a little over a year after Sony released its last e-book update (the PRS-505), it now has released a new reader which is quite a bit more interesting than the rather small improvements of the PRS-505 over the PRS-500. the PRS-700 still looks quite a bit like the older models, but it has fewer buttons, because it now has a touchscreen.
removing buttons and making everything configurable has become en vogue since the iPhone has shown how this can provide a good user experience. on the other hand, devices like the iRex iLiad (the only touchscreen e-ink i had seen before the PRS-700) illustrate that touchscreens also can be very tricky and introduce a lot of user interface design challenges.
the Sony touchscreen is different than the iRex one. the iRex one uses Wacom graphic tablet technology and works only with a special pen. The Sony one also works with fingers (a pen is also included). the big difference is that the Wacom technology does not add any layers on top of the e-ink layer, whereas the Sony does have an additional layer on top of it. This notably reduces the clarity of the e-ink display, but it still is clear and easy to read. in the end, the bigger problem are fingerprints which make the screen harder to read, because you are touching and swiping across the screen all the time.
the PRS-700 also has an annotation feature with an on-screen keyboard. this feature clearly illustrates the limitations of e-ink: the response time of e-ink are simply too slow to make this kind of text entry convenient. the device is quite a bit faster that the PRS-500 models, it has a faster processor and the e-ink also may have become a bit faster, but e-ink is still a long way from being a good display technology for interactive interfaces.
my biggest concern with the Sony, though, was and still is the accompanying software. Sony Connect was a terrible program, slow and badly designed and unleasing Sony's usual tide of DRMing everything. Sony eBook Library is the new program, and i guess i'll download it, test it with my PRS-500, and if it really has become a usable piece of software, i might consider paying the $399 for the PRS-700. at first sight, however, it still looks like the old program, so maybe the name change was mostly motivated by the bad reputation, and not so much by really replacing it with something better...