Big. Light. Comes with stylus for marking up documents.
Only supports PDF. Very basic software. Stylus is laggy, lacks pressure sensitivity.
- Bottom Line
Sony's Digital Paper DPT-RP1 offers an easy way to read and mark up big stacks of large-format digital documents.
The best products combine great hardware with great software. That's what makes the Sony Digital Paper DPT-RP1 tablet ($699.99) so frustrating: It's great hardware, with very little software at all. It's a unique godsend for anyone who wants to read, edit, or annotate illustrated textbooks, journal articles, or other PDF-formatted documents. But Sony doesn't make it easy.
The DPT-RP1 is the largest slab of E Ink you're going to see, and yet it's as light as an actual pad of paper. Really, it's a marvel: a 13.3-inch, 2,200-by-1,650-pixel screen surrounded by soothing matte plastic, with a slightly angled back that still lies flat on a table. It measures 8.8 by 11.9 by 0.2 inches and weighs only 12.3 ounces.
There's a single home button at the top of the tablet, where the power button and micro USB charging port are. That's pretty much it in terms of controls. The design is very simple and elegant.
The screen itself doesn't have a back or front light, and has the slightly gray background of lower-cost Kindles. At 206 pixels per inch (ppi), it isn't as sharp as the 300-ppi display on the latest ebook readers, and you can tell that when trying to read very small text or look at maps. The 16 levels of grayscale are standard for E Ink and are fine for graphs, charts, and maps.
The device comes with 16GB of storage, of which 11.1GB is available, and there's no SD card slot. Sony says the tablet has about three weeks of battery life. As with all E Ink tablets, that really depends on how many pages you flip. In the test period, I had to recharge the unit every three or four days; it takes three hours to charge fully. Unlike with a Kindle, you definitely have to make charging a fairly regular part of your routine.
The main problem is that the software here appears to be from 2004. For one thing, it only reads non-DRM protected PDFs. Not ePub, not Mobi, not CBR, not library PDFs, not any other format. Just open PDF. Now, you can convert other files to PDF using open-source software like Calibre; I did this with both books and graphic novels I'd previously bought from Amazon. Charts, graphs, images, and even some hotlinks stayed intact. But we can't recommend that as a way of life, as the conversion app could break at any time.
I can hear some of you saying, that's no problem! You read exclusively non-DRMed or cracked documents, you're suspicious of cloud services, and you might even still be running Windows 7. If that's you—great! But you have to understand, you're not a mainstream user.
The tablet has no cloud connectivity, so getting documents onto it requires a clunky piece of PC/Mac software downloaded from Sony's site. You may have to disable your antivirus or firewall to install the drivers, just like it was 2004. All the software does is give you the ability to drag and drop PDFs between your tablet and PC, and to rearrange files into folders. Once it's set up, you can do this through dual-band, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, as long as your Wi-Fi doesn't have a portal page or domain authentication. The tablet itself has no way to browse or download content, so you need to use your PC.
The main UI is just a file manager. Hit the home button, and you can jump to a list of files or create a note with your pen. In a document, you can pop down a menu to look at pages as thumbnails, look at a list of your annotations, compare two documents next to each other, annotate a document itself, or create a side-by-side page of notes. Weirdly, there is no way to jump to a specific page of a PDF file, just an imprecise slider and the grid view. That makes handling long documents more difficult than it should be.
When you're reading, you swipe to turn pages. Swiping is responsive; the pages can be a little slow to change, but the screen doesn't flash. There's no direct pinch-to-zoom, but you can still zoom: Tap the top of the screen, tap a zoom icon, and tap the area to zoom. Once again, it's clunkier than it needs to be, and the zoom is slow.
Sony includes a stylus to mark up your documents or to take notes. It isn't a standard capacitive stylus; replacements costs $79.99. When you re-import your PDFs back to your PC, they'll contain the markups and notes. Your notes and markups also appear on the tablet's list of annotations.
The tablet is much better for annotation than for live note-taking and sketching. Although the stylus tip has excellent grip on the screen, there's a bit of a delay when the E Ink commits, and the pen isn't pressure or tilt sensitive. You'll be using it to underline, circle, correct, or bullet things—not, ideally, to take full meetings' worth of notes or to draw pictures. For those uses, get an iPad Pro.
That's pretty much all this tablet does. It doesn't "X-Ray" into books like a Kindle, read things out loud, translate languages, hook into keyboards, or browse the web. It lets you read and mark up documents.
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The DPT-RP1's 13-inch screen makes it unlike any other e-reader, and its E Ink makes it different from large tablets like the 12.9-inch iPad Pro and 12.3-inch Microsoft Surface Pro. Yes, it has competitors, and we'll get to those later. But it really scratches an itch that other e-readers can't.
I didn't find that itch to involve reading books, as other e-readers read books just fine. The DPT-RP1 really opened up when I was reading textbooks, sheet music, or heavily graphical travel guides. It also made a big difference when I was looking at pages of notes and trying to absorb them—I could just read more notes at a time on the big screen than I could on a smaller e-reader. I can see this becoming a big deal with legal briefs, for instance.
The matte screen has just a bit of reflectivity, but not enough to bother me. It's very easy on the eyes, although not quite as easy as the latest Kindles, with their higher-resolution panels.
With textbooks, the margins become a great place for marginalia. The screen is slightly larger than even a big textbook page, and there's generally white space around the edges of the text for bullets, underlines, and doodles, all of which can be synced back to your PC for later consideration.
That said, I couldn't get into pure note-taking on this tablet—the slight latency in the E Ink was too disconcerting. And in a creative context, the DPT-RP1 just lacks versatility. I gave it to an artist I know, who didn't like the latency or the lack of pen sensitivity.
I kept wishing the tablet supported public library apps, and that there was a way to get files onto the it other than by syncing from a PC. Email? A phone app? A browser? Dropbox? Anything?
Comparisons and Conclusions
I can absolutely see who will love the DPT-RP1. If you had a Kindle DX back in the day, well, hello. If you're a lawyer, printing out stacks of 11-by-14 briefs to PDF and then syncing them from your office PC, you have a great workflow for this device. If you're an academic who belongs to PDF-format journals that clutter up your desk, this tablet will your new best friend. If you're a musician who wants to carry around sheet music without it getting dog-eared, don't bother with an iPad.
If you're a creator, though, you'll probably want a 10.5-inch iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil, which is a lot more flexible when it comes to file formats, apps, and even using a keyboard. If you're just looking for a large ebook reader, the 7.8-inch Kobo Aura One is much less expensive, has a higher-resolution screen, and supports more file formats.
I'm unconvinced by the ReMarkable and the Onyx Boox Max Carta tablets, although both do some things better than the Sony Digital Paper. The ReMarkable's pen is more responsive than Sony's. But the screen isn't nearly as big and the tablet is frequently out of stock. The Onyx Boox Max Carta isn't finger-touch-sensitive and it runs an old, insecure version of Android with apps that are frequently quirky (that said, it does have apps). It also costs $1,000. So even with its flaws, the Sony DPT-RP1 feels like the top choice for an extra-large e-reader.
PCMag.com's lead mobile analyst, Sascha Segan, has reviewed hundreds of smartphones, tablets and other gadgets in more than 9 years with PCMag. He's the head of our Fastest Mobile Networks project, one of the hosts of the daily PCMag Live Web show and speaks frequently in mass media on cell-phone-related issues. His commentary has appeared on ABC, the BBC, the CBC, CNBC, CNN, Fox News, and in newspapers from San Antonio, Texas to Edmonton, Alberta. Segan is also a multiple award-winning travel writer, having contributed… More »
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