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Hands-On With Sony’s New, Lightweight and Low-Cost E-Reader

New pricing, design, capabilities bring Sony in line with, and ahead of, its competition.

Price and design are the two big components that drive the e-reader market, and until now, Sony was severely dragging its feet in the former. But today that gets rectified with the introduction of the newest Sony Reader Wi-Fi PRS-T1 (in maroon red and white). Priced at $149, Sony's Reader Wi-Fi is a whopping 35 percent cheaper in price from the Touch Edition model it replaces. In addition to the dramatic price drop, Sony has shaved weight off the design to make it the lightest e-reader on the market, by a hair; and, it has consolidated its lineup from three models to just one.

Sony’s Reader lineup was in dire need of a shake-up. The company’s prices on the three models introduced around this time last year were grossly out-of-whack with the reality of where e-reader pricing spiraled down to in the past year thanks to Amazon's pricing of the Kindle. And the consolidation of the lineup from 5-inch, 6-inch, and 7-inch models to one 6-inch model makes sense: The 5-inch display was less about anyone clamoring for a smaller screen than it was about hitting a price point, while the larger 7-inch display cost more and ended up as an outlier because of that.

The moves were also necessary. Early in the summer, both Barnes & Noble and Kobo Books released significant, lightweight e-reader refreshes that were priced to compete with Amazon’s dominant Kindle (third-generation), even as Amazon lowered its pricing via its Kindle With Special Offers on-unit advertising.

Exclusive Content

Sony has partnered with J.K. Rowling for her upcoming Pottermore website, which will be the only place you can get Harry Potter digital books. And in a move sure to drum up interest amongst Potter fans, Sony also will offer a special model of the PRS-T1, the PRS-T1HBC, with a free download voucher for the first Harry Potter e-book title, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Sony didn’t indicate whether the T1HBC would carry premium pricing, or where that model will be sold.

Using the PRS-T1

The new Reader Wi-Fi weighs 5.9 ounces, which 1.15 ounces less than Kobo’s eReader Wi-Fi at 7.05 ounces, Barnes & Nobles’ Nook at 7.48 ounces, and Amazon’s Kindle Wi-Fi (8.4 ounces) and 3G (8.7 ounces). That weight is a noteworthy improvement, considering that even last year’s Sony Reader Pocket Edition PRS-350 weighed 5.6 ounces, and that was with a 5-inch E Ink screen.

The case design is smooth, with piano-black plastic edges and a soft rubberized, finish along its curves and edges, and angled-in half-inch bezel and metal accents on the front that complement the display. The interface is cleaner looking, too, with better designed menus and icons and easier navigation than on previous models.

Touch Interface and Display

The Sony Reader Wi-Fi has a touchscreen, as its predecessors did last year. Inputting data was easy with the onscreen keyboard; I found the test unit I tried was very responsive. Not only does Reader Wi-Fi support swiping for turning a page, but it adds gestures like pinch and grab for zooming in and resizing (you also have 8 font sizes and 6 font styles), an addition that makes it convenient to manipulate text on the screen. Other gestures include tap-and-hold on a word to look up a definition in one of the 12 on-board dictionaries (including two British and American dictionaries, and 10 translation dictionaries to go to and from French, German, Spanish, Dutch and Italian). You can also take notes or highlight text easily, using your finger or the included stylus. Reader supports EPUB, PDF, and TXT files.

Text looked smooth and clear in the early test unit I saw, but Sony was still working on the page turn technology, so I can’t comment on that yet. The button layout remains intact from the 2010 Reader Pocket Edition/Reader Touch Edition generation, with physical page forward and back, home, back, and menu buttons running in a row beneath the 6-inch E Ink Pearl display. Along the bottom you’ll find the micro-USB port, headphone jack, and power connection; the microSD card slot is hidden beneath a sturdy, snap-in rubberized flap. The unit has 2GB of built-in storage, same as on Nook.

Sony says the battery will last about 30 days, or three weeks with wireless on. That’s the weakest battery life of its competitive set among the E Ink readers, which makes me wonder if the company sacrificed battery life in favor of achieving Reader’s lighter weight. Kobo eReader Wi-Fi, the next lightest e-reader, has about a one month battery life, while Barnes & Noble Nook and Amazon Kindle each carry up to a two month battery life.

State of Sony Reader

As part of his update on the state of Sony’s Reader efforts, Phil Lubell, vice president of Networked Technology and Services Division at Sony Electronics, noted that the company continues to invest in Reader hardware, and in its Reader store, which carries over 2.5 million titles, a “good number” of which are free. The Reader store will also feature heavily in Sony’s coming Android tablet play, with Reader coming preinstalled on the Sony S1 tablet.

In addition, the Reader platform differentiates itself by supporting the public library system’s e-book lending, with over 11,000 libraries on-board. With the new Reader Wi-Fi being the first to support direct downloads from the public library to the device, Reader continues to strengthen its position there.


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