Consumers are turning the page on physical books and buying them in electronic form. Is the Sony Reader Daily Edition the the right eBook reader for you?
Books have followed music into the era of digital formats and distribution. Electronic (or "e") books will, it's safe to predict, do to books what digital formats (MP3, AAC) did for music - transform your reading experience to make the delivery of new books nearly instantaneous and free up bookshelf space. While you can access this growing library of e-books on a computer, the ideal experience comes in the form of an e-reader - a dedicated device that displays e-book text in an eye-friendly format.
One of the products vying for your eying is Sony's Reader (Daily Edition).
The $299 Reader Daily Edition sports a 7-inch "E-Ink" display with a resolution of 1024x600 pixels. E-Ink seeks to deliver a more "book-like" experience to electronic reading. Unlike the displays on laptops and tablets, the Reader's screen is not backlit, so there's less strain on your eyes. Type appears almost as it would on a printed paper page. The lack of backlighting also makes the Reader easier to read in very bright light where backlit displays tend to wash out.
The downside to E-Ink is that—ike a regular book page but unlike a backlit display—it's harder to view in low light. Don't ditch that bedside reading lamp just yet. You can adjust your font size (but not style) by choosing from one of six sizes so there's no need to squint.
The Reader's display is also touch screen, so you can simulate read page turns just by swiping your finger (there are also tactile buttons for page turning at the button of the unit if you prefer). On balance, the touch screen is a worthwhile feature but it does mean that the Reader's display is more reflective than the other "E-Ink" readers on the market - tilt the Reader in a certain light and you can catch some reflective glare.
In the battle of the books, Sony does face steep competition from Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Nobles Nook; both online sellers have enormous libraries of content. Sony boasts that the Reader has an "open" format so that it can read e-books from a variety of sources. However, those sources don't include the two largest purveyors of e-books: Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Instead, for the Reader, you'll need to tap Sony's own e-book store (which is large and growing, but not as well-organized as Amazon's) as well as free, public domain titles from Google Books. Third party e-book sellers will also offer books in a format suitable for Sony's Reader, something that the Kindle doesn't currently allow.
One of the real stand-out features on the Reader is the ability to borrow e-books from local libraries (a feature that is also making its way onto rival e-readers). If your local library supports e-lending, all you'll need is a library card, and a free account with Adobe. Then you can instantly rent free e-books to the Reader. After 21 days, the book will "expire" and you'll no longer have access to it. No more late fees or humiliating trips to the library to return late paperbacks.
In addition to books, you can access a growing number of newspapers and magazines through the store. If you subscribe to, say, the New York Times, a new edition will be downloaded to your Reader anytime it establishes a connection to the Internet. The paper boy wept.
Reader Connection Options
When it's time to tap into the bookstore or library, the Reader gives you three options. You can connect it directly to your PC or Mac via a USB cable and download books using the included Reader software. For a more mobile experience, the Reader offers both built-in Wi-Fi and free 3G cellular wireless for downloading books over-the-air directly to the device. Unlike the Kindle though, you can't download e-books to your computer and wirelessly send them to your device - the Reader either has to be connected to your computer or you'll have to do a wireless download from the Reader itself.
Still, the free 3G is a great option for travelers who may need to access content on the road and don't have immediate access to a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Capacity & Battery Life
The Reader offers 2GB of internal memory, which is enough to store about 1,200 e-books. If you need a larger library, you can expand the Reader's capacity with an optional SD or Memory Stick memory card - which is a nice touch.
The built-in rechargeable battery is good for about ten hours of continuous use with the battery turned on. Turn off the wireless and you can get just about double that battery life. One downside is that the battery is built-in, so you can't replace it if it dies. Instead, you'll have to return the unit to Sony.
Another nice feature to the Reader is its ability to play back MP3 and AAC files. With an included stylus you can annotate text or turn the Reader into a notepad where you can type notes on a virtual keyboard or hand-scribble notes with the stylus. There's a built-in dictionary on hand if you come across any word stumpers.
Conclusion and Recommendation
Sony's Reader Daily Edition is a solid competitor to Kindle and Nook. Its support of open e-book formats allows you to tap into your local library for e-lending as well as Sony's own book store. While its E-Ink display is occasionally susceptible to glare, its touch screen eliminates the need for a tactile keyboard, freeing up more real estate for lines of text. Avid readers should find plenty to like.