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Reviewing Sony’s Digital Paper Device

Has Sony figured out how to break us from our physical paper addiction?

January 11, 2015
 
Device Reviewed: Sony DPTS1 Digital Paper System.
Cost:  $999
Seller: Sony Direct
 
Before we discuss the Sony DPTS1 let’s talk about paper.   Paper comes from wood.  Wood comes from trees.  To get clear on this process go ahead and watch this one minute and 37 second video on YouTube on how paper is made.  If you are particularly ambitious, or just really geeky, you can join me in watching this 13:21 video The Paper Making Process Or you could watch the How Its Made segment on copy paper, starting at the 1:24 mark and going to 6:03.
 
The promise of Sony’s DPS (Digital Paper System)  is the substitution of one sheet of e-ink for all the physical paper that we use.  What if we could swap out all that wood-based paper that we print, copy, and write on for digital paper?  
 
I use paper all the time.   I’ll print any article, e-mail, or report longer than a page.  Writing on documents is often how I’ll synthesize information, and figure out what actions that I need to take.  Taking hand-written notes in meetings is often the best way to keep track of everything.  
 
The DPS is not competitor to Amazon’s Kindle e-reader.  The device is not meant for reading books.  Rather, it is a purpose built paper replacement for PDF reading, annotation, and note-taking.  Sony is not going after the book reading market, but rather industry verticals such as law (legal documents), entertainment (scripts, contracts) and (yes) higher education.   
 
Over the past couple of months I’ve been testing Sony’s Digital Paper device.  My overall conclusion is that Sony is on to something with its quest to replace physical paper with digital paper.  For Sony to fulfill this paper replacement goal the company will need to make some significant improvements in the company will need to make some significant upgrades in the DPS.
 
Sony Digital Paper System Pros:
 
Writing:  DPS comes with a stylus and the e-ink screen is set-up for handwriting.   The system seems designed for annotations, underlying, and quick notes - not long form handwriting.   The ability to annotate documents moves the DPS away from a pure e-reader and into the realm of digital paper.
 
Size:  At 9.25” wide and 12.5” tall the DPS is allows for reading of full-size 8.5” by 11” PDF documents.  The ability to read PDF documents in their native format on an e-reader is somewhat of a revelation.  
 
Weight:  The DPS is only 12.6 ounces, and dues to its size and thinness it feels incredibly light. The DPS adds almost no weight to my backpack.
 
Thinness:   The DPS comes in at .26 inches, which Sony says is about the thickness of 30 sheets of paper.  
 
Battery Life:  The big form factor allows for a big lithium-ion battery which Sony says will keep the DPS charged for 3 weeks.  In my experience the battery life was even better than that, as it seemed to hold its charge forever.
 
Sony Digital Paper System Cons:
 
Price:  At $999 the DPS is way too expensive.  At least way too expensive for higher ed.  Maybe law firms or movie studios will not mind paying, but I can’t imagine many higher ed folks being able to justify the costs.   This is too bad, because Sony’s Digital Paper system is the first device with a shot at eliminating much of the printing we do on campus.  
 
Integration:  The DPS integrates with Box, which is great.  But I’m an Evernote and Google Drive guy.   Sony needs to do the work to get the DPS to work seamlessly with all the cloud based file management platforms.   What stopped me from using the DPS more during my testing is that I needed to take extra steps to sync the documents to the device.   If my Evernote and Google Drive docs showed up seamlessly on the DPS then I would use the Sony Digital Paper system all the time.
 
Lighting:  At $999 there is really no excuse for not having a front-lit screen.  You can get an Amazon Kindle Paperwhite with an excellent built-in light for $119.
 
Speed and Responsiveness:   The inclusion of a stylus and a screen that can accept annotation and notes give Sony has the opportunity to leapfrog past Amazon in the digital paper space.  Sony’s technology, however, needs to evolve.  Handwriting needs to be crisper and more responsive.  Navigating around the screens and menus on the e-ink screen needs to get as fast as an LCD screen.  The good news is that Moore’s Law will guarantee that the DPS user experience will only improve. 
 
Spending time with Sony’s Digital Paper device is like living in a possible post-physical paper world.  Sony has the opportunity to define a new category, and to (once again) make the Sony brand relevant and hot.  I hope that Sony finds a way to improve the device (particularly the integration with cloud services), upgrade the hardware and software, and radically drop the price.  It would be a shame if the Sony Digital Paper System was confined to a niche market of well heeled lawyers.  
 
What would Sony need to do to tempt you to buy its Digital Paper device?

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