Sony does not specifically state which processor is used in the Reader, but our guess is that it's a low-power 800Mhz processor that is designed more for flipping through pages of text than graphics. There's a weird pause when you flip to a new page in the browser (even on a 12Mbps connection), and you'll notice quite a bit of screen flicker even for simple tastes like logging into the Sony ebook store.
Modern ebooks like the Sony Reader offer features well beyond ebook reading. The Reader lets you load up music on its paltry 1.3GB of internal storage. (You can add an microSD card up to 32GB.) You can download magazines and newspapers, browse the Web, and even check out ePub books from your local library. The unfortunate reality is that most of these features do not work nearly as smoothly as they do on a tablet, and the screen is not suited for anything but books.
The Reader provides only 16 levels of grey at 600 x 800 pixels. The screen measures six inches, and the device fits comfortably in one hand. It's so extremely light that it feels more like holding a smartphone than an ebook reader. A dull black shell and a light grey screen fade into the background as you read – the non-descript styling is a selling point for those who want to get lost in Crichton-land.
There are five buttons below the screen for forward and back, home, return, and menu. Icons along the top of the screen show any current downloads on the left, wireless signal strength (the Reader connects over Wi-Fi only, not 3G) and the battery level or whether you are charging. The Reader lasts for about one month on a charge, but that stat erodes quickly if you play music while you read.
Oddly, Sony includes a stylus pen you can use for more accurate typing, and there's a large clip you can use to attach the pen…to something, but not the Reader itself.
Like every other recent ebook reader, the Sony Reader uses E-Ink Pearl second-gen screen technology, aka the one distinguishing characteristic for readers like the Amazon Kindle 4 and the Barnes & Noble Nook compared to modern tablets like the Apple iPad 2. You buy an ereader if you only want to read books; you buy a tablet if you want to read books and do just about anything else.