Sony Upgrades E-Book Reader
The PRS-700 comes with backlight, touchscreen, zoom and $400 price tag.
October 03, 2008 by Rebecca Day

Sony turned the page to its latest e-book reader at the Library Hotel (where else?) in midtown Manhattan last evening.

The new PRS-700 will carry a tag of $400, when it arrives at Sony Style stores and other retailers at the end of the month. The PRS-700 carries a $100 premium over Sony’s other e-reader, the PRS-500. For the extra hundred bucks you get a backlight, touchscreen capability, five font sizes and a zoom feature.

Still missing from the Sony reader are Wi-Fi capability to buy books from anywhere within Wi-Fi range—you still have to connect to a PC to download books—and a built-in dictionary. According to Steve Haber, president of Sony’s new Digital Reading Business division, Wi-Fi is in the future for Sony e-books but he wouldn’t give a timetable.

On the content side, Sony has deals with Penguin, Hachette, HarperCollins, Harlequin Books and others. Sony has retail agreements with Borders, Target, Abt Electronics, WalMart, and Sam’s Clubs, among others.

During October, a.k.a. National Book Month, Sony is sending out a corps of 1,000 e-book evangelists throughout the country in the hopes that putting a digital reader in people’s hands will get them jazzed enough about the concept to make an investment in e-book hardware and software. Haber said first-hand experience with an e-book shows consumers that the screen “looks like paper” and isn’t PC-like, despite the electronic bent.

The built-in backlight is a welcome feature. Users have the choice of no backlight at all, a low setting or high, which is more like medium. The lights illuminate the left and right sides of the panel. Haber said the battery life ranges from 4-8 hours in backlight mode. That compares in an apples-versus-oranges way to 7,500 page turns when no backlight is used. No one was able to run a conversion on exactly how much more battery life is consumed in backlit mode, but suffice it to say you’ll want to use the overhead light on the plane rather than eating up battery power on an overseas flight.

The touchscreen feature—you can use your finger or the supplied stylus—is cool. You can turn a page with a swipe of the finger. Sony research indicated people were divided on whether they wanted to swipe right to left or left to right to flip a page, so they give you the option in the menu to set it up either way. That’s nice, but I still want a built-in dictionary.

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