At last week’s Consumer Electronic Show, Sony generated a lot of buzz when it introduced its latest handheld viewer for eBooks, the Sony Reader. It’s about the size of a trade paperback, but only a half inch thick.
Sony is avoiding the problem of limited content that plagued some of its earlier eBook reader offerings by arranging with a number of publishers for content with 10,000 titles expected to be available via the Sony Connect online store when it launches in April. They will be priced about 20-25% less than normal books and use a proprietary copy protection scheme which allows viewing on six other devices. As a plus, the Reader will also display Adobe Acrobat pdf files, Microsoft Word doc files, and RSS feeds with images. It could be the newspaper of the future except that the only way to get content on it is via a PC directly or via memory cards.
However, the most amazing thing about the Sony Reader is the “electronic ink” display. Yardena Arar at PC World:
E Ink’s electronic ink consists primarily of millions of tiny microcapsules, each of which contains positively charged white particles and negatively charged black particles suspended in a transparent liquid. The ink is printed on plastic film attached to electronic circuitry; depending on what type of charge is applied, the white or black particles move to the surface of the capsule, thus forming images.
Sony says the Reader’s E Ink displays can produce four scales of grey at a resolution of about 170 pixels per inch–more than twice that of most conventional displays, and roughly on a par with the resolution of newsprint.
Unlike conventional backlit displays, which go dark when they don’t draw power, the E Ink screen needs power only to change the image by moving the white and black particles. In fact, when you power down the Reader it still shows the last page viewed. Sony says the Reader’s rechargeable built-in lithium ion battery will power some 7500 page turns between charges; you can recharge via a conventional AC adapter or a USB cable, both included.
How good is it really? Gizmodo:
To give you an idea of just how good this display looks… I walked up to the counter, looked at the text on the screen and asked, “So when will you have working units to play with?” The reply: “This is a working reader.” I mistakenly thought the text on the screen was some kind of plastic overlay—that’s how ink-like it looked.
We’ve mentioned E Ink before, and one of these days they’ll have color, but for right now the grey scale display seems to be fine for emulating books plus it can be electronically magnified up to 200% for the visually impaired. Since it’s not an LCD, it’s viewable from all angles and looks fine in sunlight. It really seems to be "electronic paper."
What’s the downside? Well, the Sony Reader is expected to retail for $299 to $399 which is fairly pricey and these days very few folks buy books at the full retail price so 25% off isn’t necessarily that great. I think the biggest use may well turn out to be for reading free documents from the Web and Sony will be glad they enabled it. Be aware that similar devices are expected to be introduced by other manufacturers, so that prices will likely fall.