Gadgets: Constant Reader

Feel like lugging 80 books to your beach vacation? Didn't think so. But if the books were downloaded into the new Sony Reader, maybe you'd do it. No bigger than a mass-market paperback--and a lot trimmer--this electronic reading device indeed holds up to 80 electronic books (and even more if you use an optional memory stick). Its E Ink technology makes for clear reading--you can read a book, uh, cover to cover without straining your eyesight. The battery gives you 7,500 page turns between charges. Besides books, you can load text files, photos (they show up in black- and-white) and music. It costs $350 (buy before the end of the year and you get $50 worth of books free). In some ways the Reader isn't quite ready for teatime: in our testing it couldn't adequately handle pdf files (thus you can't read the public-domain books available in Google). And the only way to buy books is from the Sony Connect Store, a relatively limited emporium (10,000 titles, and not easily browsed) that won't keep Amazon up at night. But to para-phrase computer scientist Alan Kay on the early Macintosh, after many tries by many people, the Sony Reader is the first electronic book device worth criticizing. And it's also worth taking to the beach.