At CES a couple of weeks back, Sony introduced an electronic book reader named (appropriately) the Sony Reader (aka Sony Portable Reader System PRS-500.) I’ve posted before that I find these concept appealing, but that so far the execution has left a lot to be desired. Does this $350, 9oz unit have what it takes?
It claims to have solved the display problems that plague LCD units by utilizing a completely new technology they call e Ink. Until you see it in person I doubt you can personally decide if it works for you, but the screenshots look fantastic. What is also unique here is that the display apparently doesn’t take any battery to maintain (unlike conventional LCD displays that require quite a lot of power.) Having a device that lets me read several full-length books (at least 5) between recharge would seem to completely solve the power issue – previous devices wouldn’t let you get through a book such as Mists of Avalon without recharging.
Show me the books!
You buy books through Sony’s Connect store on your PC and transfer them to the reader via USB. The reader also supports PDF files, web pages, and more using supplied converter software. It doesn’t seem to support getting the books any other way (through Amazon or other sites) yet – but if the device is popular this could change. It also plays unencrypted MP3 files (meaning you can’t buy music through Connect to play on the device, an odd choice in my opinion.) I personally like this though – pack some earbuds and listen to your favorite tunes while reading. Well, you could if the device supports this – the web site claims you can listen to MP3s when your done reading, which would seem to imply you can’t do both. I suppose we’ll have to see when its available.
The device has 64MB of internal flash memory (enough for 80 books they claim.) However, the device also supports Sony’s Memory Stick technology. Yes, it would be better if it supported SD instead, but Sony is sticking with this technology and maybe, if you’ve got a Sony camera or PSP you already have a couple of these sticks. No matter – another major advantage over previous efforts is that by providing for some removable media it allows you to easily expand the storage (there are 1GB memory sticks on the market, for example.)
However, despite all these great abilities, there are some concerns here. What rights management is in use? Can you share the eBooks – either from PC to reader or via Memory Sticks?
Do I really want to buy books only from Sony’s service? This is similar to their digital audio strategy and is similar to the problem their first audio players had (they only could play Sony’s ACC files – not MP3s.)
Why didn’t the device include WiFi? Wouldn’t that have taken its utility to the next level? Having to be chained to the PC seems like ‘last years’ technology. I can appreciate the cost issue, but WiFi is getting extremely cheap – and it is already an expensive device.
The bottom line for me is I’m going to seriously consider this one. I sure hope I can take a look at it at my local retailer – that display technology is appealing.