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Panasonic Enters the E-Reader Fray (in Japan)

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Panasonic's Raboo UT-PB1

Panasonic Raboo UT-PB1: currently a Japan only e-reader with NOOK Color approach and iPad pricing.

Image from Panasonic

Sony has done a pretty good job of bringing high quality (if a tad on the expensive side) e-readers such as its Reader Touch to market, as well as rocking a pretty decent online e-book store. In fact, although those steep price tags have led it to slide down toward the bottom of the top-tier e-reader manufacturers in terms of sales, Sony was one of the first companies to recognize the potential of e-books and was a pioneer in the field. It looks as though Japanese rival Panasonic is preparing to dip a toe in the e-reader market, although it is starting off in its local market first with a Japan-only release slated for August. It's too bad that Panasonic didn't spend a little more time studying what happened to Sony, particularly the lesson that premium priced hardware is not necessarily the fast track to market leadership in the current e-book world.

The Panasonic Raboo UT-PB1 e-reader is now official and set to ship on August 10. Specs are a little sparse at the moment (since it's exclusive to the Japanese market, Panasonic hasn't been publishing a great deal of information in English), but here's what we know at this point:

  • Native file support is XMDF (primarily used by early Sharp e-book readers). 
  • E-bookstore tie in is through Rakuten.
  • E-reader is in a tablet format and runs Android with a custom UI.
  • Display is a 7-inch, 1024x600 pixel color touchscreen.
  • Dual core CPU.
  • Weight is about 14 ounces.
  • Multimedia support includes MP3, AAC, MPEG-4, WMV and H.264.
  • 8GB internal memory (4.5 GB user accessible) with Micro SD card slot for expansion.
  • Connectivity includes Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
  • Includes a camera.
  • Price is in the $450 US range.

Panasonic appears to have taken a page out of the Barnes & Noble strategy guide by offering a very Nook Color-like experience — a 'lite' tablet form factor that's primarily intended to be an e-book reader, rather than a relatively inexpensive dedicated e-reader using an E Ink display. Like the NOOK Color, this could be a prime candidate for subversion to a full Android tablet if it weren't for the fact that at $450 or so, it's in the same price range as full blown Android tablets.

No word yet on potential US availability, but anyone determined to track down an alternative to the current choices (and willing to deal with that XMDF e-book file format issue) can expect these to start showing up on e-Bay before long.

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