P9010301.JPGI just spent about 45 minutes with Phil Lubell, Vice President of Digital Reading, to get a hands-on with the new ereaders.

All three readers are touch enabled and Phil started out by saying that, much to Sony’s surprise, the $100 premium old Sony Touch had a larger demand than the cheaper Pocket Edition. Surveys they have done have shown that 78% of readers want touch and 81% of reading is done in homes.

The new readers use the Pearl screen, just like the Kindle, and it is remarkable that Sony’s new touch interface does not seem to interfere with the screen’s sharpness or contrast at all. I couldn’t tell the difference between their touch screen and my Kindle 3.

P9010302.JPGPage turns are definitely faster than my Kindle 3 and the units have buttons to turn pages, as well as using a swipe on the screen. They will come with 12 dictionaries in various languages, including one American English and 1 British English dictionary. In a very neat feature, the units will keep a log of all words that have been looked up. The Pocket Edition is 41% lighter than the Kindle and 51% lighter than the Nook. All units will allow for customizable screen savers, allow books to be stored in collections (folders) and can be engraved.

One option that is unique, as far as I know, is that you can adjust the contrast and brightness of the screen, and the unit has various settings for screen detail, among other things. These adjustments could be very important in viewing PDFs. The units also have “Intelligent PDF Zoom” which divided the PDF into 4 quadrants.

The Daily Edition is actually lighter than the old Pocket Edition and all three are incredibly light given the solidity of the build.

Of course, only the Daily Edition has WiFi and 3G, which is a surprise. Phil said that Sony’s surveys showed that most people don’t care about this feature, especially since readers tend to buy more than one book at a time. Given this, they would prefer to browse the bookstore on a PC rather than try to find multiple books through an ereader device.

Their iPhone app should be out by the end of October and the Android app by the end of November. The units will sync with the PC as well.

Overall impressions: the Pocket Edition is really small. I took the shots of Phil putting it in his jacket and jeans pocket above. Both the Pocket and Touch Editions felt lighter than my Kindle 3. I didn’t have time to play with all the software on the machines, but the interface looked easy to use and I got the impression that there were more options than are available on the Kindle.

Of course, the units are beautifully made, as one would expect from Sony, and ooze quality and “high class feel”. The screens certainly seemed competitive with the Kindle 3, despite the touch interface.

Naturally, for a lot of us the lack of WiFi and 3G in the lower end units is a disappointment. Despite what Sony says is its rationale for leaving them out, my own suspicion is that manufacturing costs to deliver the “Sony quality” are too high and I suspect that these additional features would have priced them out of the market.

The old and new Pocket Editions



The new (left) and old Touch Editions


The complete lineup



  1. Very nice, but it remains to be seen whether “sophisticated refinement” can save Sony in a market dominated largely by the Kindle and the Nook (not to mention Apple).

    People come to the Kindle and the Nook because Amazon and Barnes & Noble have built up an indelible association with books over a period of years. When you think “Kindle,” you think “Amazon,” and when you think “Amazon,” you think “books.”

    Sony doesn’t have such a partner. When you think “Sony,” you think…what? “Walkman”? “Playstation”? The most content-centric association I can come up with at all is the movie studio Sony Pictures, and that doesn’t do much good for an e-book reader.

  2. Nice hands on summary, Paul. Thanks!

    It’s a strong win for Sony to change the touch screen technology to allow for the full benefits of the Pearl e-ink. And there is no doubt Sony is able to command premium prices based on its brand quality.

    But I can’t help thinking the lack of wifi on any unit except the $299 Daily Edition — which has never been sold in Canada (in fact is it only sold in the US?) — is a mis-step. With Kindle 3 and Nook each with wifi under $150 this could be deal-breaker for a large number of potential customers, in spite of Sony’s research to the contrary. Customer whims move quickly.

  3. The touchscreen problem solution is apparently:

    “According to Rachel Meltz of the AP, “The new e-reader uses an infrared sensor to read finger swipes or taps from an included stylus. Before, the device’s screen needed a special overlay, which reduces clarity.””

  4. The PRS-600 was plagued by glare from the touch screen layer – has this been addressed in the new readers? With the limited functionality you get on a reader, going for a touch screen approach doesn’t really make much sense IMO, especially not on the non-connected devices.

    The high prices compared to the competition and lack of wireless of some kind has pretty much doomed Sony’s reader division in the long run, even though these may turn out to be very well made devices.

  5. Will these new Sony’s support B&N DRM’d ePubs I wonder. The newest version of Adobe’s SDK which shipped to manufacturers early in the year allows them to enable both types of DRM (regular Adobe and B&N style).

  6. I am waiting for the release of the 950 and I will move from my 505 to it. For my taste, I would have been much happier if the 950 scrapped the WiFi/3G, lowered the price, and included the B&N DRM — or kept price and wireless but added the B&N DRM.

    Personally, my experience, and that of my neighbors with readers, is that the wireless is nice but unneeded. Even my neighbors with Kindles first look for books using their PC. I think on this, Sony is right and that it is a small group of us ebookers who think connectivity is a must-have.

  7. Does anyone know where there is a full set of specs on these things?

    I’m particularly interested as to whether the 7 inch screen unit actually has a larger screen in both L and W.

    The pictures suggest that it is just longer to accomodate more touch controls, but not necessarily more active area.

    Thanks, Don

  8. Frode: the screen has no more glare than any other I’ve seen.

    I forgot to mention that it has a stylus, but the stylus is not essential for tapping or selection. It’s main use is for writing annotations.

    Despite the release of an iPhone and Android app, the two lower price units will never be able to keep in sync with the mobile app without wifi or 3G – they can only sync by using a computer. Sony is still behind on this essential feature.

  9. I get lots of use out of my pocket edition and was hoping to move to new model for wifi. To me it is just a hassle to always have to connect via USB whenever I want to get updated Rss feed or news “to-go”. I already have too many cables and it is just more convenient to do this via wifi. If Kindle ever ads reflow support for PDFs and support for pub, that will most likely be my replacement for Sony.

  10. Lack of wifi on the lower-end models is a deal breaker for me. It makes the upcoming iPhone & Android apps less attractive when there’s no wifi on the Reader. My current Sony was fine when it was my only reading device. But now I also read on an iPod Touch and Android phone, which makes the lower priced Kindle with its syncing between devices a better fit for me. The wifi for downloading content and the ability to switch font styles are also higher on my wish list than a touch screen.

  11. There has been lots of comments here about a lack of wireless on the units. Personally, I prefer to sideload my books onto readers and since I live and travel where wireless access is not available without huge costs, having wireless is not useful. Furthermore, the wireless is only useful if you have a great single database of content. Amazon has this, Sony doesn’t. Sony has the ability to attract content from a huge resource of online sites. You can go to practically any online bookstore except amazon and get content that works for your Sony reader.

  12. I was anticipating this release of Sony Readers but disappointed that they did not include wireless capability to their lower end editions so I’m scratching them off my list. I would not have cared for the Pocket but I wanted the 7″ Touch and it would have been nice if it’s color. Contrary to what they insist to believe, generally (that means most people not just one or two as some people here) would rather have Wi-Fi/3G so they can access/surf the web and download books wirelessly especially if they are travelling or out and about. Personally even if i’m just at home, I would rather have it wireless because it’s very convenient. I don’t have to get up the bed or couch. It’s for that reason why it’s called a PORTABLE reader. Sony tried to be a jack-of-both trades, an eReader and a web surfing device but in order to conquer the market they have to be master of both. They almost got it but I would have paid extra $20 for that capability alone. The author is right, Sony was concerned about the price point, it’s pretty obvious. If wi-fi is no big deal then why not just include it?

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