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Sony Reader launch heralds new era of portable electronic books

Thursday, September 28, 2006 by: Ben Kage
Tags: ebooks, Sony, e-books

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(NewsTarget) In a world where music and video have gone digital in a big way, books have almost been left behind. Printed books are available for purchase at sites such as Amazon.com, and electronic books are also available at Amazon and other sites, but they haven't enjoyed much popularity. Sony Corp. is aiming to change that with the first e-book reader that uses an original technology to imitate the look of ink on paper.

In a departure from the design of traditional e-books, the Sony Reader screen isn't backlit and doesn't flicker, so there is no risk of eyestrain associated with these issues. The unit is about paperback-book sized, around one-third of an inch thick, and retails for about $350 on Sony's web site. Borders bookstores plan to start carrying the reader in October.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology spin-off company E Ink Corp. developed the technology for the display, building it out of tiny capsules with particles of white and black ink. When the sides of the capsules facing the reader are exposed to a static electrical charge, the white ink particles are attracted to the face, turning the pixel light grey. Reversing the charge attracts the black pigments, and turns the pixels dark grey, which makes up the text.

While the display is readable from any angle, just like paper, a review of the unit at ThisIsLondon.co.uk notes that the contrast of the screen does not compare to paper, because the "paper" isn't actually white and the text isn't actually black. The review also said the letters are a bit jagged despite the screen's 800 x 600 resolution. Photographs displayed on the Sony Reader look like "black-and-white photocopies," according to the review, but the writer acknowledges that it is still the best electronic reading medium currently available.

Another positive feature of the Sony Reader is its power efficiency; Sony claims it can display up to 7,500 pages when its lithium battery is fully charged. This is because the reader only really uses power when the user turns an electronic page; just displaying a page only uses the trace amount of power required to keep the device turned on.

The reader has an internal memory capable of storing around 100 books, depending on their size, but it can be expanded with SD cards or Memory Sticks.

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