Announced at the beginning of August, Sony has now officially launched the Sony Reader Touch Edition ebook at an event at the New York Public Library and at the British Library in London. Pocket-lint was on hand to grab a quick hands-on play with the new device. Will it beat the Kindle? Read on to find out.
The Reader Touch Edition is the company's now middle of the range offering that sits above the Reader Pocket Edition and below the yet to be available Reader Daily Edition.
It sports a 6-inch touchscreen display, as the name suggests, allowing the device to be minimal in its design and relatively free of buttons. That's not to say this isn't void of buttons all together - it's no tablet - but it does mean that searching and accessing menus doesn't rely on the need for a keyboard.
Those buttons give you access to page forward and backwards, the home menu, the ability to search and options.
A tap of the menu button gives you a grid display with the ability to go back to the book, newspaper or magazine you were reading, to choose more books, add notes to a book for later or view collections.
Because of the touchscreen interface the reader also accepts hand and stylus interaction and you can annotate, highlight, and search applications either by selecting it with the included stylus pen or with the touch of your finger. Sony also confirmed to us that you'd be able to print your notes out too, but we'll have a closer look at this feature when we do a full review.
Using E Ink technology, as most ebooks do, the screen is very much like other devices on the market: it is crisp and clear. Graphics are equally easy to read, although the whole experience is of course greyscale (16 colours).
The benefit of E Ink is that it is not only easier on the eye – no backlighting means less eye strain for example - but the battery life is incredibly long at 7500 hours. Sorry to say, but our hands-on play didn't let us test this element of the device.
One thing we did notice is that the Touch Edition screen is slightly more reflective than the other non-touch devices, presumably because of the additional functionality of the display.
Sony say that you can store around 350 ebooks on the device, and that's before you start tinkering with the external SD or Memory Stick Duo slot.
350 is no iPod music collection, but then we are talking books not music. How long are you expecting that commute to be anyway? Of course if you are planning on ditching your entire home library and all those bookshelves then you'll need to start looking at investing in a SD card, which lets face it, aren't that expensive anyway.
Where the Sony Reader Touch Edition is a winner however is the open support for most of the ebook formats. In an attempt to become king of the hill, Sony has done something that it's not normally known for and embraced other formats rather than just create yet another closed system.
That means you get support for Adobe PDF documents, Microsoft Word documents, BBeB format, and other text file formats to the Reader. It also supports EPUB/ADEPT and connection with Adobe Digital Editions so you can buy ebooks off the web. You can also play back unsecured MP3s and AAC audio files, as you could with former devices.
The result is that you'll be able to read virtually all file formats currently available.
Sony hopes to take this one stage further in the US and the UK by allowing users to rent out books from their local library. The books, which will be transferred to your own Reader via a library's website, will self-destruct when the loan period is up. It's a fantastic idea and one that should open your options once you've slapped down the cash for the initial outlay, assuming of course, you are a member of a participating library.
In the box you'll also get Sony's ebook Library software (version 3.0) that lets you connect it to the Mac or a PC to manage everything easily.
One of the most frustrating things we've experienced in the past with ebooks is the lack of interaction. This is a key point for students and researchers, opening up a new range of possibilities, and something we commented on when we reviewed Sony's original Reader.
Here Sony has removed that boundary giving users the chance to touch their books just like the real thing with the only real drawback against the Kindle devices being the lack of connectivity through 3G or wireless so you can buy books on the go.
However if you aren't fussed about connectivity issues, a reasonable price point and the open standard approach mean this is likely to be a killer success when it hits stores in the coming months.