It's one of those great footnotes of tech history: the first-gen Amazon Kindle, introduced in November 2007, is really a me-too device. It hit the market more than a year after the Sony PRS-500 -- which also wasn't the first e-book reader available, but was one of the first from a household name.
The rest, of course, is history: Amazon has gone on to leverage its world-class store to dominate the e-book scene, while competitors like Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Kobo struggle to keep up. Sony, meanwhile, keeps its hand in the game, releasing an updated Reader every year or so.
For 2012, the new model is the Reader PRS-T2. The touch-screen e-ink e-reader weighs 5.9 ounces, and is available in black, white, and red. It looks very similar to last year's PRS-T1 -- and also costs the same at $130 -- but it brings some feature and performance improvements along with some tweaks to the button layout and design.
Overall, it's an attractive e-reader, with nice, dark text, good performance, and a lightweight design that makes it easy to hold in your hand. I had a few nitpicks as about a couple of design elements, but overall I liked using this Reader. There's nothing really wrong with it except for the fact that it costs $10 more than competing e-readers that are just as good or better (Kindle Paperwhite, Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight). Moreover, it's missing the killer feature that those products offer: a built-in light (the $129.99 Kobo Glo also has this feature).
So is there any reason to get it? Well, if you're wed to Sony's e-books ecosystem (or just a Sony Reader fan), sure. This is an incremental upgrade from the the PRS-T1. But for others new to the e-reader game, especially those living in the U.S., it's hard to recommend the T2 over the Kindle Paperwhite or Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight, both of which offer the self-illuminated screen and the more extensive online bookstores of Amazon and Barnes & Noble, respectively.
Good design, few nitpicks
As I said, overall I liked the look and feel of the device. It's 4.375 inches wide, which is pretty narrow for an e-reader, and fits comfortably in your hand. I reviewed the matte black model and it has a nice, rubberized finished. The only problem with the black version is that the finish shows fingerprints (I suspect this would be less of an issue with the white version). To be fair, both the Kindle Paperwhite and Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight have similar finishes and also attract fingerprints. But I'm just pointing it out.
Unlike the Paperwhite, which has no physical buttons, this model has five on the front (underneath the screen). A lot of people like their touch-screen e-readers to also have physical buttons, but it's worth mentioning that the page-turn buttons are on the left side of the device, so if you prefer holding your e-reader in your right hand when you read, their placement might seem like a bit of a nuisance. The buttons also look a tad cheap, and with a lot of use, the paint on the buttons may start to wear off. Again, this is a small nitpick, but the Kindle and Nook's look a tad more sleek.
In terms of upgrades, Sony says the "glare-free" E-Ink Pearl V220 touch screen has been "enhanced for long-term reading." There are new social features (Facebook and Evernote), a simplified home screen, and an updated default book layout intended to make it easier to organize and find books. Smoother zoom in and out and improved continuous page turns are designed to improve the reading experience. There are two built-in English-language and four translation dictionaries. Battery life has been doubled from one month to two with wireless off, and the device's control buttons have been redesigned.
Finally, the matte black T2 model (the review sample I got) includes a free voucher for the e-book of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," redeemable from the Pottermore shop online. (That's right, only the black model has the free book.)
In other good news, you no longer have to install any software on your computer to access the Reader Store; it's all done through a Web-based interface now that you can access from most browsers. Sony says any book purchased via Web browser will be "waiting in the user's Reader library, ready to be read." Needless to say, Sony was just a bit behind Amazon and Barnes & Noble in this department.