Sony Takes on Amazon With Cheaper Readers and eBooks

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Sony Electronics has decided to amp up the electronic book competition with, announcing two new digital ebook readers as well as price reductions at its Sony eBook Store, all designed to lure consumers into Sony’s world and away from the runaway success of the Amazon Kindle.

"We firmly believe consumers should have choice in every aspect of their digital reading experience," said Sony Digital Reading Business Division president Steve Haber, in a statement. "Our goal is to expand the market and provide greater access to what consumers want to read when they want to read it—whether they buy, borrow, or get it for free."

First up, the new Sony Reader Pocket Edition is smaller than other e-readers currently on the market: it sports a five-inch, 800 by 600-pixel EInk display capable of display 8 levels of grey, and (in a nod to consumer tastes) the Pocket Reader will be available in silver, rose, and navy blue. The Pocket Edition will feature 512 MB of onboard memory (which Sony claims is enough for up to 350 books), and while the reader won’t feature a memory card reader, users will be able to load titles via USB. The Pocket Edition reader will support three font sizes, support ePub and PDF document formats, and will run for up to two weeks on a single battery charge. Perhaps most appearing, Sony plans to price the Pocket Reader at $199—that’s $100 less than Amazon’s least expensive Kindle model, although Sony’s reader lacks wireless capabilities.

The Sony Reader Touch Edition will sport a six-inch 800 by 600-pixel EInk display (again with 8 levels of grey) that operates with the touch of a finger or a stylus: the unit does away with blink hardware buttons for turning pages or accessing features. The unit offers a virtual keyboard for taking notes, and features a built-in version of the Oxford American English Dictionary so users can look up a word just by tapping it. The Touch Edition packs the same 512 MB of storage, but also offers an SD/MMC card reader and supports five font sizes on its display. It’ll carry a suggested price of $299, and will ship in silver, black, and red.

Both new readers should be available this month from Sony and selected retail partners. To help customers make up their minds, Sony is also dropping prices on eBook titles in its Sony eBook Store, with new releases and New York Times bestsellers now priced at $9.99. Previously, the titles typically cost $11.99; the price drop brings them in line with pricing from Amazon’s Kindle store.

Most of the buzz in the eReader market has surrounded Amazon’s Kindle—particularly in the mainstream media, where the likes of Oprah Winfrey have enthused about it—but Sony was the first to market with an EInk-based potable reader, and the $199 price point may make consumers willing to give Sony a shot.

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