It's been delayed and delayed, but Sony's portable Reader, first announced in January, is finally for sale. To recap, the Reader (model no. PRS-500) is a handheld that's meant to stand in for that stack of books in your carryon. Storing up to 80 complete books on the surprisingly low 64 MB of internal memory (you can pump that up with Memory Stick or SD media), the 9-ounce Reader displays them page by page — including the cover, copyright, dedication, and all the rest — on its 6-inch (diagonal) screen. The display uses E Ink technology, which means it's purely black and white, but it also has the advantage of consuming no power unless the page is refreshed (i.e. you turn the page). Battery life is rated for about 7,500 page turns, and you can view RTF and PDF documents on it as well. Books for the Reader are for sale on Sony's online store that no one's ever heard of, Connect.com, and should cost you about 20% to 30% less than a print copy (that's off either the hardcover or paperback, depending on where the book is in its cycle). Encoded with copy-protecting DRM, the download can be copied to six devices.
Goofing around with the Reader last night, I found that it worked pretty much the same as the models Sony showed off at CES in January. It's simple enough to use, though the controls are a bit inelegant, and the E Ink tech makes the refresh rate kind of slow for anyone used to a 2-GHz PC. Text was clear enough (though certainly not as defined as black ink on white paper) and was easy on the eyes since the screen has no backlight. I was also a tad disappointed that you can't change the font — apart from making it larger. You're stuck with whatever the publisher gives you, and forget about adjusting leading or justification.
Will books come out for the Reader at the same time as the hardcover editions? That's up to the publishers, which include heavyweights like Penguin-Putnam, Simon and Schuster, Random House, HarperCollins, and Harlequin, and so far they've put 10,000 titles on Connect. The Reader will ship to retail outlets, including Borders, by the end of this week. But if you can't wait, you can order one from Sonystyle.com for the tidy sum of $350.