Sony Debuts Snazzy New Touchscreen E-readers

Trio of models rely on optical touch technology to make touch viable on an E-Ink screen.

Leave it to Sony to throw a new twist into the e-reader game: The company's refreshed lineup of e-readers and new touchscreen technology ups the ante over its competition. The E-Ink e-reader has just gotten way more interesting.

All three of Sony's new models use the E-Ink Pearl display that's already made a positive impression on the Amazon Kindle (3 rd generation) and Amazon Kindle DX Graphite. The new twist is that Sony has ditched the annoying touchscreen overlay of its previous Reader Touch Edition; that overlay was responsible for many of that unit's faults, including its unresponsive navigation, terrible glare, fuzzy text, and poor contrast.

But that was then. The new crop of readers blows all of those problems into the past.

Instead, Sony uses an infrared optical technology touchscreen on each of its new models: The Reader Pocket Edition, Reader Touch Edition, and Reader Daily Edition. The touchscreen works by using infrared sensors to detect where your finger is on the screen; it compares that information against a matrix that identifies where your finger is and what action you are trying to accomplish, and then performs that action.

I found the result compelling--a highly responsive E-Ink touchscreen display. In my hands-on time with the units, I was impressed by how light of a touch was required to make a selection, the polar opposite of my experience with the Reader Touch Edition.

Add that to the new Readers' improved specs (lighter weight, more compact design), stylish looks, plus its support the open ePub format, and Sony has definitely given us reason to once more take its e-reader hardware seriously.

Unfortunately, Sony appears not to be reading the headlines about the current e-reader price war, and the prospects for a $99 e-reader. Instead of providing competitive pricing with Amazon's $139 Wi-Fi-only Kindle, or even a slight premium (this is Sony, after all; a premium is often to be expected), Sony's pricing feels is high: The 5-inch Reader Pocket Edition, $179; the 6-inch Reader Touch Edition, $229; and the Reader Daily Edition, $299.

The Daily Edition remains the only connected reader in the series, a surprising move on Sony's part given its Amazon and Barnes & Noble competition. At the least, I was disappointed that the Touch Edition lacked Wi-Fi and an on-board store; both feel fairly compulsory at this point. My guess is that Sony's emphasis on international sales (new additions to the country lineup include Italy, Spain, Australia, Japan, and China) may have something to do with the lack of Wi-Fi and a built-in store on the Pocket and Touch Editions.

With its latest models, Sony definitely shows its still in the game. While the touch screen technology really does bring the best of both the E-Ink and LCD worlds to an e-reader, the higher price may be a deterrent that holds consumers back. On the other hand, if the idea of touch navigation--swipes to change the page, for example--is a must-have feature, the extra dollars may be worth it. See our Visual Tour of the new Readers to learn more about the each model.

This story, "Sony Debuts Snazzy New Touchscreen E-readers" was originally published by PCWorld.

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