Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sony reader screen comparisons and the Kindle

The enlarged version of the photo at the left, from the article by Simon Cohen at, shows the significant loss in clarity and readability with the touch screen technology used for the Sony PRS-700's e-Ink screen.

  After lamenting that the Kindle isn't available in Canada yet Cohen explains the touchscreen's effect on clarity:
'...Because Sony's engineers had to layer a capacitive membrane over the E-Ink display to enable the 700's touch-screen features, they reduced the amount of ambient light the eInk receives, and thus the amount it can reflect.  The result is (when compared to the 505) like reading through a thin layer of onion skin paper.  Contrast is reduced and some crispness at the edge of letters is lost.  Worse still, this top layer is quite reflective and depending on where your light source is located, you need to tilt the 700 slightly backward to avoid the glare...'
In this comparison of the two Sony Readers, there are also caveats that will be familiar to some Kindle users when it comes to the e-Ink screens, which most reviewers find far easier on the eyes for any length of time than reading from an LCD screen (which can do color and backlighting at a cost to battery drain in addition to eye fatigue, though with better refresh rates).
'Some people might be aware of the light gray background of the screen itself – indeed this is probably the cause of my perception that the ink could stand to be a little darker.  We're all used to seeing black ink on a white page, or at least off-white and there's no escaping the fact that the light gray doesn't provide as much contrast as a piece of paper.

The good news is: you get used to it quickly and after a few chapters you barely notice it at all.'
Then he explains the black flash between page turns:
'Turning pages on the Reader produces a momentary flash of black before the ink resolves itself into the new set of words. This happens anytime the display needs to change what it's showing.  While a little disconcerting at first, you again grow accustomed to it. The transitional effect is caused by the nature of eInk displays.  The "pixels" work more like an etch-a-sketch tablet than like a typical LCD display.  With LCDs, each pixel can change on it's own, very quickly, and go from one colour to another in an instant.  eInk on the other hand exists in more of an ON or Off state.  To switch between these states, an electrical charge is needed.  Moreover, it seems that the entire area that is to be re-drawn must be first "cleaned" by turning all of the pixels on, then off.  Only then can the final image be rendered.  Odd as it is at first, I'm so used to it now that I wonder if a transitionless page turn would be an improvement.'
Cohen goes on to detail quite thoroughly the many differences between the two Sony readers. Below are ways to Share this post if you'd like others to see it.
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