Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sony's Upcoming Models vs Amazon Kindle

I didn't get to my computer until almost late tonight so have skimmed the news after getting word of Sony's announcements today, and this is my first take on the announcements today for Sony's new models including the model with the 7" screen not due until the Winter or just before Chirstmas.  They will likely have a larger model available too but there's no real info on that yet.

SONY PRS-300 - "The Pocket Edition - $200
Images of this $200 model can be seen in some of the pages pointed to in this quick report (and in the lead-image here of all three models), but it is not described particularly in many articles because there is actually little to describe, as it does not have study tools (searching, highlighting, note-taking, inline dictionary) and does not have wireless as the Kindle 2 at $300) does.  It also has only about 512M of storage space with no SD card slot.

 Furthermore its screen size is only 5" instead of the 6" that the popular but now discontinued (in the U.S.) Sony PRS-505 has.

SONY PRS-600 - "The Touch Edition" - $300 (similar to Kindle 2 but with no wireless -- it does have a touch screen - more on that further down).  Fast Company has a story that includes information about short videoclips of this model, done two days ago.

The Sony PRS-600 Touch Edition replaces the PRS-700 (discontinued in the U.S -- the 700 had a touchscreen and side-lighting, a combo which led to reviews lamenting poorer readability as a result).
  The new Sony PRS-600 one is $300 and closer to the Kindle 2's $300 but with a touch screen and more file-formats directly readable, with the downside that it has no wireless access at all.  It does have a memory card slot to supplement a storage capacity of about 1,000 text-based books.

What it clearly has is faster page-turning with less interim-black-screen noticeable.

THE SONY DAILY EDITION with a 7" touch screen and wireless-for-Sony-store use.
  Due at the end of 2009, the limited wireless access it'll have does make the 7" model closer to the Kindles at any rate for the important feature of instant book download.

  Few newspaper reviewers will know that while the Sony Daily Edition will be able to access its own store directly, it will not be able to download from several other online stores (besides Amazon's store) that the Kindle currently can access for files that are downloadable directly onto the Kindle device.

  PC World says this actually shows that the Kindle pricing with 24/7 wireless has been quite reasonable at $100 less, even though PC World doesn't point out that the Sony wireless limits one to its own store while the Kindle wireless lets you go anywhere on the Net through its built-in basic web browser (which includes javascript and SSL capabilities as well as cookies though it does not support plugins such as flash or shockwave).

  Basically, unlike Amazon's Kindle, the Sony 7" Daily Edition will not allow you to browse the web, which is how Amazon users are able to download non-rights-protected books from other sites direct to their Kindles from places like Feedbooks.com, ManyBks.Net, and Fictionwise.com (the latter now owned by Barnes & Noble).

  Add that the entire Project Gutenberg set of excellently formatted books, generally, is directly downloadable to the Kindle as well.

  Also, most newspaper reviews have not mentioned that there are over 7,000 free Kindle-readable books (public domain) downloadable from Amazon itself, and 7,000 is quite a lot from which to choose, though a million of these public domain books available from the Sony store (via Google's amazing digital stash of these) certainly offers a wider choice :-)

  What the Sonys will do is be compatible with the open-source ePub format, reading any non-rights-protected book in that much more common format - which are usually books that are written before 1923 and which are considered Public Domain" (or 'classics').

  Re that open-source ePub format for non-rights-protected books, few know that non-rights-protected ePub books are easily converted with free utilities to be read on the Kindle as well but it is an extra step rather than direct as with the Sony.

  The upside with the Sonys is that they will (and older models already CAN) read borrowed library books (which use the special time-limited ePub format, as mentioned and further described below).

  That is its biggest appeal to me, at least. The older PRS-505, its most-praised model for good readability, is being discontinued in the U.S. in favor of the smaller PRS-300 ($200 but still with no study tools like search, highlighting, notes, and no wireless).

  The $300 Sony Touch Edition (PRS-600) which replaces the older Sony PRS-700 does have good study tools although it has no wireless capability as the $300 Kindle does.

  This 6" screen "Touch Edition," has similar lowered-screen contrast and glare problems of the discontinued (U.S.) PRS-700 which is due to the touch screen's extra layer. (See further down.)

  Additional confusion comes from the Sony PRS-700 being discontinued in the U.S. but available in Canada still.  The difference here is that the PRS-700 has or had side-lighting over the screen so that it could be read at night without a clip-on light.  Sony decided not to have side-lighting in the PRS-600 that replaces the PRS-700 here (U.S.).

  What any Sony will not do is allow its own copy-protected books (those that are sold in the Sony store and are not part of the 1 million public domain books written before 1923) to be read by other e-readers unless those readers have the Adobe Digital Edition as part of its firmware and you have purchased the book.

BACK TO SONY PRS-600 Touch Edition
  Here is a video uploaded two days ago, and it's of the Sony PRS-600 announced a month ago which is close in capability to the coming 7" "Daily Edition" now announced for the Winter, both having the touch screen wanted by many.
  Dvice.com introduces us to this video and the next clip.  A real plus is that one can annotate on it directly with a stylus (not shown).

  The videoclip maker mentions disappointment with the screen contrast, the glare, and with the somewhat 'spongy' feel of the new soft plastic touch screen (though in the video he inadvertently says that the new model has glass, which he confirms the older PRS-505 has while the PRS-600 has the softer and more flexible but 'spongy' screen).
  I'd personally prefer spongy to somewhat breakable though.  It's a clear video of the PRS-600 - which gives an impression of grayness, with the bezel of that particular model also in gray.  There's no physical keyboard, which many prefer not to have as omitting it saves room.  It has a virtual keyboard, which would take somewhat more energy to press and less tactile feedback but allows for a more space-saving and some feel more-elegant e-reader form factor.

  Here is a comparison by the same videoclip maker, of the recently discontinued but popular Sony PRS-505 alongside the new Sony PRS-600 ($300) with the touch screen.  There is a clear difference in screen contrast visible in the video, with the new PRS-600 suffering from the same readability problems as the now-discontinued PRS-700 reviewed by David Pogue last year.
 Note the comments made by the video maker and others.

  It's surprising that they'd release the PRS-600 with the readabitility disadvantage, but it is probably targeted at users for whom a touch screen is much more important than easy readability.
 The difference is really startling. There's no wireless on this model, of course.

  Given that, I have photo comparisons (press "Next" there for more) of the much-admired Sony PRS-505 at Target placed next to my Kindle 2 which is often said to have less screen contrast than the Kindle 1 but with much better navigational and study tools than the Kindle 1 (the PRS-505 has no study tools).
  Note that the Kindle 2 readability and the Sony PRS-505 (its best-readability model) are quite similar.  (Press "next" at upper right of each photo to see the next photo or "previous" to see the previous one.)

BACK TO THE DUE-IN-WINTER SONY 7" Daily Edition model
How will Sony solve the screen contrast problem in the coming $400 7" Daily Edition?

  The dvice.com site next introduces us to the to-be-released 7" "Daily Edition" Reader with a picture of its screen (one inch larger than the Kindle 2's 6" one) rotated to landscape mode to show us two pages at a time as we're used to seeing with a paper-bound book.
  Note that this is a nice feature but it would be somewhat hard to read from.  So we have the option of using one-page at a time, which I expect will be the preferred option.

One thing that interests me with the planned Sony wireless to its Sony book store:
  Amazon which IS, entirely, a store rather than a primarily electronics maker, nevertheless allows Kindle users access to the global net -- a fact realized by few newspaper reviewers -- with its slow but quite increasingly capable web browser.

  You can see my images of
1. the oldest Kindle, the Kindle 1 doing Google and the 6" Kindle 2 posting to the Amazon forums and posting to facebook, not with speed, but doable.

2. the  $490 9.7"  Kindle DX getting this blog vertically and in landscape mode and also browsing Engadget website with images vertically and in landscape mode.
 When reading newspaper columns that say the Sony will also have the same wireless now as the Amazon Kindle's, note that the Sony's will be only to the Sony store and will not be to the entire Net.

If you already do have Kindle, here's a reminder that I made a bookmarks-type file for easy access to much-faster mobile-optimized website versions, which is described and downloadable on this blog (click on the link to the left).

At this time, after almost two years, there is no charge for the Kindle's web access, which is 24/7, and Jeff Bezos said in mid June 2009 at Wired Magzine's conference that he could have charged only $99 for the Kindle had he decided to have the web access paid for by a 2-year $60/month fee.

  Also, an Amazon representative says the following about the Kindle's experimental web browser in a videoclip of a talk at Case Western about the upcoming Fall Kindle DX studies at various universities:
"...we're constantly working on it ... "it's an important thing to remember that it's free... no wireless charges...we cover all ...that..."
  He also points out that Kindle users can use online resources without having to get up and go to a computer.

Since Amazon has promised free google and Wikipedia access to participating universities this year AND Jeff Bezos recently explained that he could have made the Kindles less expensive by not including wireless access with bookmarks to mostly faster text sites on the Net, I expect the 24/7 cellular access to remain free for the coming school year at least.

Obviously that kind of 24/7 access is important to me, as it is to increasing numbers of Kindle owners who have become aware of this feature.  Here is a forum discussion about the many creative uses of the Kindle by Kindle users.

 Other e-reader makers will find much of this difficult to provide to its own target audience and will have to make some very readable touch screens then, but they have a leg up in one important area with more file formats directly accessible with their e-readers.  It seems to me that the Sonys would be a natural for the European and Asian markets especially while the Amazon still has no Kindles for sale to those areas.  It puzzles me that they don't offer non-wireless-capable Kindles, at a lower price, in those areas, as many people want the Kindle even without wireless.

Even then, the Kindle is so popular overseas that there have been many workarounds discussed or explained on the Amazon customer discussion forums as well as some outside-USA Kindle-user tips sent to TheKindleChronicles podcast with links to instructions at the page for the podcast.

Until the Kindle web browser becomes much faster, it would not be worth any monthly charge, not even to me, and I prefer free slow access to any paid access for quick look-ups when away from home and office computers.

IN THE MEANTIME a Wall Street Journal report which came in tonight includes the following:
Sony disclosed Tuesday a marketing partnership with Cleveland-based OverDrive Inc. that will let users of Sony's wireless device enter their Zip Codes and library card number to see what e-books are available from their local library; they can then download e-books remotely to the device until the loans expire.

Sony's Daily Edition can be held vertically to display one page of a book or turned horizontally so that it shows two pages, which Mr. Haber said makes it feel "more like a real book." The sample Daily Edition that Sony showed at a press event Tuesday had a blank screen.
. . .
Sony didn't disclose any newspaper or magazine publishers that would support the Daily Edition. "We are working with a number of newspaper and magazine publishers and will reveal more information about this closer to the time the product is available," a spokesman said.
Newspaper and magazine executives have said Sony is amenable to striking more favorable partnership terms, though several publishers also said Sony has been slow to reach agreements, such as whether their relationships with Sony would be exclusive.
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  1. One clarification from your post. The sony daily reader's screen is 7" tall/wide, not 7" diagonally like the kindle. The actual diagonal measurement of the Daily Reader is closer to 8" or 2" larger than the kindle 2

  2. Thanks, Paul.

    A problem is that Sony is marketing the 3 new readers as 5", 6", and 7" and their 6" screen has, in the past, been equivalent to the Kindle 6" one. It seems to me they should change how they're identifying it.

    But your comment will add that clarifying info! Thanks again.

    - Andrys


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