The Sony Reader Pocket Edition (PRS-300) is about as inexpensive as e-book readers corrently get: $199 for a slim gadget with a 5-inch, 8-grayscale E Ink screen. It lacks extras that some competitors (most notably the similarly priced Astak EZReader PocketPro) offer, and it's surprisingly heavy (7.75 ounces) for its petite dimensions (6.25 by 4.25 by 0.4 inches), but its top-flight design and usability amply compensate for the missing features.
Like previous Sony Readers, the Pocket Edition comes in a metal case (most competitors use some sort of plastic), which may help explain its unexpected heft. But the silvery case felt great in my hands--a good thing, since the neoprene case is a slip-in pouch rather than a flip-open holder.
Controls are simple and intuitive, starting with a big four-way navigation and selection wheel located in the center of the case, below the screen. The up and down buttons move a heavy black arrow through menus; the left (backward) and right (forward) buttons initiate page turns. You can easily jump to a specific page number by employing a vertical column of numeric buttons to the right of the screen, and then clicking the selection button on the navigation wheel. The number keys also offer an alternative way to the nav wheel for selecting menu options.
On either side of the navigation wheel are pairs of buttonsbearing easy-to-understand icons: At the far left is a home button, which brings up the main menu; a return button, which takes you to the next-higher-level menu; a bookmark-creation button; and a font-size-change button, which cycles you through the device's three available font sizes (small, medium, or large).
The status bar at the bottom of each page indicates how much battery life remains, which font size you're currently using, and what page you're on out of the total number of pages. To keep the Pocket Edition's price low, Sony cut corners on font size options (among other things), so the Pocket Edition is a poor choice for people with impaired vision who need extra-large fonts. The Pocket Edition lacks audio support altogether.
Document file format support is minimal, too: The Pocket Edition supports unencrypted ePub, BBeB, PDF, TXT, RTF, and Microsoft Word (.doc) files; for commercial books, it supports encrypted ePub (with Adobe Content Server 4 digital rights management technology), PDF, and BBeB files. (BBeB is Sony's proprietary--and soon-to-be abandoned--e-book format.) The reader doesn't support for or HTML files, and you don't get a dictionary. The Pocket Edition does come preloaded with excerpts from a handful of books in several languages, however.
Reading on the Pocket Edition is easy and intuitive. I read The Alchemyst by Michael Scott in BBeB format and Philippa Gregory's The White Queen in EPub: Both looked good and flowed neatly. Page turns were responsive, on a par with those of other devices. The only problems I encountered involved a couple of illustrations at the front of The White Queen, which didn't display in their entirety on most of the e-book readers I tried.
Because several Web-based booksellers have made ePub/ACS4 e-books widely available, you don't have to buy e-books at Sony's bookstore (which currently sells only BBeB books, but has announced plans to convert all of its offerings to ePub/ACS4 in early December). Regardless of the format you choose, you must install Sony's eBook Libary software on your PC: Adobe Digital Editions, which manages ePub books, won't recognize the Reader unless you do. Once you transfer an ePub book to the reader using Adobe Digital Editions, it shows up in the eBook Libary alongside any BBeB titles you may own.
Overall, I found the Sony Reader Pocket Edition to be an appealing choice, not just for buyers on a budget (after all, the Amazon Kindle is no longer a lot more expensive), but for anyone who wants a small, no-frills e-book reader to carry in a purse or backpack.