Leave it to Sony to raise the stakes in the e-readers game: The company's refreshed lineup of e-readers, as well as its new touchscreen technology, ups the ante over its competition. The E-Ink e-reader has just become way more interesting.
All three of Sony's new models use the E-Ink Pearl display that has already made a positive impression on the Amazon Kindle (3rd generation) and Amazon Kindle DX (Graphite). The new twist is that Sony has ditched the annoying touchscreen overlay of its previous Reader Touch Edition; the overlay was responsible for many of that unit's faults, including its unresponsive navigation, terrible glare, fuzzy text, and poor contrast.
But that was then. The new crop of readers pushes all of those problems into the past.
Instead, Sony is now using an infrared optical technology touchscreen on each of its new models, the Reader Pocket Edition, Reader Touch Edition, and Reader Daily Edition. The touchscreen works by using infrared sensors to detect where your finger is on the screen; it compares that information against a matrix that identifies your finger's location and what action you are trying to accomplish, and then performs that action.
I found the result--a highly responsive E-Ink touchscreen display--compelling. In my hands-on time with the units, I was impressed by how light of a touch was required to make a selection, the polar opposite of my experience with the first Reader Touch Edition.
Add that to the new Readers' improved specs (lighter weight, more compact design) and stylish looks, plus their support of the open ePub format, and Sony has definitely given us reason to take its e-reader hardware seriously once more.
Unfortunately, Sony appears not to be reading the headlines about the current e-reader price war, and the prospects for a $99 e-reader. Instead of providing competitive pricing with Amazon's $139 Wi-Fi-only Kindle, or even charging just a slight premium (this is Sony, after all; a premium is to be expected), Sony seems to have set the pricing a bit high: The 5-inch Reader Pocket Edition is $179, the 6-inch Reader Touch Edition costs $229, and the Reader Daily Edition is $299.
The Daily Edition remains the only connected reader in the series, a surprising move on Sony's part given the Amazon and Barnes & Noble competition. At the least, I was disappointed to see that the Touch Edition lacks Wi-Fi and an on-board store; both features are fairly compulsory at this point. My guess is that Sony's emphasis on international sales (new additions to the country lineup include Australia, China, Italy, Japan, and Spain) may have something to do with the lack of Wi-Fi and a built-in store on the Pocket and Touch Editions.
With its latest models, Sony definitely shows that it's still in the game. Although the touchscreen technology brings the best of both the E-Ink and LCD worlds to an e-reader, the higher price may be a deterrent to consumers. On the other hand, if touch navigation functions--swipes to change the page, for example--become a must-have feature, the extra dollars may be worth it. See our visual tour of the new Sony Readers to learn more about each model.