Will Sony Beat Amazon Where It Counts?

sonyreaderIf you haven't heard the news... Sony is releasing a new e-book reader, its answer to Amazon's Kindle. Retailing at $399, the Sony reader will feature a touch screen (something the Kindle doesn't have) and the ability to download books wirelessly (something the Kindle does have). It will also provide access to thousands of free (public domain) books & documents provided by Google Book Search. A nice touch.

But I'm wondering whether the Sony reader will beat the Kindle in the one category that really counts? Will it have a truly readable screen? The Sony and Amazon screens each use "e-ink" technology, which doesn't cut the mustard. As Nicholson Baker recently wrote in The New Yorker, “The problem was not that the screen was in black-and-white; if it had really been black-and-white, that would have been fine. The problem was that the screen was gray. And it wasn’t just gray; it was a greenish, sickly gray. A postmortem gray. The resizable typeface, Monotype Caecilia, appeared as a darker gray. Dark gray on paler greenish gray was the palette of the Amazon Kindle."

Hopefully Sony figures this piece out. If not, Apple may. According to The Wall Street Journal, Steve Jobs is back at Apple, just months after his liver transplant, working hard and raising the blood pressure of Apple employees, as they prepare to roll out a multimedia tablet that's rumored to include, yes, an e-book reader.


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  • We’ll know it when we see it, but this isn’t it. The Kindle is an unforgivably ugly piece of technology and these glorified PDF readers are so lacking in functionality that 400 bucks is a joke. As much as anything, it’s about UI. I recently took out a digital subscription to ‘The Wire’ (yep, I paid!). The Exact Editions interface is a pretty good start. I’ve not seen the electronic version of the Nick Cave novel yet but this also sounds like a step in the right direction. Travel books need to be location aware, content needs to re-organize itself according to context… there’s so many ways a book could work today. Just putting a plastic frame around it adds nothing.

  • Kurt Roithinger says:

    .me rolls eyes at the whole screen color thing.

    i thought the piece in the new yorker was a pretty bad joke, but if we just gotta take it serious…

    here’s the thing: the e-paper technology is the thing that makes these devices viable. the ability to read an e-book without developing eyestrain is simply amazing. this is why i’ve never been able to do much with reading ebooks on my winmo devices — or on my laptop. or on my desktop for that matter.

    two hours of continous reaidng was usually enough to make me feel pretty darn awful.

    with the kindle? i’ve spent 8 hours of nearly continuous reading last weekend and never had a problem with my eyes or anything else.

    it also helps (considerably) with battery life (i’ve gone as much as 3 weeks without recharging.)

    but yes, the screen is a bit grey in nature. it nevertheless has excellent contrast and readability. i don’t need any more light to read by than with a regular book and unlike a backlit screen, direct sunlight really isn’t a problem either.

    if people want to be snobby about the screens color, fine. most books i read are of a slightly off-white and sometimes downright yellowish tint. this too must change! all books must be printed on virgin white paper with a brightness of no less than 94!

    the improvement to these readers really boils down to developing color screens and not looking for brighter backgrounds. i, for one, have no real interest in ever using a e-book reader with a backlit screen.

  • Dan Colman says:

    I have a different take than Kurt. The bottom line for me was that I couldn’t read the Kindle at night, even with every light turned on in the room. And that’s partly because the Kindle gives you no control over the contrast. (Meanwhile, I could read a traditional book just fine under the same light conditions). The solution, as Amazon would have it, is to buy a book cover that bulks up the Kindle, then attached a reading light to it, which bulks it up even further. Suddenly, you’re dealing with one unwieldy gadget. Ultimately, I felt that the Kindle wasn’t ready for prime time yet. So I sent it back, and I’ll wait to see what Sony and Apple turn up.
    Dan

  • Kurt Roithinger says:

    that’s pretty amazing. the only light in my reading room is a nightstand light with a 40w fluorescent bulb — it’s more than enough for me. i sometimes would have issues with hardcopy books casting shadows over the page, but my kindle has been nothing but win.

    that said, we’re still talking about a first gen device here. i still think critical mass on these devices won’t be found until we get the color versions of e-paper.

  • Baxter Wood says:

    I have no problem reading my Kindle and with sizable type it’s more readable than most books and magazines. There’s nothing wrong with the gray background, New Yorkers just like to whine.

    The deal breaker is that Kindle has the titles; Sony does not. What good is a ereader without the ebooks. Kindle has 300,000 books magazines and newspapers. I can preview every book and read reviews before I buy. Most books are about half of the print price.

    Show me something better and I’ll buy it.

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