E-readers for every budget?

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Earlier this week ITWorld.com confirmed the rumored $199 Sony PRS-300, the cheapest e-ink based device available. Well, for the moment. Astak has announced their new Pocket PRO eBook which will also retail for $199, though this is referred to as a 'promotional price.' Like the PRS-300 (which is also being referred to as the Reader Pocket Edition, which is bound to lead to some confusion), the Pocket PRO eBook has a 5" E-Ink screen and no wireless capabilities. Unlike the Sony, the Astak model includes an SD card slot, plays MP3s, and supports 20 DRM-Free formats as well as protected PDFs. It also includes text-to-speech functionality similar to that of the Kindle.

Meanwhile, back in the $300 range, CNET reports that iRex is readying a wireless (3G) e-reader with an 8.1" touchscreen. Few other details are available, but CNET says there's an alleged tie-in with an established (and as yet unnamed) online e-book seller. It is expected this Fall, so we should get more details soon. Kindle of course has Amazon, Sony has its own e-book store and Plastic Logic is Plastic Logic is partnering with Barnes & Noble, so who is left?

And speaking of Plastic Logic, Engadget directs our attention to a Times Online article that implies a price for the upcoming Plastic Logic e-reader: $299. The actual quote: The Plastic Logic will be launched in the US at the beginning of next year at a similar price to the Kindle, which starts at $299.

This market is exploding, but will the demand be there to support it? I was talking to a fellow technophile about e-readers and he told me he thought dedicated e-readers were 'dead-end devices' and that everyone interested in e-books would soon just be reading them on their phones. I countered with the suggestion that we talk again when his eyes are as old as mine: it's the E-ink displays that make dedicated devices compelling to me. By the end of the day my eyes can't take any more back-lit screens.

What do you think? Are all these e-readers a solution in search of a problem, or are they about to become a new standard household device? Please leave a comment!

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