Almost the entirety of the front of the device is given to its 5in, 800 x 600 pixel, E-Ink display which will show 16 levels of grey. This generation of Sony Reader brings the touchscreen seen on the PRS-600 down to the entry-level Pocket Reader. As a result, there are fewer buttons on the device which now has just forwards and back page turn toggles, a home button, a ‘zoom’ button (which actually lets you change font sizes rather than zooming in on anything) and an ‘options’ button, the function of which is context-sensitive. The Reader Touch also has a stylus, which isn’t always necessary but occasionally proves useful.
The touch-sensitive interface works entirely intuitively. On-screen icons are all large enough that there’s no problem with accuracy; prods and pokes always do what you expect. There’s a swiping gesture to turn pages, which works well. The only downside is that because of the nature of the E-Ink display technology, there’s always a slight delay in the realisation of what you’re asking the Pocket Reader to do. Page refreshes are about as fast as turning a page on a real book, however, and certainly swift enough never to impede the reading of an eBook.
The delay is more evident in the drawing application. Although it’s possible to draw with good accuracy, especially using the stylus, it’s slightly disconcerting having to wait half a second for the result of your last gesture to show up on-screen. An even stranger effect is seen in the Text Memo application, where taps on letters are registered as fast as you can type them, but the animation on screen shows each letter highlighted sequentially.
That said, while initially distracting it doesn’t take long to acclimatise to this behaviour, and it’s never actually a hindrance to using the device. Moreover, as it is the touchscreen that enables the Pocket Reader to reduce its button count, without sacrificing functionality, we thing it’s a fair trade.
The screen itself is the highlight of the Pocket Reader. Its small size means that although it has the same resolution as most of its contemporaries, it has a noticeably lower pixel-pitch. More accurately, the individual pixels are small enough to be unnoticeable; which unsurprisingly couples well with the E-Ink technology to make text shown on the Pocket Reader extremely easy on the eyes.
What’s more, unlike with a book, small text on the Pocket Reader isn’t an issue, as you can simply increase the font size if you so desire. Obviously that’s not a feature unique to Sony’s eBook reader, but the pixel-pitch of the PRS-350 helps stop large text looking aliased, which is a definite advantage.
Images look excellent on the Pocket Reader, even converted to black and white. The option to set any image saved on the reader as a screensaver is pretty neat, albeit also fairly pointless. One advantage this Sony eBook reader has over the Kindle is its handling of PDFs. While both have no problem displaying full pages, even with images embedded, the Reader Pocket will also reflow text if you increase the size above what the PDF’s creator intended. As such reading text-based documents is much easier, as there’s no need to scroll about pages to read them.