Sony officially unveils new Readers, drops price of e-books

Sony has launched the $199 Reader Pocket Edition and $299 Reader Touch Edition, both of which hit stores at the end of August. It's also matching Amazon's $9.99 price tag on new releases and best sellers.

The $299 PRS-600 has an improved touch screen. Sony

After enduring a couple of rumors and leaks that took the lid off its latest e-readers a little earlier than it would have liked, Sony's officially announced the two new models: the Reader Pocket Edition ($199) and Reader Touch Edition ($299), both of which will hit stores at the end of the month. The other big news is Sony is going to match Amazon's e-book pricing, making new releases and best seller titles $9.99 instead of $11.99.

As for specs, here's what you're looking at:

Reader Pocket Edition (PRS-300):

  • 5-inch E-ink electronic paper display
  • Comes in blue, rose, and silver
  • Resolution: 800 x 600 pixels
  • Gray scale: 8-levels gray scale
  • 440MB of usable internal memory stores about 350 standard eBooks
  • Three adjustable font sizes
  • Sealed-in battery provides up to two weeks of reading on a single battery charge
  • $199 MSRP
  • Protective neoprene sleeve and USB cable included
  • Files supported: Adobe PDF (with reflow capability), Microsoft Word, BBeB, EPUB

Reader Touch Edition (PRS-600):

  • Touch-screen panel (navigate with your finger or the included stylus)
  • Comes in red, black, and silver
  • Resolution: 800 x 600 pixels
  • Gray Scale: 8-levels gray scale
  • Take handwritten notes with the stylus pen or type with the virtual keyboard
  • Notes can be exported and printed out
  • Onboard Oxford American English Dictionary allows you to look up a word by tapping on it (Amazon's Kindle has always had a built-in dictionary, but this is new to Sony Readers)
  • Five adjustable font sizes
  • 440MB of usable internal memory stores about 350 standard eBooks
  • Sealed-in battery provides up to two weeks of reading on a single battery charge
  • Expansion slots for both Memory Stick PRO Duo and SD cards
  • $299 MSRP
  • Protective case (similar to the PRS-700's) and USB cable included
  • Files supported: Adobe PDF (with reflow capability), Microsoft Word, BBeB, EPUB

Sony has also updated its eBook Library software to version 3.0, and it's integrated into the device itself (similar to Flip Video camcorders) and includes support for both Windows PCs and "many" Macs. Owners of the PRS-505 and PRS-700 should take heart that in the near future Sony will provide a firmware upgrade to both those models that adds the new eBook Library software to your devices and makes them Mac compatible.

Because Sony has dumped more than 1 million free public domain books into its eBook store, it's no longer offering its 100 free classics bundle with the new devices. It's also worth mentioning that unlike the Kindle, Readers are compatible with the formats that local libraries are using for their digital collections.

If you wondering whether the touch screen on this model is any better than the PRS-700's, the answer according to Sony reps I spoke with, is yes. Apparently, the PRS-700's built-in sidelight added an extra "light" layer or gap that made the screen less responsive, hurt the contrast ratio (made the screen dimmer), and created some glare issues. Sony has eliminated that layer and the overall touch experience has allegedly improved and the letters on the screen are darker. Also, as a result of eliminating the sidelighting, the PRS-600 is slightly slimmer than the PRS-700 and two ounces lighter.

Sony says there will be no wireless option for these models; they are "tethered devices." But in speaking with reps, they did say that Sony was committed to bringing out a wireless device and while they didn't mention an exact time frame, it appeared to be soon, perhaps within weeks. So, if you're waiting for a wireless Reader, whatever form it takes (built-in Wi-Fi or cellular), you should probably hold out a bit longer.

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