Hardware Platform

In the previous section, we had a brief description of the external hardware aspects of the Sony DPT-S1. A few aspects not noted over there include the presence of a microSD slot on the back as well as a micro-USB charging / data transfer port just beneath the navigation / context menu buttons at the bottom. The microSD slot can accommodate microSDHC cards up to 32GB in size. The back panel also includes a reset hole that can be activated with a pin while booting up to restore the device to factory conditions.

Thanks to a forum member over at mobileread, we have some insight into the internals of the system. The pictures linked in the forum are reproduced in the gallery below.

The board shots reveal the following components:

  1. Freescale i.MX508 application processor (single core Cortex-A8 at up to 1GHz)
  2. Samsung LPDDR2 K4P8G304EQ x32 8Gb (1GB) DRAM
  3. SanDisk 4GB eMMC 4.51 19nm flash (SDIN7DP2-4G)
  4. Wacom digitizer
  5. Neonode zForce NN1001 optical touch controller

In addition, the FCC ID printed in the back (VPYLBWN572) indicates the presence of a Murata WLAN module which internally uses a Atheros AR6003G 1x1 802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz radio-on-chip WLAN controller.

The stylus / pen supplied as part of the DPT-S1 is passive. It doesn't need any batteries. No recharging is necessary. The Wacom digitizer is also passive in nature. According to a forum post on mobileread, it is possible to use non-Sony digitizer pens with the DPT-S1. This indicates that Wacom's EMR (Electro-Magnetic Resonance) technology is in use. The power requirements for EMR are satisfied by the display side. The digitizer generates a magnetic field that allows energy inducement in the pen's resonator. This can, in turn, be detected by the digitzer to determine the coordinates of the pen's position and its orientation.

The DPT-S1 has a touchscreen with multi-touch support. The teardown reveals an optical touch controller. The DPT-S1 integrates a set of light emitters and detectors along the edges of the screen and an optical light guide to the neonode touch controller IC. The IC controls the light sent out and also monitors the detectors. Changes in lighting conditions can indicate the presence of a touch object. The coordinates can also be calculated by the IC once calibration is in-place.

The device contains a rechargeable Li-ion battery rated at 3.7 V DC, 1270mAh. With the supplied 5V @ 1.5A USB charger, Sony indicates that full charging can take up to 2.5 hours.

Coming back to the general characteristics of the hardware, we find that the rear side of the device is a fingerprint magnet despite not being glossy. The front screen itself, thankfully, is not that bad. The navigation and context menu buttons make an audible click when pressed. While this is good feedback, there appears to be a lack of consistency across the three buttons in terms of the force required for activation. The placement of the power button in a slanted panel works perfect, but some users might prefer the power button elsewhere. The placement of the micro-USB port is unfortunate in the sense that the device has to be taken out of the sleeve for charging purposes. All these are minor aspects in the overall scheme of things.

The physical characteristics of the E-Ink Mobius screen (8" x 10.625" with a 13.3" diagonal, 1600 x 1200 resolution and 16 levels of grayscale support) have already been discussed. Readers might be wondering if a 13.3" tablet would be a good alternative if the backlighting / eye strain issue is not a big problem.

The above photograph shows the same graphics-heavy PDF page displayed on a Sony DPT-S1 and a Dell Inspiron 13 7000 series in tablet mode (13.3" 1920x1080 touchscreen). Despite the absence of color capabilities, it is obvious that the aspect ratio of the DPT-S1 leads to a better experience with the perusal of the content.

Introduction Software and UI Aspects
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  • AndrewJacksonZA - Friday, December 18, 2015 - link

    That sucks in my opinion. Not even .txt files?!?!
  • Murloc - Friday, December 18, 2015 - link

    older Sony e-ink readers support a variety of ebook formats plus ppt and stuff but this doesn't?
  • name99 - Thursday, December 17, 2015 - link

    I'm guessing the expected use model is people who interact with a large number of PDFs and want to carry them around for more or less easy access --- people like physicists and biologists reading lots of technical papers, also architects, musicians, lawyers.

    BUT for this sort of usage, the device lives or dies by the quality of the software for organizing and searching the PDF set, and adding/syncing documents, we didn't get a good feel for that.

    I'd say the gold standard for this right now is GoodReader on an iPad. You can set up the software to simply mirror a PDF folder hierarchy on some other computer of interest (like a PC or Mac) and press one button to have documents synched between the two. (So you can eg easily arrange the documents on your PC, but then have that arrangement propagate to the device.)
    You can alternatively import PDFs from many other places (including, eg, email). You can search across documents, or star/favorite documents. You can annotate PDFs. You can also have multiple PDFs open at once (including multiple open views of the same PDF).

    What you CAN'T do (which could possibly be useful) is have distinct workspaces comprising multiple open PDFs so, eg, you can toggle between "Work reading" and "Fun reading".

    But looking at the Sony SW, from what I can see in the pictures and the review, they don't offer enough to be competitive with my usage for this sort of device (and what I'd expect most of the target users would require).
    They obvious offer a larger screen than an iPad Air2, and that might be useful for some target audiences (blueprints, music, maybe legal documents); but for most TECHNICAL PDFs it's not as much of a problem as you'd expect because GoodReader offers very good cropping support to strip out margin whitespace. If you need the larger screen or stylus, of course iPad Pro gives you that, at the same sort of price --- but about 1.5x the weight.

    The other eInk advantage (longer battery life, reading in sunlight) strike me as mostly irrelevant. If you want to read at the beach or while on vacation away from electricity, a standard Kindle is the more obvious choice. This is (for most users) a working device, to be used inside with electricity available.

    My point is to to say how wonderful iPad/iPad Pro is. (The wonderfulness is is GoodReader, iBooks is GARBAGE for the usage model I'm describing). My point is that Sony (yet AGAIN) appears to be starting from "what cool hardware can we put together?" rather than "what real-life problem can we solve?" So they have bolt-on software which looks like it was slapped together in the last month of this project, probably with no update plan (good luck if security flaws are discovered in their browser in three years). They (and most companies) still DON'T GET IT. Software is what makes these devices valuable, and if you're not interested in writing quality software (based on serious usage models, and with a serious plan for long-term software updating) don't waste our time and yours.
  • ganeshts - Thursday, December 17, 2015 - link

    The mirroring / synchronization model is exactly the same as you suggest - but, it is two-way : since the PDFs can be modified on the DPT-S1, the changes get reflected in the source folder too.

    Only issue is that only WebDAV folders are supported for this purpose - not any generic folder on a PC. It would be nice to have SMB support or something similar - but, it is similar in the sense that there is PC software available to export folders in the computer as WebDAV folders.

    The DPT-S1 supports multiple workspaces.

    Btw, iPad Pro's 713g should be compared against the DPT-S1's 364g - almost 2x, not 1.5x

    Long battery life is not about access to electricity, but more about reading / writing on an office table or in a court room - where people just don't want to be tethered. The lightness factor also plays a role here.

    Despite similar features - large screen, stylus support for writing etc. - I believe the iPad Pro and the Sony DPT-S1 target different market segments.

    Btw, I do agree Sony makes some consumer-facing products that should never have come to the market and/or are severely locked down with bad user experience. I can tell you that this product is not like those 'typical' Sony consumer products. It comes from the professional division, and the difference in approach really shows. The device is meant for a particular usage scenario and it is able to serve those scenarios pretty well.

    Btw, the browser is just for use in an emergency - definitely not for general browsing (the experience with E-Ink screens is not good for visiting websites anyway). Anyways, Sony's has not left this product in the lurch. In fact, they just released a firmware update a couple of days back with more features - this is for a product launched almost 2 years back.

    I will definitely agree with you that Sony has messed up a lot of products, but this is not one of them (except for the pricing aspect).
  • name99 - Thursday, December 17, 2015 - link

    Good Reader provides 2-way synching too. Anything else is not (IMHO) synching!
    WebDAV means it may have problems with Mac? The very first versions of GoodReader used WebDAV and it sucked (for Mac at least); once they switched to USB life was much better, and I've no idea if El Cap even supports WebDAV out of the box.

    For weight I was keying off your "Placed in the supplied sleeve, the complete package weighs in at 496g. " Obviously the sleeve is not essential, but I expect there will not be many case options. while iPad Pro will have a reasonable selection of lightweight cases, like iPad.

    Likewise I'd expect an iPad Pro for the sorts of usage models I am suggesting to have around 10hrs or more of battery life --- hardly tethering.

    Well it will be interesting to see how this plays out; but as someone somewhat in what I imagine the target market for this device to be, Sony is going to have to work REALLY hard to convince me that this makes more sense than an iPad Pro. (Or, more realistically an iPad Pro 2, since my iPad Air 2 right now meets my needs.)
  • phexac - Friday, December 18, 2015 - link

    I am still not clear what usage scenario could be filled with the Sony device that cannot be done better by iPad Pro.

    1. Battery life isn't really an issue since iPad Pro will easily last the whole day off of one charge.
    2. I guess iPad Pro is heavier, but in what situation would that actually a) be an issue and b) be enough of an issue to offset the greater versatility offered by the iPad.
  • sungamer - Monday, December 21, 2015 - link

    It's far better for my personal usage scenario than an ipad. As a musician looking at scores for over 6 hours a day, eye-strain is nonexistent with this than with any backlit screen. Battery life becomes an issue when you don't feel like carrying extra chargers while on the road, and being on the road for 2 months at a time.
  • VisioGuy - Wednesday, December 23, 2015 - link

    I use the Sony for sheet music and tire of people parroting iPads as the best solution "for everything". iPads are too small, too heavy, too expensive and too breakable. Now, the iPad Pro is big enough, but the expense factor is even worse.

    I use my Sony DPTS1 for carrying four parts x 100 pieces of sheet music to rehearsals. I used to bring my Surface Pro 3, but was paranoid about it getting knocked off the stand, so I always had to strap it on, which was a pain. I'm pretty sure the Sony can survive a fall - it is somewhat flexible, has no glass, and is so light, it won't crush itself on a fall. Page turning is a challenge on this thing, but I find if I turn through the pages when I load a new song, before we start playing, it reacts faster the next time I need to jump. Luckily trombone parts don't have lots of pages.

    As for reading, I like to read on this non-glowing device - it is easy on the eyes. I'm sure the lawyers like this too, since they read for 15 hours a day.

    I like to use the browser and read articles from the net. I find that the slow response makes me focus on reading one article at a time, and the temptation to switch tabs and follow links is greatly reduced. Something modern humans probably desperately need :)

    It seems like there's a majority of folks that want smaller devices, but I would love to have huge 15- or 17-inch e-readers and tablets for music and technical diagrams, so long as they are light and have decent battery life.
  • Coup27 - Saturday, December 19, 2015 - link

    I will definitely agree with you that Sony has messed up a lot of products, but this is not one of them (except for the pricing aspect).

    Unrelated to e-ink but Sony phones are IMO the best Android phones on the market. Real shame they don't get time on AT. I went Sony a year ago and I've converted a few people from Samsung to Sony now and none have regretted it.
  • Tams80 - Sunday, December 20, 2015 - link

    You make some good points, however:

    Weight does matter. If the device is going to be used over long periods of time, then even rather small differences in weight can make a huge difference to the level of comfort.

    Battery runtime is important for a device like this. Some of the people who may find this useful are the ones who might be away from a power supply for several days at a time (or one day, but with a lot of use). Alternatively they might not have easy access to a power supply, because they are all in use. It may also be the case that they need to charge multiple devices, and don't want to have to charge yet another device.

    You can also leave the display on, and not have to worry about power consumption.

    Reading in sunlight is useful; even indoors.

    As this is likely a secondary, or even tertiary device for most people who use it; don't underestimate the advantage of only having to charge it say, once a month, when you already have to charge other devices as well.

    A few things no electronic devices have solved that paper has, are the abilities to: flick through it, quickly reorganise it, and have a double, or even greater spread.

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