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    Sony brings e-book reader technology to Canada

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2009 First published in Business in Vancouver November 10-16, 2009 issue #1046

    High Tech Office column

    Back in a 2001 column, I looked at RCA/Thomson’s then new REB1200 e-book reader.

    Priced at $1,000, it tried to fill the gap between reading electronic documents on a laptop and reading on a pocket-sized PDA. My conclusion: “I simply can’t imagine too many consumers paying $500 or $1,000 for an e-book reader and then going on to pay $30 or so to read a bestseller.”

    That was then. What about now?

    For the past couple of years, Amazon has sold a Kindle e-book reader, priced from US$260, with free online connections to (where else?) via the Sprint network. Initially available only in the U.S., recently it was offered in a range of other countries. Not in Canada, however, apparently because Amazon couldn’t reach a deal with any Canadian mobile network.

    But Canadians are not entirely cut out of the e-book reader loop. Sony is offering a pair of devices: the $400 PRS-600 Touch Reader and the $260 PRS-300 Pocket Reader. Sony loaned me a Touch Reader for a couple of weeks.

    It features a six-inch grey-scale screen (compared with five inches on the Pocket model). Building-in minimal touchscreen features allows a clean, lightweight design with only a few buttons while permitting intuitive navigation between pages.

    Nicely, Sony has made two decisions that make its e-book readers more widely usable than some of their competitors. On the Touch (but not the Pocket model), the internal memory – enough to hold about 1,000 standard e-books – can be expanded with plug-in memory cards.

    While Sony memory sticks can be used, so can the more widely available (and generally less expensive) SD cards. Moreover, while Sony is happy to sell users e-books from its online e-book store, they can also store and read text from a wide range of other sources.

    Both models can read files in PDF format, rich-text (RTF) and standard-text formats and the open-source ePub e-book standard format. Microsoft Word files are not directly supported, but the Windows or Mac versions of Sony’s software will automatically convert Word files to RTF for use with the readers.

    Because of the wide range of formats supported, these models can work with documents that you already have stored on a computer or network.

    As well, they can be used with public-domain books available from Google and other sources. Sony has also worked out e-book loan agreements with a range of public libraries, though not Vancouver’s.

    Sony’s readers can access e-books from almost anywhere – except Amazon. E-books bought from Sony’s store can also be read on other manufacturers’ hardware – except Amazon’s Kindle.

    The grey-scale screen - the same e-ink electronic paper display used by the Kindle - supports only eight shades of grey, with text appearing as dark grey on a light-grey page. Though you can store and display digital photos, the quality is poor. (It does a better job as a music player, however.)

    Why not colour?

    The answer is battery life; a colour display would run down the charge much faster. Sony promises about two weeks on a charge or about 7,000 continuous page turns.

    Getting books, photos or music onto one of these models requires a USB connection to a computer and the use of Sony’s eBook Library software. Books bought from Sony’s online e-book store can be read on six devices.

    Documents from other sources can generally be used without limitation. Users of Amazon’s Kindle can get books directly, no computer needed. Sony has an upcoming PRS-900 “daily edition” model with similar online capabilities and, like the Kindle, it’s not expected to be available in Canada.

    Amazon’s Kindle has been reasonably popular with U.S. customers, though there are suggestions that more e-books are read on iPhones than Kindles. Kudos to Sony for offering its current pair of e-book readers to Canadian customers. Favicon

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
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