The Reader Digital Book, introduced Tuesday, is available in silver and dark blue at Borders bookstores or Sony's Web site. The device has 64 Mbytes of RAM -- capable of storing 160 e-books -- as well as expansion slots for Memory Stick Duo or SD memory cards.
Improvements from the first version include eight levels of gray, instead of four, for better picture and text quality. In addition, the higher-contrast screen makes it easier to read on sunny days, and the display refreshes faster. In addition, the controls have been restyled to more resemble page turning.
Other features include USB-based mass storage for moving documents, images, and other files to the Reader from a PC. The device supports Adobe's PDF files, as well as RTF, plain text, and JPEG. The device comes with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that's good for 7,500 pages of continuous reading.
Text can be magnified in three sizes, and the Reader can be switched to landscape mode, which offers another level of magnifications, as well as a wider page view. The device comes with a USB cable, PC software, and a protective soft cover. In addition, Sony is offering a credit for 100 classic titles from its Connect online e-book store. Those titles include the works of William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and H.G. Wells.
Sony's rivals in the e-book market include iRex Technologies, which makes the iLiad. The device has a touch screen that enables the user to make notes with a stylus, and includes a Wi-Fi connection. The iLiad, however, costs $699.
At the Consumer Electronics Show this year, iRiver unveiled its plans to release an e-book reader that would have two panels to resemble a real book and use AAA batteries for up to six months of battery life. The device, however, is not yet available.
Sony's and other e-book readers use a display technology called E Ink in their high-contrast screens. The technology is licensed from E Ink Corp.
The e-book reader market in general is a niche market attractive mostly to avid readers. Sony's new PRS-505 model is unlikely to change that, given its price, Michael Gartenberg, an analyst for JupiterResearch, said in his blog.
"The key will be breaking out of this market and driving into the masses," Gartenberg said. "One way to do that is going to be more mass market priced device bundles with reasonably priced content offerings, until that happens, this will be a cool but still niche product category."
Overall, however, Gartenberg said the latest Sony reader is a "nice evolutionary product" that fixed some of the annoyances of the first version.