Sunday, 12 October 2008

Touch-sensitive display with Ebooks

Despite public indifference, the promoters of eBooks persist in believing – as was the case with music downloads – eventually people will see the light.

But, although the Amazon Kindle has made some progress, the shift has been mostly slow going. Of course, that hasn’t stopped companies from trying. Sony Corp. will release its latest model eBook reader at the end of the month.

The PRS-700 differs from previous Sony readers (and the Kindle) primarily because it features a built-in light and touch-sensitive display. It has the dimensions of a slender paperback, includes a textured black casing and, weighing in at only 10 ounces, it’s actually a good deal lighter than most books. The six-inch touch-screen display enables readers to flip through pages with the slide of a finger, search terms within a document or book, create notes using the virtual keyboard and highlight text or doodle in the margins with an included stylus pen. Five pre-set text sizes are available and readers can zoom in further by tapping on the screen. Like its predecessors (and the Kindle), the PRS-700 features a high resolution, high contrast electronic paper display technology that attempts to recreate the experience of reading from paper. The screen is designed to be readable even in bright sunlight, and Sony is quick to note the PRS-700 is the first eBook reader to offer a built-in LED reading light. Unlike laptops or cell-phones, e-ink displays cannot be lit from behind. As a solution to this problem, the PRS-700 includes LEDs that illuminate the screen from the sides.
The expanded memory of the PRS-700 offers enough capacity to store about 350 average digital books, and, with an appropriate memory card, that number can be raised to well over a thousand books. But, even though it boasts a number of new and useful features, the PRS-700 still lacks the major selling point of the Amazon Kindle - wireless access to book downloads. Instead, the PRS-700 needs to be connected to a PC to load content.

On the plus side, while the Kindle only works with eBooks from the Amazon store, Sony is working with multiple vendors to increase the amount of eBook content available to consumers. In an effort to promote its new reader (and eBooks themselves), Sony is unleashing a team of “reading revolutionaries” to stores and events around the country to demonstrate the PRS-700. And, throughout the month of October (in conjunction with National Book Month), Dave Farrow, a world-record holder for his memory abilities, will read digital books on the PRS-700 in a Manhattan storefront around the clock. For each page Farrow reads, Sony is providing an eBook library of 100 classics to a school - with the ultimate goal of giving away 15 million eBook titles.
While such attempts to promote reading and education (and, of course, the PRS-700) are noteworthy, most people remain torn on the concept of eBooks. On one end, it really is a pretty cool technology and great strides are being made to improve both eBook availability and the quality of readers. It’s also a more environmentally friendly option than traditional books (if eBooks were to take off, just think how much paper and, thus, how many trees could be saved). On the other hand, people like books. These physical objects serve as many things – displays of knowledge, treasures to be passed along, even small personality reminders. And, honestly, no matter how “paper-like” companies make eBook readers, most people don’t want to be staring at computer screen anymore than they already are (whether for business or pleasure). While such hindrances set up a heavy blockade, they probably won’t stop companies like Amazon and Sony from keeping at it. And, who knows, maybe they’ll even eventually crack the market and people will begin flocking to eBooks. For now though, even with the advancements of the PRS-700, that seems unlikely.

The Sony PRS-700 will be available in November for around $400. The reader can currently be pre-ordered from the Sony Style Store.

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