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Sony Bucks the Trend – Won’t Ever Release an eReader with a Frontlight


The first and last Sony Reader with a frontlight

When Sony’s newest ereader leaked last Fall it was roundly criticized for lacking a frontlight. This feature was common on many leading ereaders by that point so it made little sense for Sony to miss the boat.

Thanks to a recent interview that a senior Sony manager gave at the Salon du Livre, we finally have a hint as to why Sony made this decision. The French gadget blog Clubic caught up with Stephanie Lang a few weeks, and she made it clear exactly why Sony doesn’t like frontlights on their ereaders.

Speaking as the head of the IT group for Sony France, Lang told Clubic that Sony had tried a frontlight before (in 2008, to be exact) and that they believe it took away from the reading experience. Here is her explanation, via Google Translate:

We believe that the integration of lighting from the sides is not necessarily helpful and may even degrade the reading experience. It moves away from the traditional reading experience on paper. By cons, we believe it can be useful to have a cover that integrates a light that can guide the reader as he wishes. But we do not seek to incorporate lighting directly into the hardware of the reader.

Lang goes on to add that Sony has conducted studies from time to time, and while there have been requests for a frontlight it’s never been anyone’s minimum requirement.

I happen to agree with Lang in that I don’t like a frontlight, but it certainly seems to be popular now. I would think having the frontlight would be preferable to giving up on potential sales.

On the other hand, Sony’s continued presence in ebooks has  puzzled me for some months now. I’m beginning to wonder if perhaps they are having more success than it might appear from the outside. Maybe current sales of the Sony Reader meets Sony’s expectations. Unfortunately for inquisitive busybodies like me, only Sony can answer that. And that’s not the type of info that is usually shared.



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Fred Dempster April 9, 2013 um 8:32 pm

Eh… I have a Kindle with and a Kindle without… nuf said.

Brian April 9, 2013 um 10:37 pm

I’m not a big fan of front light (sent my Paperwhite back) either. Their 2008 light did take away from the reading experience for sure IMO, but on the other hand it was nothing like the tech being used now which seems to be a hit with a lot of consumers.

DavidW April 9, 2013 um 11:28 pm

My experience is that tablets produce less eyestrain than a front lit ereader, and I’m not even big on reading on a tablet. And I defn. agree with that Sony rep, front lighting is moving away from the reads like paper feel… which is the whole point of eink. And with all of the complaining and problems people have had with uniform lighting on the kindle PW, nook and kobo glo… I have to ask is it worth it?

aceflor April 10, 2013 um 12:56 am

Who was your source Nate ?

aceflor April 10, 2013 um 12:57 am

I mean, how did you find out about this blog ? Curious to know….

Nate Hoffelder April 10, 2013 um 5:04 am

The half dozen blogs (French, German, Dutch, Italian) who beat me to the story. Why?

fjtorres April 10, 2013 um 7:42 am

I see two possibilities:

1- Sony doesn’t want to Osbourne their existing inventory of T2’s (which already have a tough row to hoe) so they’re pulling a Jobs. (Pooh-pooing the very thing they are actively trying to produce.)

2- Sony is (yet again) zigging when the market zags because they don’t understand consumers. (The funky T2 buttons are ample evidence of that.)

I’d like to vote for the first option in the hopes they come up with a true KPW competitor because right now nobody has the right mix of hardware and software to go toe-to-toe with KPW. (It remnds me of the period in 2010-11, almost a year, when the only Pearl screen devices you could buy were Kindles because Sony ran out of product shortly after introduction.) And I’d like to believe that somebody at Sony has researched the competition and actually used the frontlight Kindle and Kobo readers. Because the current laminated lightguide tech bears no resemblance to the crude embedded "light bulbs" Sony used for sidelighting.

The thing about KPW is that the frontlight really does elevate the product to a different level. The light isn’t just for reading in the dark, but rather for improving contrast full-time. The background is truly white. And the white background makes the smaller pixels of the XGA screen stand out resulting in a very very pleasing display. All at minimal cost in battery life and money.
They really hit the sweetspot between power-hungry LCDs and unlit eink.
Now, the Kobo Glo is also pretty good but they’ve had issues… software issues, availability issues…
In time, they will stablize their firmware and disribution. If Sony truly doesn’t "get" the value of frontlighting to consumers… Well, Kobo supports the exact same ADEPT DRM as Sony. Switching will be very easy…

I’d love to see Sony do a T1-class reader with XGA eink and a laminated frontlight. Especially if it is android-based and open (or at least hackable), with audio and TTS. It would at least justify a new round of readers.
But if they don’t intend to go where the market is going, where even third-tier vendors are going, they really should just pack it in and stop embarrassing themselves with silly pronouncements and uncompetitive products.
I guess a third possibility for the pronouncement is that they are getting ready to pack it in and stop making ereaders, that their new ebookstore is really meant for their Android app and tablet users.
We’ll see soon enough. (July/august)

Ingo Lembcke April 10, 2013 um 1:11 pm

Second your notion, but would be surprised to see it happen.
Audio and therefore TTS is missing from most readers (Sony T2, Kindle PW, Tolino), I cannot see it coming back.

fjtorres April 10, 2013 um 1:18 pm

I have some hopes that the next KPW will bring audio back because of Amazon’s synchronized reading feature. Plus,now that they own Ivona there is no licensing cost to the TTS. And if Amazon does it, the close followers may see fit to…follow. 😉

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Cookie April 10, 2013 um 8:26 am

Nothing beats the Sonys for dictionary support, and that matters more to the international consumers than Americans.

Ingo Lembcke April 10, 2013 um 1:17 pm

Maybe, but it is useable on the Kindle (Paperwhite), not as good as on the Sony (compared to T1).
The Sony offers easier switching between the installed Dictionarys and easy access to online search – but WLAN must be turned on, which can be a distracting sequence of switching on, selecting again (later switching off).

And on the German Tolino they dropped the ball entirely: currently it has none, no Duden (our lokal German Dictionary), no Dictionary…

carmen webster buxton April 10, 2013 um 8:59 am

Based on my Smashwords numbers, I would not be surprised to hear that Sony ebooks were doing OK in Canada.

fjtorres April 10, 2013 um 9:54 am

Canada is Kobo country so Sony’s ebookstore *should* be doing well. They’re the deepest pocketed generic ebookstore around. 🙂

Fbone April 10, 2013 um 11:01 am

And after the "temporary" closure of BoB, both ebook stores should gain some customers. Although Google price-wise is a viable 3rd option.

Vonda Z April 10, 2013 um 11:01 am

I have both frontlit Paperwhite and the standard Kindle with no light. If I am reading outside, then I don’t need the light. But the light in the paperwhite greatly improves the indoor reading experience, even in a well lit room. It elevates the paperwhite from a greyish screened device to a more white like paper experience. It does not distract from the reading experience or make me more aware that I am reading on a device. In fact, the idea is to control the brightness so that it is a more natural illumination that dissolved into the background and you don’t even think about it.

The idea that an external light or lighted cover is a better choice is crazy. I have tried so many different types of reading lights, from the M-Edge light, to the Kindle lighted cover, to the Octavo Solis and the Kandle. There may have been others along the way. None of them made me happy for reading in a dim environment and they all distracted me from the reading experience because I was constantly fiddling with the light to try to get more even coverage from the light. There was always a glare somewhere and a dark corner somewhere else and I was always too aware of this.

Finally, the logic that the 2008 sony version proved that lighted devices are not well-received is the most ridiculous argument I have ever heard. The lighting on that device was so bad that of course it was poorly rated. That doesn’t mean that the entire concept was rejected, just Sony’s poor implementation.

Argos April 10, 2013 um 1:59 pm

Vonda Z,
You’ve said it all.
I really hope Sony will at least offer their customers a choice.
I mean… just ad an off switch for the front lighting just like all the competitors do.

Len Feldman April 10, 2013 um 1:16 pm

Given the popularity of front-lit eReaders, most companies that believed that unlit eReaders are better would still give customers the option of choosing between unlit and front-lit models. As usual, Sony believes that it knows what’s better for its customers than its customers do, so it makes the choices for them. (Apple does the same thing, of course, but Apple is right a much higher percentage of the time than is Sony.)

Jason April 10, 2013 um 1:35 pm

I guess we`ll just see how well Sony and their bucking the trend eReaders do. Personally, I like my Kobo Glo and will not be upgrading to anything that doesn`t have front light tech.

Argos April 10, 2013 um 1:55 pm

I waited several months for a statement by Sony about a new reader. I had hoped for a front lit reader with higher res and a 1 GHz processor and more memory. But as no news came I bought an Onyx Firefly last week.

The Firefly’s software is definitely inferior to that of Sony’s readers and I miss the superb dictionaries and dictionary handling Sony offers. The Firefly’s hardware though is far superior to that of Sony’s products. The front lit Onyx reader has 8GB of internal storage, with 256 Mb system RAM and a high resolution screen, it also has audio and TTS.

Sony should have a look at the front lighting of the Onyx and Kobo. It works very well even on the lowest of settings. Not producing a modern front lit reader will be the doom of Sony’s ereaders. They won’t be able to compete because front lighting is incredibly convenient.

My experiences with my Sony PRS950 are very positive and if Sony would release a high res front lit reader in the near future I would certainly buy it. If they don’t, well… then I have no reason to return to Sony’s readers. I would deplore that.

ben April 10, 2013 um 2:36 pm

Sony has an advantage because of their slightly larger size screen, which makes a huge difference (I’d never read on a 6″ screen for pleasure, as I find it too small to be immersive).

But front-lighting should be a must for the new model. After all, the user can always turn it off if they don’t like it.

Oh, and if it’s an 8″ screen, I’ll be all over it!

fjtorres April 10, 2013 um 5:46 pm

Slightly larger?
Sony discontinued the 9xx model ages ago.
The only reader they have is 6in, like most everybody else’s.

Argos April 12, 2013 um 5:16 am

Sony is doing their best to get rid of all the advantages they had.
They had 7″ readers, but no more.
They had audio, but no more.
They had a convenient internal silo for the Stylus, but no more.
They had a beautiful aluminum casing, but no more, in stead they use cheap looking plastic.
etc. etc.

And now Sony announced they want to stay behind even more by rejecting front lighting.

Very good move Sony… I think you might want to say goodbye to your ereader department.

David May 22, 2013 um 1:24 pm

I’d have to agree on every single point. Their 7″ was our favorite. That finally bit the dust (too much time at the beach). This Aura HD is looking nice at 6.8″ with frontlight. It’s too bad, we really liked the Sony readers and still have a couple, but they’ve been passed down to the kids while we get ones with the features we’ve been hoping for.

I had high hopes that Sony would release a reader in their Z line that’s water/dust/shock proof and included a frontlight. Those hopes are fading fast now.

Nate Hoffelder May 23, 2013 um 9:16 pm

I liked the size of the 7″ but IMO it never had decent software.

Jessie April 24, 2013 um 10:33 am

What a bad move from Sony not to include the lighting… I would like to buy a new e-reader, kind of waiting for a new Sony to come out, but now I’m not sure.
(does anybody know if or when that would be?)

Looks like the Kobo Aura HD has all my interest now. But not sure when I hear about the software that sometimes doesn’t work with Kobo.

David May 22, 2013 um 1:13 pm

This really sucks. My wife and I have owned every Sony ebook reader model since their first. Only recently have we switched to the nook with light because it comes in very handy. We’ve been hoping for a new Sony with frontlight to switch back. Sony’s hardware is the best quality with the best UI, but no frontlight means no dice for us.

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