Sony Reader coming to Australia for AU$179

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Michelle Starr is the tiger force at the core of all things. She also writes about cool stuff and apps as CNET Australia's Crave editor. But mostly the tiger force thing.

Sony has officially announced its newest e-reader, a six-inch touchscreen model with Wi-Fi and 1GHz of processing power, will be coming to Australia in October for AU$179.

(Credit: Sony)

It's hard for some people to imagine, but Sony was the first major brand to offer an ebook reader back in 2006 — beating the original Amazon Kindle to market by at least 14 months. Since then, however, the company's ebook strategy has been one step forward and two steps back, as it plays catch up with upstart competitors Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Consider the 2010 Sony Readers: the models pioneered E Ink touchscreens months before the Kobo, the iRiver Cover Story and the Cybook Orizon, but they inexplicably omitted Wi-Fi from most models — instead requiring readers to tether to a PC and download new ebooks. Those Sony devices were also priced far above competing models at the time.

A year later, Sony is updating its e-reader line, and this time the company seems to be more in tune with current e-reader features and pricing.

The new Sony Reader Wi-Fi PRS-T1 hits Australian stores this October for AU$179. (The price in the US will be US$179.) The responsive touchscreen is intact, and the inclusion of Wi-Fi and that lower price tag finally gets Sony into the same pricing and features realm as the Kindle, Nook and Kobo Touch. Oh, and it's nice to see Sony simplifying its e-reader product line with one 6-inch model that comes in three colours — black, red and white.

We got our hands on the new e-reader on 1 September 2011. The unit we saw was running pre-production software, and it responded pretty smartly, although according to Sony, the integrated bookstores will not be available as yet in Australia. A browser is included, though, so users will be able to search online bookstores via Google. The other important takeaway, since the new e-reader is essentially a redesigned version of last year's PRS-650, were the new form factor and lighter weight (partially due to an all-plastic, rather than metal, casing).

Sony was actually the first to license and include Neonode's infrared touchscreen technology in last year's PRS-350 and PRS-650 Readers. Since then, both Barnes & Noble and Kobo have incorporated the technology into their latest touchscreen e-readers. Because that technology uses infrared sensors to register touch gestures on-screen, it has allowed e-reader manufacturers to make touchscreen interfaces without adding an extra screen layer that reduces contrast.

With Wi-Fi now aboard, and the inclusion of a microSD card slot for expanding beyond the built-in 2GB of memory, the Reader Wi-Fi is on par with its competitors from a specs perspective. However, it remains a tad more expensive, with the Nook currently costing US$139.99 (US availability only) and Kobo Touch retailing for US$129.99 (Australian pricing has yet to be announced). (Amazon's offering starts at US$139 for the Wi-Fi-only version, but the Kindle is looking long in the tooth as the only major model without a touchscreen.) The Reader Wi-Fi's one bonus feature is the inclusion of audio support, which means that you can listen to music while you read — a notable upgrade from the no-audio Nook and Kobo models.

Here are the key specs of the Reader Wi-Fi:

  • Price: AU$179
  • Clear enhanced 6-inch touchscreen (16-level greyscale E Ink Pearl V220 screen)
  • Neonode infrared touchscreen technology (same as Nook Touch)
  • 1GHz Intel processor (to put that in perspective, the Kindle 3 has a 532MHz processor)
  • Weighs 5.93 ounces (approximately 168 grams)
  • 6.8x4.3x0.35 inches (HWD)
  • MicroSD expansion slot for adding additional memory
  • Built-in Wi-Fi (no 3G)
  • 2GB of built-in memory (stores around 1200 ebooks)
  • Text and handwritten note-taking capabilities
  • Up to five weeks of reading on a single battery charge
  • 12 embedded multilingual dictionaries (two English language and 10 translation dictionaries)
  • Six adjustable font sizes to customise
  • USB 2.0 data and power connection (micro USB)
  • Supports PDF, Microsoft Word and other text file formats, as well as ePub/ACS4 and connection with Adobe Digital Editions
  • Reads JPEG, PNG, GIF and BMP image files
  • Reader Library software for PC and Mac
  • Plays back MP3 and AAC audio files (headphone jack on-board)
  • Available in black, red and white
  • Limited edition PRS-T1HBC (also US$149) includes a voucher to download free Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone ebook from the Pottermore website (Australian compatibility unknown)
  • Ships in October

The touchscreen on previous Sony Readers worked very well, and Sony is letting users choose between using their fingers or the included stylus to take notes and handle highlighting. Protective cases with or without reading lights will also be available.

The Reader Wi-Fi is also designed with easy library lending access in mind, with a dedicated icon offering access to free library book downloads — if you have a valid local library card, of course. Whether or not this feature will be implemented in Australia is yet to be seen.

While the Reader Wi-Fi would ideally be priced at US$139 at the highest, at least Sony's in the ballpark this go around (last year's Wi-Fi-less PRS-650 carried a list price of AU$299, which was absurd).

Another challenge for Sony is its app strategy. Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Kobo all do an excellent job of providing access to ebook purchases from their respective stores through alternate hardware — iPhones, iPads, Android phones, Android tablets, BlackBerry phones, Windows PCs and Macs. By contrast, Sony offers an Android app, as well as Windows and Mac software at the current time. For reasons unknown, the iOS app remains a no-show. It's a potential shortcoming that may sway comparative shoppers to those competitors.

At the very least, this should make for an interesting holiday season for e-readers. With Kobo and Sony both offering compelling touchscreen e-readers — and Amazon potentially releasing a new e-reader (or e-readers, or tablets) this spring — the e-reader arena is becoming awfully competitive. We'll do our best to help you sort through the choices and we'll have a review of the Sony Reader Wi-Fi PRS-T1 as soon as we get our hands on a review sample.

Via CNET



Add Your Comment 33


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MatthewP6 posted a comment   

My biggest quibble with the PRS-T1 is that there is nowhere to stick the stylus, neither on the device itself, nor on/in the official case. Aargh! Sony Store staff were quite befuddled by this when I pointed it out.

The Reader Library software that comes with the eReader is basic at best. With Calibre (which I prefer and recommend) at least you can tweak the metadata and convert formats.

Still no Sony e-book store for Australia %u2013 ebookstore.sony.com is off-limits in Oz, and there is limited public library ebook lending through Overdrive (only 1 in WA). Better if you%u2019re in Qld, VIC or NSW. Go to http://search.overdrive.com to locate which Oz libraries have ebook collections. Overdrive works on a print lending model (while you borrow it, no-one else can), but it%u2019s better than nothing.
Still, there are plenty of free ebook websites that provide epub ebooks. Check out this link http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/archive/1487503.

Most criticisms I%u2019ve read seem to forget that this is an eReader, not a tablet. This is designed for portability and with general reading in mind, not multimedia functionality.

After 4 weeks of use I only have minor quibbles.

 

AnthonyT1 posted a comment   
Australia

I like my PRS-T1. It's my first Sony reader and my first serious eBook reader (had a quick play at K3 then sold it).

One thing I miss - the 'out of the box' shopping experience is pretty lame for Aussie users; we dont have the 'borrow library books' option and the Sony store is 'coming soon'. Otherwise, it's super light and flexible with SD card slot.

Since it's using Android, the web browser is based on webkit (e.g. Safari, Chrome) but without video/flash support. This is like the K3 web browser though I suspect this model is faster than K3 and even K4.

 

MsLizzy posted a comment   
Australia

Picked up my reader this morning. First impressions: great size, lightweight, crisp clear screen, initial set-up screen very easy to follow, connecting to my home
wi-fi network was very easy, the screen when page turning is a little slow but I can live with that it is probably no different to turn the page in a real book. So far I am pleased with it. Now I off to read before the kids come home from school and shatter my peace and quiet.

 

heyhowie posted a comment   

Thanks for looking into that!

 

BenjaminL posted a comment   

Hey Michelle/David,

I'm keen to purchase books from Readings/Booki.sh (http://booki.sh), but in order for their technology to work on a Sony Reader, they've told me the reader's web browser would need to be "webkit" (eg. similar to Chrome/Safari), though they also added it'd take some time to develop.

Do we know what type of browser Sony's included on the wifi Reader? Am frustrated by the extent to which e-readers are locked to their native stores.

%u2014 Ben

 

Michelle Starr posted a reply   
Australia

Hi Ben,

That's the problem with non-standard software and file formats. Unfortunately it looks like the PRS-T1 has only a very simple, rudimentary browser, so I wouldn't bank on it being able to display Readings purchases.

I am not sure, though, where you got the idea that the Sony Reader is locked to the Sony store. If the reader supports the file type, it doesn't matter where you get your material from; the PRS-T1 is supported by Adobe Digital Editions and, if it's like the PRS-650, you should just be able to open it as external storage and drag and drop files directly into it.


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