Review: Sony Reader Daily Edition

Touchscreens make everything better and more intuitive, right?

Not so fast: Sometimes adding touchscreen technology has drawbacks that seriously outweigh the benefits. Exhibit A: the Sony Reader Daily Edition.

It’s an e-book reader that, like most others currently on the market, uses an E Ink screen. Unfortunately, while E Ink on its own is crisp and readable — not to mention easy on the batteries — it has a lower contrast ratio than the LCD screens most of us stare into all day long. But when you add a layer of touch-sensitive technology on top of the virtual ink, as Sony has done, the contrast ratio gets even worse, and the screen goes from pleasingly Etch-a-Sketch-like to downright murky and gray.

Another problem: Sony uses resistive-touchscreen tech, not the capacitive sensors used in most modern smartphones. That means it takes some real pressure to get the screen to respond. Combine that with E Ink’s slow refresh rate (it can take several seconds for the screen to respond to a command) and you need Zenlike equanimity, or catatonic levels of lethargy, to use the thing without flying into a frustrated rage.

It could be we’re just so jacked up from a steady diet of Twitter, Facebook and Google Buzz updates that we’re unable to grok the Reader’s slower, more contemplative pace.

Apart from the touchscreen, the Sony Reader Daily Edition has a lot going for it. Its 7-inch screen is bigger than the 6-inch display found on the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook. While an inch doesn’t sound like much, it translates into substantially more real estate — and a very usable “landscape” view that puts two pages side by side.

The Reader’s hardware is stylish, with a clean, conservative design and an attractive, leather-like flip cover. It is easily the most attractive e-book reader we’ve seen yet, and it’s a marked contrast to the Kindle’s Speak-n-Spell aesthetic.

Built-in 3G wireless (from AT&T) means you can browse, purchase and download books without having to sync with a computer. It also supports one of the features Sony most eagerly touts, namely the ability to subscribe to newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post. A WSJ subscription costs $15 for four weeks. Once you’ve subscribed, each day’s paper is automatically downloaded to the device every morning.

For that to work, though, you have to leave the wireless turned on (there’s a handy switch at the bottom for turning it on and off). Unfortunately, while the Reader’s battery lasted more than a week with the wireless off, it ran down in less than a weekend when we left the wireless on. In other words, if you want to have the morning paper waiting for you when you wake up each day, you’d better leave wireless on and plan on plugging the device into the wall for a recharge every day or so.

Overall, while we like the looks of the Sony Reader Daily Edition, we find it hard to recommend it. The touchscreen’s downsides, the device’s high price and the fact that a slew of new e-reader technologies are just around the corner make a strong case against buying it now. If Sony improves the screen and continues to polish the interface, they might just have a winner in version 2.0.

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