Hands-On Review of the Sony Reader Daily Edition

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I recently got to spend a few days with the Sony Reader Daily Edition, Sony's newest digital book. During that time I made better use of my commute, read more than I have since college, and realized that reading glasses should be my next upgrade. Aptly named, the Daily Edition provides access to daily newspapers, in addition to over 1 million books and periodicals.

This latest digital book from Sony also serves up free 3G wireless access to the Reader Store and user friendly features, like the ability to look up words in The New Oxford American Dictionary. Additional features include note-taking capabilities, and access to music, pictures, and documents. If you're considering the Daily Edition in your search for the eBook that defines you, here are my impressions of Sony's latest take on the genre.

What sets the Daily Edition apart from other eBooks out there today is its ability to download papers, like the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune among others, directly to the device. You can buy a paper daily from the Sony Reader Store or you can order a monthly subscription and have the paper downloaded each morning. At the time of this writing there were approximately 12 papers available, but Sony says more options will become available soon.

Newspaper content on the Daily Edition comes up in an easy to read format. On the bottom of the page you can chose from the front page or a table of contents that clearly delineates the various sections. There are also tabs at the bottom of the screen that allow you to move from one section to another. Once you've chosen a section you'll see an expanded list of articles with a brief blurb from each one, and a picture if there is one.

Articles are displayed how they would be in hard copy, but with just a single column. You read the entirety of the article by scrolling down the page. I found the graphics to be quite adequate, actually even better than I expected. However, I was a little thrown by the list format in the table of contents at first. That being said, I quickly grew to appreciate the thought behind the design. There was no need to zoom in and out, or move around the page to find what I wanted to read. Not having to do all that resizing of the page was a nice change compared to when I try to read the paper on my phone. If you have a Smartphone of any sort you know what I mean.

Another plus for me was the Daily Edition's green potential. Instead of piling up used papers that I'll eventually throw out, this thin eBook stores an entire paper, numerous papers in fact, all on a device that's approximately half an inch thick. Although the same green advantage applies to digital readers vis a vis paper books, the sheer volume of newspapers spared from landfills makes the impact much greater.

I also found the portability the Reader afforded me to be invaluable. For once I actually had time to read the entire paper on the way to and from work while riding the subway. And I didn't have to fold or turn the pages while standing in a crowded subway car, all while trying not to fall over with every sudden jerk of the train. The Daily Edition, smaller than most books and definitely smaller than any newspaper, wasn't a nuisance to me or my fellow riders.

When it comes to reading books the digital device works pretty much the same way as Sony's previous Reader models. The book you're currently reading displays on the opening page, with three others showing on that page as well. And reading is intuitive, just like reading a traditional book. You just pick your selection from the list, by clicking on its cover, and off you go.

I especially appreciated features like the page turn options. Thanks to the touch screen you can turn the page with a swipe of your finger or the stylus. You can also program the pages to turn to the right, or the left. However, if swiping isn't your thing there are buttons you can use instead. You also have the option to zoom in on text with a slide bar and to set the page orientation to a one page vertical view, or a two page horizontal view.

In addition to reading books and papers on the Daily Edition, other features include the ability to make notes, enjoy pictures and music, create drawings, and look up words in The New Oxford American Dictionary. The note taking function lets you underline, write in the margins, highlight, and even type notes in a separate text document using a touch keyboard. The dictionary on the other hand lets you look up a word when you enter it manually, or by double tapping on a word in the text. The definition pops up on the bottom of the screen with additional options, such as a magnifying glass icon to find the word throughout the text, a button that takes you right to a dictionary page, and an icon to highlight the selected word where it appears in the text.

The Daily Edition has a 7 inch E Ink Vizplex screen. The screen was on the whole easy to read with its matte grey, paper-like display, with the exception of direct florescent lights or bright sunlight. Generally though it wasn't a problem, and with a slight adjustment, even under harsh light, I was able to read just fine. Other options, such as 6 different font sizes and 16 levels of grey, can be chosen from as well. The default text size is set to small but you can size the text anywhere from extra small, all the way up to extra, extra large. The aforementioned need for reading glasses became apparent when I found large to be the most comfortable font for me.

When it comes to storage options the Daily Edition has a 1.6GB built-in memory that can hold hundreds of books at once. The device also features a USB port for uploading material directly from your PC or Mac. You can also use Sony's Memory Stick Media, and SD memory cards for expanding on the built-in memory and enjoying even more books, music, pictures, or whatever you like. The Daily Edition also provides you with access to public libraries across the country to check out books for up to 3 weeks at a time. Other options include downloading free public domain books from Google Books, as well as sharing sites, online aggregators, and personal publishers. Sony gave the Daily Edition compatibility with a number of formats, including Adobe PDF, Microsoft Word, BBeB, and the standard EPUB/ACS4 format, among others. In addition, the Reader also supports unsecured MP3 and AAC audio files and JPEG, PNG, GIF, and BMP image files.

The Reader ships with a Case Logic zipper case for even more protection than the leather cover provides. I found this case especially nice when storing the Reader in my bag. I didn't have to worry about any potentially dangerous objects, like my keys or a pen, attacking it.  Sony also makes a few extra accessories to complement the digital book, such as a cover with a built-in light for reading in the dark. Other optional accessories include a spare battery, Memory Stick Media, and SD memory cards.

All things considered, as much as I value the good old book and paper method of reading, owning a digital book like the Daily Edition would be a welcome addition to my life. Aside from having instant access to reading materials, I'd probably be more apt to read a wider variety of things, more often - a sentiment I've heard uttered from many an eBook owner. If Sony opened up the free 3G Internet access to allow you to browse the web purchasing one would be a no brainer. But then I might not read anything at all and waste my time checking email and reading paltry tweets. That being said, now that my days with the Daily Edition have come to an end, the perils of packed train cars and open papers have returned. So, it likely won't be long before I incorporate this latest Reader into my daily life.