I’ve been casually following the story of the Sony Portable Reader– it only became really interesting to me when the price range was announced (around $400 US).
What is the Sony PRS? Its an eBook device- it is for reading digital books in eBook, PDF, or text formats portably. This in itself is far from new- eBook readers of various types have been around for a long time. The two things that leap out and make the Sony Reader particularly interesting to me: its use of e-Ink technology (which has a number of spin-off effects), and its support of standard memory formats (SD and Memory stick).
E Ink is a technology sort of like LCD in appearance, but technically quite different. LCD displays require continuous power in order to display anything- E Ink requires the application of power only to *change*: once something is displayed on an E Ink panel it doesn’t require any further power- you can turn the device off entirely. And this means far less power is required for the device, which means far less in the way of heavy batteries and electronics.
The Sony Reader is literally the size of a paperback (6×4 inches, half an inch thick, 250 grams including rechargable batteries), and its all display. At that size and weight, it can provide over 7,000 page turns (ten novels worth) on a single charge. Note that they measure battery life in page turns, not hours: If you stare at each page for an hour, that could be 7,000 hours of use. That’s nearly 300 days. Unless you have a severe reading disability, you shouldn’t be spending an hour per page- but that’s still an impressive number. 10 novels on a single recharge: that’s a good month of reading. Even assuming you flip back and forth, that’s easily a week, and the old LCD-based ebooks would be lucky to give you a few hours.
The other factor that’s appealing is the storage capacity. The formats the Sony Reader supports are generally “light weight” in terms of storage requirements- and since the display isn’t colour, the amount of storage per page of text is quite small. Sony claims over 100 books in 128 MB- and you can easily carry around several 256 MB SD cards quite economically.
I was already sold at this point…but then Sony’s blurb indicated that their included PC software includes a facility to read RSS feeds and transcribe the data into a format that can be placed on their eBook. Whoa- now I can take all of my website “news” and put it on a small, almost zero power portable device that I can read anywhere.
Now *that’s* something worth looking seriously at.
UPDATE:: Doing a bit more research led me to an even cooler device (working prototype) based on the similar underlying technology- the Phillips Readius. This is what is sometimes called a “rollable display” , and its another spin-off benefit of technologies similar to E Ink. Basically, the organic materials used in making these displays can be placed on flexible substrates that can be rolled up or otherwise “deformed”. Currently, no one has started selling a device based on this technology, but hopefully within two or three years. I recall reading about this two or three years ago- back then, no one had a working prototype and now Philips has spun off an entire company (Polymer Vision), so progress is moving along well…