An American historian once mused that books are best because, unlike computer screens, you can take them to bed. The poor chap clearly hadn't reckoned on technology's ability to rustle up nifty inventions like e-ink and eBook readers. While the Amazon Kindle remains stranded Stateside, Sony has finally sent us the second generation of its Reader series, the PRS-505, which is due to launch in early September.
The new leather-bound version is small step forward from its predecessor. There's now increased storage (enough for around 160 eBooks, plus SD/Memory Stick Duo slots), a thinner 8mm chassis, and a new USB mass storage mode, so Mac users can drag and drop books (the software is PC only).
The screen has also been given a boost, and it's a real stunner – if you haven't seen e-ink in the flesh before, it'll be hard to stop showing it to strangers and excitedly babbling about it. As you can see from the shot below, the 6in LCD's viewing angles are incredible and the boosted contrast really does give it the look of a paperback. Our only moan is that, without a backlight, it's difficult to read in the dark (although you can buy a light accessory).
The controls are reasonably intuitive, if a little too plentiful to be really easy to pick up. You can now navigate straight to a specific page, although flipping through pages isn't instantaneous and is accompanied by a slightly annoying flash. If your glasses prescription's a bit out of date, though, you can handily use the 'magnify' button, which re-formats the page to fit the screen.
The Sony Connect software is very iTunes-esque and there's also Adobe Digital Editions on the disc, which is another way of managing eBooks. Unfortunately, we weren't able to connect the Reader to the eBook store as the UK version isn't live till 4th September.
Sony tells us this will be in partnership with Waterstones and the type and number of books will be different from the US version, which has upwards of 20,000 eBooks to download for between $7-14. Let's hope the UK's rip-off tax doesn't make them any more expensive.
Keep your eyes peeled for a hands-on video and full review of the Reader soon. In the meantime, check out our 7 things you need to know about eBooks.
The US eBook Store: