November 11, 2008

Sony eBook Reader PRS-700 get’s TouchScreen

Original Post from October 6th 2008.

Among other sites commenting this news is a PCPro one (here) and now Engadget (here). It appears the PRS-505 from Sony will be upgraded to the PRS-700 with the following changes:-

Finger input, or stylus input?

The PCPro article states "allows users to turn the page by swiping their finger across the screen and highlight text by tapping it with a finger. Users will also be able to annotate text using a touchscreen keyboard," - Annotating with more than a few words or tags sounds like a painful experience to me, but it will be interesting to see what page-turn and other gestures they implement and how they are received.

Later it comments "stylus-operated touchscreen", so doubts remain about which it is, or both?
The photo above clearly shows a finger operating it and the Sony press release (see below) also mentions fingers, but also "highlight text with the included stylus pen."

So, my current best guess pending more information - is that it's a resistive touchscreen, and they ship a passive plastic stylus (like say on our iPaqs) and that the stylus is just like a smaller finger for more accurate tapping and selection, especially with an on-screen keyboard.

My main "concern" about the addition of the Touchscreen to the Sony eReader is battery life. One of the reasons that the Sony is still my preferred reader is the incredible battery life they eke out of it, by effectively turning the entire device off while you are reading each page on the reflective screen. A touchscreen needs to be on the whole time, and many are (relatively speaking) quite power hungry. We'll see if Sony have either applied some innovation and excellent engineering to the touchscreen to reduce its impact on battery life, or they have taken their significant lead in battery life and sacrificed it (or some of it) to bring this interaction innovation to the device. If they have chosen a simpler passive touchscreen then I expect that to consume less power than the full Wacom tablet that's in the iRex Illiad.

If it were Wacom-style stylus input then you can help battery life by only powering on the sensing electronics for the stylus when it's removed from the device for use.

From the Sony Press Release: "the new 700 model uses minimal power and can sustain up to 7,500 pages of continuous reading on a single battery charge", so do they seem to have done a good job again.


There is mention of an improved (faster) CPU. Again I hope this doesn't affect battery life too much. The author on PCPro get's it a bit wrong as the CPU was not the problem in the time required for page turns it was the eInk display's refresh time. But if this device also incorporates newer eInk formulations and/or newer eInk driver ASICs then we'll probably also see an improvement in screen responsiveness and it'll all go down to a faster CPU and the myth will be perpetuated.

More memory for books and that's it I think, with no changes in connectivity as they stay with the "PC Centric" content distribution model, plus off-course the SD card slot they retain - unlike the newer Kindle. How long can Sony hold-out before having to put mobile data communications into this device like the Kindle? The Kindle seems to be winning based mainly on that feature, combined with the selection of content (Books, Newspapers and Magazines) available.

$400 in the US.

Breaking News (details)

Since writing that, Sony's own web has a press release on the new PRS-700 on it (here). Also if you go here to the Sony shop you can see more, and see that they have re-vamped the UI with big selection icons/areas to take advantage of the touchscreen. This has cleaned up the front of the device considerably with less navigation buttons and made it even more stylish and it's closer to my own goal of a "buttonless eBook" where the content is it's own intuitive UI.

Overall I now feel this refresh, although somewhat fumbled on the PR front, is more significant than the refresh (that's leaking out) to the Kindle (see previous post).

More breaking news... Gizmodo has a "Hands On" article here that also shows an image with the built-in LED front-light activated.

Conclusion: Still my favorite, due to size, weight, design/style, battery life, fast boot & shutdown and now with added finger and stylus input and an LED front-light for reading in the dark.

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