E-book readers open new chapter

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      Andrew Lennox reads whenever and wherever he can. He keeps a book nearby for those moments when he can squeeze in a few pages. Recently, Lennox opened an e-book and read somewhere he’d never read before.

      “I was on my way from the airport to downtown Vancouver [by taxi], and I was able to read in the pitch dark with my Sony,” said Lennox, a federal civil servant who is based in Ottawa but frequently travels to the West. “That time would have been wasted before, just sitting in the dark.”

      Lennox, a self-declared gadget enthusiast, was one of the first people in Canada to get the Sony PRS-700 Reader Digital Book, an e-book reader that’s an update of the company’s popular PRS-505 model. The 700, which retails for $449.99, went on sale in late November and has a number of features that distinguish it from the older model, which remains available for $100 less.

      Lennox said he considered getting the 505, but he opted for the 700 because he felt its touchscreen and built-in reading light, which allow him to highlight text and read in the dark, were worth the price difference. He has complaints similar to those that other Sony Reader owners have had about the device, chiefly to do with its screen reflection and the limited selection of e-books available for it.

      I’ve had the 505 for over a year, and I tested the 700 for a three-week period. Lennox said he wouldn’t trade his version for the 505, and I don’t want to trade up to the newer model. We’re each hooked on the model we have.

      I liked the new features included with the 700, but I found the touchscreen to be not as responsive as the zippy iPod Touch. The built-in light on the 700 is useful, but Sony now offers a lighted screen you can add to the 505 for $59.99, and I didn’t find the latest model’s much better. While the highlighting capability of the 700 could be an advantage, I didn’t miss having it when I went back to the older model.

      Digital books have come to the forefront largely due to the Sony Reader and the Amazon Kindle. But a host of others are in the marketplace, including the BeBook and the iRex iLiad. With each round of new products, e-book readers are becoming more booklike in their feel and display while delivering on their big selling point of giving readers access to hundreds of books through one device.

      Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos has said that Kindle users buy 1.6 times as many books as customers who don’t use digital readers. The popularity of the Kindle, which is only available in the U.S., is due in large part to its instant connectivity. Users can connect wirelessly to Amazon’s Web site to purchase books whenever they are in range of a cellular network. The Sony Reader must be connected to a computer with Internet access in order to download books.

      A new version of Amazon’s reader, the Kindle 2, will be released on Tuesday (February 24). It’s sleeker and offers a sharper display but, like its predecessor, relies on a U.S. cellular network.

      Lennox said he would be interested in buying the Kindle if it ever comes to Canada because he likes Amazon’s superior book selection. Given the estimated 230,000 books available on Amazon.com, Sony seems to be falling behind on the content side.

      Junior Ali, Sony of Canada’s senior director of marketing for portable audio, said there are 55,000 books available through Sony’s library. The company is also offering 100 free classics with the purchase of a device.

      Ali said that Sony users actually have a broader selection to choose from than Kindle users do, even though there are proprietary rights that block Canadian users from purchasing certain books through Sony that American users can download, such as Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. Ali said because the Sony Reader is an open-format device, its users can download books from any source, whether they’re in PDF format or plain text, opening up more possibilities than Kindle’s closed system.

      “With the Kindle, it has the ability to download books over the air by cellular network, but there’s discussion about whether or not that’s a good feature,” Ali said. “We expect the Kindle will come here [to Canada], and we are looking at doing an air feature if that’s what our customers want.”

      Ali said that if Sony does come up with a wireless feature, it will continue to distribute the current model so customers can choose to connect via their Windows PC.

      It’s a sign that the e-book battle between Sony and Amazon is just beginning—a fight that should leave customers the big winner with cheaper devices and more content.




      Jun 26, 2009 at 4:57pm

      Sounds interesting... but is there anywhere in (greater) Vancouver where we can go to buy any of these readers - so that we could actually see them and compare them and their screens - instead of basically having to buy after only having seen pictures of them online...?