You might not remember it, but Sony introduced its first Reader device way back in 2006, long before eBooks were cool. Then Amazon introduced the Kindle the following year, adding the convenience of wireless downloads. Because Sony was slow to add this functionality, it would become an also-ran in a category it helped pioneer. The Sony Reader Daily Edition is the company’s effort to get back in the game, combining 3G wireless with a bigger touchscreen display than what you’ll find on the Amazon Kindle 2 or Barnes & Noble Nook. However, at $399, this device costs $140 more than the competition. Is it worth the premium?
The 8.1 x 5 x 0.6-inch Daily Edition is essentially a longer Sony Reader Touch Edition with 3G. Both readers have the same type of screen, touch interface, ports, and minimalist design. The Daily Edition is the same width as the 6-inch Touch Edition, so it fits comfortably in one hand. However, the longer 7-inch screen allows for more lines of text and two-column reading in landscape mode.
Below the E-Ink screen sit five physical buttons: Previous/Next Page, Home, Zoom, and Options. A stylus is tucked into the upper left hand corner next to the power slide. Media slots for SD and Memory Stick Duo Cards are hidden behind a cover on the right edge. Along the bottom is a wireless on/off switch, mini-USB and headphone ports, volume controls, and the power port.
Adding to its premium air, the Daily Edition includes a portable zipper case and a built-in leather cover to protect the screen. We particularly appreciated the magnetic closure on the cover that kept it secure even as the reader jostled around in our bag.
As with the Touch Edition, the Daily’s menu consists of large icons designed to be navigated with a finger (or stylus). The home page offers quick access to the most recently read book or periodical, a list of the most recently added books, as well as Collections, Notes, and Periodicals. Along the bottom of the screen are tabs for accessing the Reader Store, other applications (such as handwritten notes and the audio player), and Settings.
The interface is simple, but that’s to the user’s advantage. We had no trouble navigating and understanding how to use the Daily Edition right out of the box. As is appropriate for a device designed for touch navigation, all of the elements were a bit oversized, so we never had to struggle to click the element or text we wanted with the pad of our finger.
Unfortunately, another attribute the Daily inherited from the Touch Edition was sluggishness. After tapping an icon or other selector, the Daily often took a few seconds to respond. About a third of the time the device wouldn’t follow the command at all even though it appeared to register our taps or swipes.
Due to the extra layer Sony added to the screen to enable touch functionality, the Daily Edition’s E-Ink display looks somewhat dull compared to non-touch eReaders, such as the Kindle and Nook. It’s more noticeable when comparing the devices side by side than it is when reading with the Daily Edition, as the screen is still crisp. However, we did find that when reading in medium to low lighting we felt more eye strain with the Daily Edition than with other eReaders.
Just as with the Touch Edition, users can manually switch the orientation of the screen to read in portrait or landscape mode. One of the benefits of reading in landscape mode is that text can be split into two columns, which feels more natural when reading newspapers. Users have a wide range of text sizes, from extra small all the way up to 2XL.
While reading N. K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, we appreciated how the additional text that could fit on the page kept us from turning them as often, helping us stay immersed in the book. Though we like the novelty of swiping our finger across the screen to turn pages, it quickly became tedious; pressing a button to turn is far simpler.
There are physical buttons on the Daily Edition for page turns, but they’re both on the lower left corner of the device, making them less ergonomically comfortable than the Kindle or Nook. We’d like the ability to simply tap the edge of the screen to turn pages.
Despite the interface’s overall slowness, turning pages took a speedy 1 second when we used the swiping gesture and a little less with the physical buttons. This performance is faster than the Nook and on a par with the Kindle 2.
Sony Store and Content Selection
Following in the footsteps of the Kindle, Sony’s Daily Edition includes free 3G connectivity to access Sony’s Reader Store. Navigating the store is as straightforward as navigating the device. The Daily Edition takes more time to switch pages and load titles than competing devices, something we attribute to the extra time the device needed to download information over the wireless connection.
There are more than 200,000 eBooks available through Sony’s Reader Store—not including the more than 1 million free eBooks available from Google Books—and 15 periodicals. Compared to Barnes & Noble, Sony has more current titles. At the time of this review, there were 1,069,161 eBooks available for the Nook, but more than 1 million of them are also from Google Books. Amazon still has the advantage with more than 420,000 eBooks, 20 newspapers, 13 magazines, and numerous blog feeds.
Most books cost $25 or less with bestsellers in the $9.99 range, similar to Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Periodical prices are on a par with the Kindle and Nook, though not always the same. The Los Angeles Times costs 75 cents per issue and $9.99 per month in all three stores, but the Financial Times costs 25 cents more per individual issue on the Daily Edition than on the Nook. All of the digital editions are less expensive than their print counterparts, though the savings aren’t always steep.
As with many new eReaders, the Daily Edition reads EPUB format books, both with and without DRM protection. The device also reads PDF (Adobe protected and non) files natively, as well as unsecured text and RTF files (unlike the Nook). It can read Microsoft Word docs, but they require conversion. Sony’s support for the more open EPUB format means the Daily isn’t restricted to one content source, like the Kindle 2.
With all of the new Sony Readers users are able to load books on loan from participating libraries with digital collections. Currently you can’t download these books over the air. Instead, you’ll have to sign into your local library’s website to download EPUB or PDF books, then transfer them to the Daily Edition via Sony’s eBook Library program (which you can install right from the Reader itself).You’ll need to sign up for an Adobe.com account due to the DRM, and that account must be connected to the same email address that you used to register the Reader in order to sync these books. Once you do, you’ll be able to read library eBooks on the Reader for the specified loan time.
We like the ability to get eBooks on loan without having to go to the library itself and that you don't have to worry about late fees. However, we find it somewhat odd that libraries can only loan out a limited number of eBooks at a time. When searching the New York Public Library eBook catalog, at least two thirds of the books we saw weren’t available.
3G Connectivity and Performance
The connection to AT&T’s network dropped in the middle of searches several times during our testing, even though the indicator at the bottom left corner showed 3 or 4 bars. Due to this slowness, we found it easier to browse and search the store on our computer, which detracts from the wireless capability of the device.
Still, many of the EPUB books in Sony’s store have small file sizes, so we were able to download them quickly. Catherynne M. Valente’s Palimpsest (599KB) was ready to read in 45 seconds; Holly Black and D. J. MacHale’s Swashbuckling Fantasy: 10 Thrilling Tales of Magical Adventure (2.2MB) downloaded in 51 seconds; and one issue of The Columbus Dispatch (835KB) took 1 minute and 24 seconds, averaging around 176 Kbps.
The Daily Edition’s average speed is a bit behind the Kindle 2, which downloaded The King James Bible (4.5MB) in 4 minutes and Jane Austen’s Persuasion (309KB) in 27 seconds for an average rate of around 121 Kbps. However, the Nook beats them both, taking just 58 seconds to download The Authorized King James Version of The Holy Bible (2.5MB) and Ulysses by James Joyce (266KB) in less than 37 seconds over 3G, for an average of about 430 Kbps .
When not accessing the store, the wireless connection on the Daily Edition automatically switches to standby mode. To turn it completely off, simply flick the switch on the bottom of the reader.
Sony rates the Daily Edition’s battery life at up to 7 days with the wireless on and up to two and a half weeks with it off. We used it for 5 days without needing to charge, leaving the wireless on.
Sony clearly hopes that 3G connectivity and a large touchscreen will make the $399 Daily Edition worth the extra dough over the $259 Kindle 2 or Nook. All things being equal, these features might be enough to convince consumers. However, the slowness of the Daily Edition’s interface hindered our appreciation of the device. While touch is a more natural way to navigate through eBooks, and we like Sony’s continuing innovation in the category, the execution isn’t quite there yet. If you can live without an E-Ink touchscreen, the Nook is a better choice for consumers who want something with the same level of openness and don’t want to be locked into one eBook store as they would with the Kindle. But for pure ergonomic comfort, the Kindle 2 offers the best design, plus a large selection of daily content.
Sony Reader Daily Edition
Battery Life: 6 days
Book Download Speed The Columbus Dispatch (3G): 1:24 minutes
Book Download Speed Palimpsest (3G): 45 seconds
Page Turn Time: 1 second or less
Boot Time: 30 seconds
Wake Time: 1 second