I finally stopped in at a Sony store and checked out the Reader. The display is wonderful for reading (although I’d like to see kanji with furigana), the form factor is just right, and I estimate the battery would last through five complete novels worth of page-turning, but the control layout is clumsy, the UI is a mess, and it’s slooooooooow.
Waking it from sleep is quick, but obviously uses a trickle of power. A cold boot took nearly two minutes, and every UI operation takes nearly a second. Not just “navigate to sub-menu, redrawing entire screen”, but “move the pointer down from option 1 to option 2”. The real reason it has ten numbered buttons across the bottom of the screen is so you can avoid the ten second delay of moving the pointer from choice 1 to choice 10.
I love the screen, though. I didn’t have the patience to find out if you can shut off full justification for books, which looks awful in portrait mode, especially if you increase the font size. I also didn’t spend enough time with it to find out if you can reprogram one of those buttons to switch between portait and landscape modes; doing it through the menus involves six full-page redraws, so it’s not something you want to do often. And, of course, there’s no support for searching, which makes it useless for any kind of reference material.
In a few years, these things should be incredible, and worthwhile at twice the price. Today, not so much. Some of the limitations are technical (I suspect that moving the navigation pointer requires a full redraw), but the controls and UI are Sony’s fault.
On second thought, forget Sony. “Dear Apple…”