen and a series of buttons hovers over the word itself - you can search online for it using Wikipedia or Google, look it up elsewhere in the book, add a note or simply highlight it.
To select more than a single word, you simply drag the little bracket icons at the either end of the selection. This is what may make the Sony PRS-T1 more attractive than the current non-touch UK Kindle to many.
Sony bundles a simple black stylus with the ereader, to make notes with, but there's nowhere to keep it about the ereader itself. It's your pocket or nothing, and guarantees plenty of T1 styluses will get lost in sofas and left on buses. You can, however, type in notes using the virtual keyboard rather than the pen.
Curiously, although the pinch-zooming feature demonstrates the E-ink screen is capable of quick updates, the PRS-T1 is slow to register text input using the virtual keyboard. You can tap away as fast as you like, but you'll be waiting for a second or two as the ereader catches up.