Will Sony's Daily Edition change the e-book reader race?

Back in March, I reviewed two e-readers: Amazon's Kindle 2 and the Sony Reader PRS-700. While I preferred the Reader's interface, I wrote that, "Unfortunately, the Sony falls short in one of the most crucial tasks for any e-reader: the ability to easily download books and other products." The Kindle was obviously ahead of the game.

Now -- maybe not so much.

Today, Sony announced a new iteration of its e-reader: the Reader Daily Edition. Like Amazon's Kindle, the Daily Edition (which will be available in December) will have 3G connectivity (in this case, supplied by AT&T) without any extra fees or transaction charges. The 2GB device will include a seven-inch-wide touch display and expansion slots for memory cards (something the Kindle does not have). It will sell for about $399 (about $100 more than the current Kindle costs).

Sony Reader Daily Edition

To make up for the difference in price, Sony is also introducing two other models: the Reader Pocket Edition, which comes with a five-inch display and a price of $199; and the Touch Edition, with a six-inch display, a touch screen and a price of $299. While they look like they could be snazzy models, they still need to be physically connected to a computer in order to download their books.

Sony also seems to be trying to recast itself as the more literate of the two companies -- and the more cost-effective over the long run. Besides offering users access to public domain books from Google, it's launched the Sony Library Finder, an application offering visitors to its eBook Store site access to e-books from their local library system.

The idea is that, if you have a library card, you can "check out" (i.e. download) the book you want to read. When the lending period is up, the e-book goes away. These services are already available via most local library online systems, but it's an added service for Sony users.

Sony isn't only encouraging its users to "visit" their local libraries, but has also started a new site, Words Move Me, which is actually a rather clever promotional site for its e-books; the idea being that users will enter their favorite quotes, discuss them, and thus encourage each other to buy the books belonging to the quotes -- through Sony's eBook Store, natch.

Sony is obviously in an all-out fight to outdo Amazon's top-of-the-market Kindle -- by offering a smaller, less expensive device; a comparable 3G device (at a somewhat high price); and a series of features that scream, "You see? We're not all about money -- we're about legally free public domain books and library books and classy quotes as well! Do you want to choose some company that pulls George Orwell out of your e-book reader without telling you? Or us?"

It's Amazon's move now.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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