Sony announces the Reader Wi-Fi

Although Sony is branching out into Android tablets, it hasn't forgotten its proddable-device roots: the company has announced a six-inch eReader dubbed the Sony Reader WiFi.

Designed to go head-to-head with Amazon's insanely popular Kindle - and other eReaders like the Barnes & Nobel Nook, which we don't get to see here in the UK - the Sony Reader WiFi is immediately obvious from its name: it's a device which builds on the company's existing Reader series with the addition of Wi-Fi connectivity.

That's long been the Kindle's killer feature: as an eReader, the somewhat odd layout with the tiny physical keyboard and off-centre screen makes it less then ideal - an issue which is more obvious if you try to read content in landscape mode - but its incredible success is largely down to Amazon's clever Wi-Fi and 3G backed platform.

Unlike rival devices, you can connect the Kindle to a Wi-Fi network - or a 3G mobile broadband network, with the more expensive model - and browse Amazon's collection of books, which can be purchased directly on the device for instant download. Compared to Sony's method, which involves a USB cable and a copy of the company's clunky desktop software, it's a revelation that has pushed the Kindle to dizzying heights.

The Sony Reader WiFi, then, is Sony's Kindle: the six-inch electrophoretic display is clear, and includes a touch-screen overlay for tablet-like navigation: pages can be swiped to turn backwards and forwards, and the software even supports pinch-to-zoom - a far cry from the early Sony Readers, which had a slow processor and a clunky three-stage zoom mode.

The device includes 2GB of internal storage, with a microSD slot for adding more - a sad departure from the company's earlier models which managed to cram in both full-size SD and MemoryStick Pro Duo slots, both of which could be used at the same time to massively expand the storage capacity of the device.

While the Sony Reader offers more flexibility than the Kindle, thanks to its support of the open ePub format and the inclusion of Adobe Digital Editions DRM technology as used by several online book sellers, that comes at a cost: UK pricing has yet to be confirmed, but the Sony Reader Wi-Fi is expected to launch in the US for $159 - a whole $10 more than Amazon's Kindle.

That pricing disparity might make all the difference: while the Sony Reader Wi-Fi is a very nice device, and clocks in at around two-thirds the weight of Amazon's offering, its previous eReader devices haven't been best-sellers - and in a world where 'eBook' is near-synonymous with 'Kindle' it's going to have a find a way to push its own product to the fore, and fast.