Monday, March 8, 2010

Stop the Presses! Sony's Reader Needs a Heavy Touch

Touchscreens make everything better and more intuitive, right?

Not so fast: Sometimes adding touchscreen technology has drawbacks that seriously outweigh the benefits. Exhibit A: the Sony Reader Daily Edition.

It's an e-book reader that, like most others currently on the market, uses an E Ink screen. Unfortunately, while E Ink on its own is crisp and readable — not to mention easy on the batteries — it has a lower contrast ratio than the LCD screens most of us stare into all day long. But when you add a layer of touch-sensitive technology on top of the virtual ink, as Sony has done, the contrast ratio gets even worse, and the screen goes from pleasingly Etch-a-Sketch-like to downright murky and gray.

Another problem: Sony uses resistive-touchscreen tech, not the capacitive sensors used in most modern smartphones. That means it takes some real pressure to get the screen to respond. Combine that with E Ink's slow refresh rate (it can take several seconds for the screen to respond to a command) and you need Zenlike equanimity, or catatonic levels of lethargy, to use the thing without flying into a frustrated rage.

It could be we're just so jacked up from a steady diet of Twitter, Facebook and Google Buzz updates that we're unable to grok the Reader's slower, more contemplative pace

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