For nearly a year now, I’ve used a PRS-505, and I’ve recommended it without reservation for those who want to casually read books (i.e. won’t need to take notes) and don’t read newspapers. It has the best build quality and the best interface of any ereader I’ve used, and the most logical feature set for book readers.

So how does the newer PRS-300, Pocket Edition, stack up? Some critics have said the 300 is stripped down—it doesn’t have many of the extra features of ereaders like the Kindle.

Well, I got one for Christmas for my sister (and got a deal on it—TeleRead also found this deal), and after getting a chance to play around with it, I can tell you it’s every bit as good as the PRS-505 and might actually be better.

The 300 is great for readers like me for what it doesn’t include. Most notably, the 300 doesn’t have mp3 capability, picture compatibility, an SD-card slot, WiFi, or 3G wireless-everywhere. It also has a smaller screen (5”) and simplified controls.

As for mp3s and pictures, I’ve dutifully tried them out on my previous ereaders, but never actually used them (especially pictures—who is that for?). I don’t use SD cards with my ereaders, I just make do with the 200-300 books the onboard memory can hold. I know, I know, what will I do the next time I’m in jail for more than five years? Unless that happens, you don’t need an SD card.

Since I’m primarily a book reader, the Kindle’s 3G connection doesn’t tempt me at all. If I needed to download newspapers every morning, it’d be a different story, but I’d rather browse for books over wi-fi, and I’ve never been in that mythical situation where you hear about a new book and must download it instantly.

Instead of 3G, I’d rather have an ePub-ready ereader like the 505 or the 300. Not only is ePub the most compatible ebook format out there, it’s also the format of choice for those who want to borrow library ebooks. I borrow a little more than half the books I read from the library, and for that simple reason, I could never use a Kindle.

I tried a touchscreen on my first ereader, the PRS-700it didn’t end well. In my opinion, E-Ink touchscreens just aren’t ready yet. The Plastic Logic QUE might change that, but don’t hold your breath. If you like to interact with your text, use paper books. If you can get away with bookmarks only, the 300 does that.

The 300 also has a slightly tweaked interface, with one 4-way control wheel, back, zoom, and bookmark buttons, and a new persistent home button. It still has the 505’s ten buttons that match up next to menu choices, which seem silly at first, but are actually incredibly useful.

The screen feels a little cramped at first, but you quickly get used to it, and the size of the device itself is perfect. Menu text is smaller, but you can still zoom in the text of books. If you haven’t zoomed in this webpage, you’ll be fine with the 300’s standard text size.

Getting books on your Reader has always been a challenge—you might want to read the comments on this post; a lot of readers have have trouble especially with upgrading from 3.0. Reader Library (nee eBook Library) has always been the worst part of using a Sony Reader, but the 3.1 update, at least on Macs, has been a pretty streamlined experience for me.

The bottom line—find an ereader by the features you need

If you want 3G for newspaper subscriptions, I’d wait for the Spring Design Alex or the Plastic Logic QUE, both of which should be out in the next few months. The Nook seems like a slapped-together version of the Alex; the Kindle has too many compromises (no library ebooks); and the Sony PRS-900 seems too expensive and I don’t trust Sony touchscreens.

If you want pictures on your ereader, get your head examined. If you want to take notes on your books, again wait for the Alex or the QUE. If you really want mp3s, buy a 300 and a cheap mp3 player.

However, if you want an ereader for casually reading books, the PRS-300 is your best bet. It’s got exactly what you need to read books, and nothing you don’t.

Again, if you’re a student or educator, try this deal. Also, TeleRead found this deal from Fry’s.