Once upon a time during CES 2006, Sony introduced its new eBook device, the Sony Reader. The ultraportable device features a cool technology called E Ink that creates an experience in which you feel like you're reading an actual book -- except it's electronic. Plus, it has the storage capacity to hold a nice library of books, and when you're tired of reading, it can also play MP3s. The Sony Reader has yet to hit store shelves but is expected to ship sometime in September. Until then, here's an overview of what to expect.
The Sony Reader boasts an extra-large 152mm (6-inch) screen with a sharp 800x600-pixel resolution, but perhaps most impressive is the E Ink technology that produces paperlike pages on the display. We've been able to play with prototypes of the Reader on several occasions, and we're consistently impressed by how much the digital renderings look like pages from a real book. Unlike CRT and LCD technology, E Ink microcapsules appear as either black or white (no colour), depending on a positive or a negative charge determined by the content. We saw it firsthand, and we have to say it's pretty amazing. The text was easy to read at any angle, but more impressive was checking out comic books on the device -- brilliant. You can also increase the text size by 200 per cent.
Part of the allure of the Sony Reader is its portability. It's lightweight (255g) and fairly compact (175 by 124 by 147mm), so travelling with the device, whether you're going on a long trip or just commuting to the office, will be a breeze. Plus, the Reader holds up to 80 average-size books at a time, and if you're an avid reader, there's optional Memory Stick storage media or SD card slot (yes, SD) for more. You're not just limited to books either. The Reader can access blogs and RSS newsfeeds when docked to a PC, and you can also view JPEGs, personal documents and PDFs. As a bonus, you can also listen to MP3s on the device. Sony says the Reader's battery will last 7,500 page turns on a single charge.
The Sony Reader is designed to work with the Sony Connect online store, where you'll be able to purchase and download DRM-protected eBooks, but this part of the service isn't ready for launch, so we are yet to see the catalogue of contents. Also, in question is how much the eBooks will cost. With the Sony Reader costing a pricey $299 to $399 (£160 to £210) in the US (UK pricing and availablility has not yet been confirmed), we hope the eBooks are offered at a discount or a reasonable price. Also, since there's no backlighting, we're curious to see how the device reads in darker environments.
There's no doubt that the Sony Reader is an übercool and travel-friendly device, but we wonder how many people are willing to make the move from paper to digital books. eBook readers haven't exactly taken off in the past because of the convenience factor and price. That said, if any device is going to put the technology in the mainstream, we think it's the Reader, as long as Sony can back it up with a competitive selection of eBooks and pricing. Check back soon for our full review and find out if it's destined to be a best seller.
Additional editing by Kate Macefield