jueves, 26 de febrero de 2009

Sony PRS-700: The Other e-Reader

Sony PRS-700: The Other e-Reader


In my Times column this week, I reviewed Amazon's Kindle 2 electronic book reader. It's a sleeker, generally improved reading tablet, complete with cellular Internet so that you can buy e-books spontaneously. It makes e-book fans even more excited, and makes traditional-book fans even more baffled about all the fuss.

The Kindle may have scored all the press this week, but it's not the only e-book reader. The Sony Reader debuted way back in 2006, and has been quietly chugging along ever since, steadily improving with each edition. I thought it was only fair to take a look at the latest version.
Sony loaned me its top-of-the-line Reader, the PRS-700 ($400, or $40 more than the Kindle) for testing. Right away, you can spot two enormous advantages over the Kindle.
Sony e-reader

First, it's gorgeous. It's made of sleek black metal, which is a better margin around the light-gray reading screen than the Amazon's strange off-white plastic. And the Sony Reader does away with the vestigial thumb keyboard that makes the Kindle look strangely elongated.

What is it with Amazon, anyway? Why doesn't it seal the deal by making the Kindle look stunning and sleek? The Kindle 2 is better than the original, but it still looks like it was designed by the makers of the Commodore 64.

Second, the Sony Reader 700 has two things many people sorely wish the Kindle had: a touch screen, which lets you turn pages by swiping your finger, and built-in illumination, so you can read in the dark. (The Kindle screen requires external light to read--like a book.)

So it's a total Kindle-killer, right?

Actually, not in the least.

The beauty of the E-Ink screen on both the Kindle and the Reader is that it simulates the look of ink on paper. The black particles that form the images on the page are right there on the surface of the glass, as though printed there; it's extremely satisfying to read at long stretches.

But in order to add the touch screen and the lighting, Sony had to add new layers on top of that screen--and it totally ruined the effect. Now you're painfully aware that you're looking at the words through a couple of transparent layers, and contrast suffers as a result; worse, the touchscreen layer introduces an annoying reflective glare that's almost impossible to eliminate in any light. It's deeply frustrating.

Now, let me hasten to point out that the 700's touchscreen and side lighting aren't mandatory. Sony sells a $300 model, the 505, without these elements. A Sony rep explains that on this model, "the screen resolution and lack of back light allow for comfortable, long-form reading; the 700 is designed more for interactive reading -- searching, jumping around in the text, highlighting and taking notes."

I'm not sure I get that logic, but there you are.

In any case, even that Sony still doesn't seem as attractive as the Kindle. First, getting new reading material onto it involves connecting it to a PC (Windows only) with a cable--a ritual that feels extremely ancient and creaky once you've tasted the bliss of the Kindle's instant cellular downloads.

Second, Sony's bookstore is priced higher and contains far fewer titles (under 100,000, compared with Amazon's 240,000). Both devices also accept text, Word and PDF documents, meaning that you can fill them with the tens of thousands of copyright-expired, free e-books from the Web (at Gutenberg.org, for example). Sony says that the Reader also works with "other eBook stores and sites that offer PDF or EPUB eBooks -- with or without copy protection, for purchase or for free." But I'm not aware of any e-book store that's better stocked or organized than Amazon's.

What the world really wants, of course, is an e-book reader with Sony's design panache and Amazon's wireless bookstore. Something tells me that such a collaboration won't take place anytime soon.

P.S. Set your TiVo! This Sunday morning, March 1, "CBS Sunday Morning" will air my report on data rot--the tendency of new technologies to abandon recording and computer formats faster every year, leaving more and more audio, video and computer files behind. (As always, the lineup of "Sunday Morning" stories is subject to change, but this is the plan at the moment.)

For more e-books, read Danielle Belopotosky's roundup of devices and apps in this week's Circuits.

Visit David Pogue on the Web at DavidPogue.com »

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