Two models begin shipping today: the Sony Reader Touch, a 6-inch-screen model that will cost $229, and the Sony Reader Pocket, a 5-incher priced at $179. The new version of the 7-inch Sony Daily Edition, $299, the only wireless model in the line, will ship later ("in time for the holidays"), the company says.
The key change to the new Readers lies in their touch screens. Sony says they use unique technology to eliminate the additional layer heretofore required to add touch capability to black-and-white E-ink screens.
On previous Sonys with touch screens, that additional layer compromised the crispness of the type—a compromise that discouraged most other manufacturers making readers with e-ink screens from adding touch capability to the devices. The old screens also required very firm pressure from your finger.
When I tried out the new Touch and Pocket in a meeting with Sony, I found the type looked notably crisper than on their previous namesakes. I also found the devices' screens to be more responsive.
Both devices have also been slimmed down; the Pocket now measures .33 inches thick, for example, down from .4 inches for its predecessor. And a few ounces have been trimmed from the weight of the devices. The new Touch weighs less than 8 ounces, making it even lighter than the slimmer, trimmer Kindle that debuted last week.
Unfortunately, Sony didn't address one of the biggest disadvantages of these devices: The need to tether them to a computer via USB cable in order to get new content. And there's a hefty premium for their touch capability compared with competitors that don't have touch screens. The Sony Reader Touch, for example, costs $80 and $90 more, respectively, than the least expensive (and Wi-Fi-enabled) versions of the Barnes & Noble Nook and the latest Amazon Kindle, both of which also have a 6-inch screen.
The new Daily Edition has both Wi-Fi and 3G service, plus a larger (7-inch) screen. But its price is more than $100 above the $189 you'll pay for a 3G/Wi-Fi version of either the Nook or the Kindle.