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