Sony Reader e-Book--Third Time's The Charm?

The timing of Amazon’s update to its Kindle e-Book may be uncertain, but for Sony it’s full speed ahead with its Sony Reader.

The company on Oct. 2 unveiled its new PRS-700, a step-up model to its current PRS-505. It’s the third new model in two years for the consumer electronics giant—and its best so far. The highlight is a six-inch touchscreen display that lets you swipe your finger back and forth to turn pages. It’s a much more natural motion that reaching for buttons and far more intuitive than Amazon’s somewhat awkward Kindle design.

It’s a nice-looking device, too, with an all-black finish and nifty textured accents that feel nice in the hand.

Executives also took past complaints to heart about the inability to read the screen in darkened rooms; the new $399 gadget incorporates a light that rings the screen. The Sony Reader uses the same digital ink technology as the Kindle. It is energy-efficient, sustaining up to 7,500 pages of reading on one charge, but the downside is that manufacturers cannot build a backlight into the grayscale screen.

Sony also adds new search and bookmark features, and additional support for e-book formats and digital documents.

The upshot? It seems clear that Sony is committed to making money off the digital book market. Steve Haber, who formerly headed up the U.S. digital camera business, now heads the newly formed Sony Digital Reading Business Division. Haber told me in an interview that the company has transferred all hardware and software development to the United States and plan to make a full press in the coming year to take electronic readers mainstream.

To do that, Haber says the company plans to significantly revamp is much-maligned e-Book online store this month, making it easier to search and find titles and offering better suggestions about what a reader might like.

While some fans will be disappointed the PRS-700 does not offer the ability to wirelessly download copy the way the Kindle can (using Sprint’s domestic cellular network), Haber says there also are plans afoot for devices that do offer the feature—not just in the U.S., but worldwide. The PRS-700 is expected to go on sale in November.

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