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E-reading Your Options – Charlotte Harper

Some five million e-ink reader devices were sold worldwide in 2009, and sales are projected to hit 12 million this year. So says Sony, which launched its Readers in Australia this month. Meanwhile, Apple sold some three million iPads worldwide in the first two months after its May launch. So, if you haven’t bought an e-reader, and you’re thinking about it, which one should you buy?

The 6” Sony Reader Touch ($299) and 5” Pocket ($229) are available from Sony online, at Myer, and Borders and Angus & Robertson.

Like the 6” Kobo (recently discounted to $179 and also available through Borders and A&R), they support several file formats, so users will be able to read books from just about anywhere. This is in contrast to the 6” Kindle, which is only available via Amazon, and only allows downloads of books from the Kindle store. However, both the Kindle ($US189) and the iPad (from $629) offer WiFi and the option of 3G for wireless downloading of content, whereas the Sony Readers, like the Kobo, must be connected to a PC or Mac via a USB cable.

Sony’s Reader, like the new Kindle, uses the latest e-ink technology to emulate the printed page. The grayscale e-ink screen is not backlit, and is thus easier on the eye, less power-hungry than an LCD screen, and readable in direct sunlight.

The Kindle is sexier than Sony or Kobo, with a more intuitive interface. In fact, it’s so sleek and friendly, you wonder whether they might’ve poached some industrial designer from Apple to create it. Though frustratingly, only the graphite version, and not the white, is available in Australia.

Sony’s Pocket comes in silver, pink or dark blue, has room for around 1200 ebooks, and offers around 10,000 continuous page turns or two weeks per battery charge. The larger Touch model offers the same features but comes in black or red and a built-in audio player.

Unlike the Kindle, but like the 9.7” iPad, the Sony offers a touch screen. The user can turn the page with the touch of a finger, or use the included stylus. This is designed for taking notes or drawing pictures, but will also allow you to collect an author’s autograph in an ebook.

Neither Sony nor the Kobo can match Amazon’s cross-platform syncing (allowing you to put down your iPad or Kindle at home to go shopping, then open the Kindle ebook up on your iPhone in the bank queue, and pick up exactly where you left off), because neither currently offers WiFi or 3G on their dedicated device.

You could always avoid Kindle, Sony and Kobo for now and stick with a smartphone or tablet with Kindle and Kobo apps. Given some Australian publishers have so far signed with one but not the other, having the option of buying from Amazon or Borders/A&R powered by Kobo will ensure access to the broadest range of local titles.

Waiting may be wise, too, given the major players will continue to upgrade their devices at a rapid rate. Indeed, there are rumours Apple is already at work on a 7” iPad Nano, featuring the same dazzlingly crisp retina display as the new iPhone 4. Those who consider the iPad too heavy for dedicated e-reading will be crossing their fingers.

Charlotte Harper is editor of www.ebookish.com.au

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