During the past week, many readers have asked us to compare the physical traits of the second-gen Sony Reader and the all-new Amazon Kindle. (If you feel a bit behind, catch up by reading our full Amazon Kindle review and verdict from last Friday.) The Sony Reader is much smaller, and weighs three ounces less than the Kindle, but the screens are exactly the same size, and use the same E-Ink technology. They have more or less the same comfort advantage over LCDs and other glowing screens—and of course, they have no backlight.
For seven days now, I have comfortably read in many lighting conditions with the Kindle and can safely say it has not been a strain of any kind. I'm a guy who stares at a laptop screen for hours on end, and that can suck. Reading E-Ink from either the Kindle or the Sony Reader is a vacation by comparison. My wife has also stolen it from me every chance she's had, and especially likes reading the New York Times on an airplane, something she says she wouldn't normally do because it's just too much paper. No complaints about readability, guys. I wish you doubters could experience it.
Side by side, fonts appear smoother on the Kindle than on the Reader, and the Kindle has a choice of six font sizes, as opposed to Reader's choice of three. Both let you bump font sizes up or down on the fly, a major convenience.
The Reader has active screens—showing animated status indicators and so on—while Kindle screens are always static. If anything on the Kindle page changes, the whole screen does a full refresh.
The Sony has a dedicated music player and JPEG viewer; Amazon hasn't quite nailed that yet. However, the Kindle does have one thing the Reader doesn't have in this department: a speaker. It's not bad either, if you're mostly hoping to hear audiobooks and background music.
Even though you can drag and drop files to the Reader, you can only do that with unprotected stuff like PDFs, MP3s and JPEGs. Kindle's drag-and-drop potential is even less, since you can only drag a certain subset of compatible files over to it.
USB disk folder appearance of Sony Reader:
USB disk folder appearance of Amazon Kindle:
There's no way to download books from Sony's store without using the special eBook Library software, which is cumbersome and works only with Windows PCs.
Using the eBook Library with the Reader, you can get certain views of content that you cannot get in any way with the Kindle, and you can even read books on your computer that are stored on the Reader (though I am not entirely sure why you'd want to do that). Here's a look at the eBook Library interface:
This is not a true to-the-death Battlemodo, but it was an attempt to show you the differences between the two devices, beyond mere specs. I have to say, it is this Windows-only, iTunes-wannabe PC reliance that hurts the Sony Reader more than anything, especially because Sony Electronics will never admit to being as bad at software design as they are good at hardware design. The extra $100 for the Kindle means freedom from the PC—if at the same time it means a shackle to Amazon and its potentially limited file friendliness. When you talk to regular non-geeks, downloading books—and those all-important magazines and newspapers—directly to the device makes the most sense. [Sony Reader; Amazon Kindle]