Sony Wednesday issued the latest electronic challenge to the printed page.
The Sony Reader, introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, is a book-size device that can store hundreds of volumes and display them, one page at a time, on a screen that uses innovative electronic-ink technology to eliminate the glare and flicker that make prolonged reading on traditional computer and handheld displays so uncomfortable.
Electronic books are not new, but they've never caught on big, at least partly because of the aforementioned display problems. Battery life has also been an issue: A fair amount of juice is necessary to keep a conventional LCD illuminated -- and up to now, most devices that support electronic books have had LCD screens. Another problem with books on LCDs is that they don't look so great in bright sunlight.
The Reader, which Sony expects to ship in April with a price tag between US$299 and US$399, addresses all of these issues in a package that's only slightly taller and wider than most best-selling paperbacks -- and no more than half as thick. You flip open a cover to a screen that shows one page at a time using electronic-ink technology from a company named E Ink. You turn pages by pressing a button; you can also enlarge the text up to 200 percent, a boon for vision-impaired readers.
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.
The Reader displays electronic books (and other content, including PDF files, JPEG images, and RSS feeds) stored on either a Memory Stick or an SD Card (neither is included). Books will be offered via the Sony Connect online store, modeled along the lines of Apple's iTunes; you'll access the store and supported content via a desktop application, Connect Reader. At launch, Sony expects about 10,000 titles to be available.