Sony’s new Reader digital devices are set to challenge the Amazon Kindle on three fronts: price, functionality, and breadth of access. Yesterday, I spent some time with the Pocket and Touch Edition Readers to get a feel for what Sony is offering. Both devices impressed me. One with its easy navigation and price point, the other with its responsive touchscreen and clever utilization of this rare functionality. They aren’t perfect, but are definitely worth considering if you’re in the market for an eReader. The Pocket Edition The Pocket Edition’s price of $199 is more budget-friendly, but still a bit expensive for a device made for one purpose. The lower price means a smaller screen – 5 inches – but Sony certainly didn’t skimp on functionality. The Pocket Reader has 16 different buttons (if you count the up/down/left/right button as one) along the bottom and right sides. The buttons responded well and provided excellent feedback; no stiffness or difficulty moving through the various menus and turning pages. From the bottom buttons you can go to the home screen, return to your last location, turn pages, bookmark, and change the font size, all with one click. The right buttons, numbered 1 – 9 + 0, serve different functions depending on the screen you’re viewing. Choose a book, continue reading, or access the settings on the Home screen. If a book is open, you can use the buttons to navigate to any page by entering the number. I particularly liked the one-button method for changing the font size. You only have three choices – small, medium, large – but even the small is tolerable for reading. Sony claims the battery will last up to two weeks without a charge. There are a few drawbacks. The Pocket Reader doesn’t have a card reader, so you’re limited to the 512MB of internal memory. Granted, it can hold up to 350 books, which is quite a lot. The unit is also a little too slow. Once I chose a book, the wait for it to load was long enough that I pressed the 1 button again, thinking that I hadn’t pressed hard enough the first time. This caused the Navigate to Page function to activate once the book did load, which was not my intention. Turning pages also took a bit longer than I wanted it to, and a hair longer than the Touch Reader. See a short demo in the video below:
I am also not a fan of having one button in one location for turning pages. When reading for long stretches of time, the repetitive motion can get annoying, even painful. Since the reader is so small, there’s a chance that the right/down buttons can be reached easily by both thumbs, but it’s not as intuitive as the Kindle 2’s button placement. Still, there is a lot to like about this very thin, very light Reader. The Touch Edition The Pocket Reader’s big brother the Touch Edition impressed me even more. The touchscreen reader works exactly as one would imagine. Not only can you navigate the menus easily with one finger, you can also swipe across the screen to turn pages. This 6-inch, $299 Reader offers functionality enough to make even die-hard Kindle lovers pause. The Touch Reader’s main menu features large icons for navigation so I could easy use the pad of my finger to move around. I found the touchscreen very responsive when pressing icons and making choices. Unfortunately, I had some trouble getting it to work reliably when I attempted to turn pages. It worked for me about 60% of the time. Swiping fast or slow, in the middle, top, or bottom didn’t improve my success rate. It’s entirely possible that, given more time, I’d adjust to the process and turning pages will become effortless. I also noticed some other touchscreen issues in the Text Memo and Handwriting features. Users can create memos and annotations within books or as stand-alone notes. In the Text Memo area I was presented with an on-screen keyboard. When using my fingernail, I was able to type fairly accurately, but the keyboard’s response was pretty slow. When using the pad of my finger accuracy went way down. The same held true in the Handwriting area. Using my nail (the way I would a stylus) I was able to write and draw with no issues. But with the pad of my finger the lines became choppy or didn’t show up at all. In both of these functions it’s probably best to stick with the included stylus. See an example of my experience in this video:
I like that the notes and the dictionary are so easy to access. I was also happy to hear from Sony that users will be able to download and print the notes from the Touch Reader via the new Mac and PC-compatible library software. The eink display is up to Sony’s high standards, rendering both text and some images crisply. It made me wonder how black and white manga would look on the screen. (I suspect it will look great.) The options button brings up different menus depending on which function you’re in, but mainly exists to change the orientation on the Reader. Pressing the Zoom button brings up a menu overlay with five size options. I can’t imagine too many people choosing XL or XXL as they limit the reader to about 8 lines a screen. Large may do for those who need bigger text and both medium and small are easily readable. There is a lot to like in both the Touch and Pocket Editions of the Sony Reader. Even without the 3G mobile access offered in the Kindle and, later this year, the Daily Edition, these are compelling devices.