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.
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.