By Harry McCracken | Monday, October 19, 2009 at 4:33 am
Those rumors about the imminent announcement of an Android-based e-book reader with both a black-and-white e-ink screen and a color touchscreen below it? They were true–except for the part about it being announced by Barnes & Noble. A company called Spring Design has announced an e-reader called Alex, and conceptually, at least, the hardware sounds very much like what the Barnes & Noble device will supposedly deliver.
Here’s an image of Alex (and a smaller one of the B&N gadget, borrowed from Gizmodo, to its right).
Alex has a 6″ e-ink display and a 3.5″ color touchscreen; it’s got an SD slot; it runs Android OS and claims to deliver full-blown Web browsing, which no other e-reader has done to date. The press release mentions connectivity via Wi-Fi, 3G, EVDO, and GSM; I presume that it means that versions of Alex could support any of these options, not that it delivers all of them in one device.
What’ll show up on that color screen?
Ideal for professional, educational and entertainment markets, Alex dynamically transforms the reader’s experience with images, videos and notes inserted as ‘Web grabs’ or with custom text created by the user or other secondary authors pertaining to the subject being displayed. Users can create their own images and notes and capture them to augment the original text or just dynamically grab relevant content with Link Notes™, Alex’s innovative multimedia authoring tool to enhance multimedia publishing.
So when can you get your hands on Alex, and how much will it cost? Not clear. The company says:
Spring Design is currently in discussion and enlisting major content partners and plans to release the Alex device for selected strategic partners by the end of this year.
…which would appear to mean that it doesn’t have a bookstore in place yet, and isn’t entirely sure how Alex will be sold, or by who. It’s a logical guess that it may be making this incomplete announcement because it expects Barnes & Noble to make its big splash real soon now, and wanted to get some attention beforehand. (That might also explain Plastic Logic’s sudden announcement of the upcoming announcement of its Que e-reader.)
In both its Alex and Barnes & Noble incarnations, the idea of a two-screen e-book reader is a reaction to the contrasting deficiencies of e-ink and LCD displays–e-ink can barely do photos and is slow to refresh, and LCDs eat up battery juice too quickly. I look forward to the day when nobody thinks the dual-screen kludge is necessary. In the meantime, though, it’ll be fun to check out these devices, and to see if a small company like Spring Design can compete against giants such as Amazon, B&N, and Sony.