Alex eReader

Alex eReader

This is one in a series of posts that compares different EBRs (E-Book Readers).   I have previously listed features of the nook, the Sony, the Kindle, the OpenBook, the eBookwise, and the Kobo eReader.  You can read those articles here

The Alex eReader is a horse of a different server.  ;)

I’ve written about the idea of what I call Dualume devices, ones which are both E Ink (for battery conservation and ease of reading) and backlit (for easy color, animation, and so on). 

The Alex eReader is such a device, albeit in a small way.

You get a 6″ E Ink screen…similar to a Kindle, nook, or Sony.

However, you also get a 3.5″ screen which is LCD (backlit).

Now, that may sound similar to the nook (sic) to you…it has a little color LCD screen at the bottom.  Technically, it is similar…similar enough that the Alex folks took legal action Barnes & Noble (which had seen the Alex design before doing the nook).

Functionally, though, they are very different.  The nook screen is for looking at the covers of your books.

The Alex screen is for full web-surfing.  Yep, watch videos, go to websites, the whole thing (well, not Flash, yet, but that’s coming). 

There it is in a nutshell, that’s the big Alex difference.

E Ink for long form reading, LCD for shiny, sparkly web stuff.  :)

One thing that means is the Alex is bigger than the Kindle/Sony/nook (KSn) group…about an inch taller.  That can matter when sticking it into a purse and such.  It’s still a lot smaller than an iPad, though.

That’s what you have to consider: do you want access to the web on your EBR (E-Book Reader)?   Some do, some don’t.  It was funny, I saw on the rotator splash at their page the line, “Books don’t Twitter”.  I honestly initially thought they were touting the fact that the Alex didn’t Twitter…I could totally see Amazon doing that.

Instead, the Alex does Twitter…so, “In your face, paperbooks!”  ;) 

Originally, I thought the Alex would be going up against the KSn group.

Instead, I think the problem is that it is going up against the iPad.

If somebody wants to e-mail from an EBR, I think the iPad may be a lot more attractive.  The prices are actually not that far apart…the Alex is currently at $399.99, the iPad “starts at $499″.  If you are spending that much money, you might want to plop down $100 for a bigger video screen. 

That E Ink thing is attractive to me, but we may find out that eventually, it’s seen as like Dolby…audiophiles paid extra bucks for Dolby initially, but the rest of us got along okay without it.   That’s even though we probably knew it was better.  Think of a home theatre set-up…it would be nice, but will everybody pay for it?

I don’t know, but I think E Ink may be seen that way…it’s what the purists like, but the populace goes with the not as outstanding but more flexible LCD.  As E Ink improves and comes down in price, though,that might change.

For now, I’d be wondering if it was worth an extra $140 to get a little web portal the size of a pack of cards.  I’m sure it will be for some people.

Oh, one special note before I get into the features a bit more: I think they’ve done a good thing by packaging it with accessories: it comes with a “protective cover”, a memory card, and an earphone.  When you get a Kindle, I really feel like you’ll want to get some other things as well…this feels like you could give one and the person would feel ready to go.

There is one other consideration: they have a number of improvements planned by the summer of 2010.  It’s unclear to me which of those may be software updates, and which may be coming in another model of the device.  You may really be an early adopter if you get it in April of 2010…

Getting the books

Eventually (by this summer), there will be a 3G Alex.  They aren’t sure if the use of the 3G will be free.  The version for sale now is a wifi model, and not surprisingly, there isn’t a monthly fee from Spring Design for that (but the wifi spot could charge you…hotels do sometimes, for example). 

What books will you have available?

Amazon is king of content right now, and may hold on to that.  Of course, you can read Amazon books on an iPad, so the iPad has those available as well as the Kindle. 

The DRM (Digital Rights Management) formats that the Alex supports are EPUB and PDF.  Currently, the really well-known and bestselling books generally have DRM.  This is actually quite a limitation.  This doesn’t mean that you can get something from the Sony store and read it on your Alex, necessarily.  However, it does say you can use the Kobo store, and that has a lot of the popular books.  DRM limits your uses.  However, there will be quite a few books you can read, especially those without DRM.  The Alex can also read TXT and HTML files, but not Mobi.  The free program Calibre will convert a number of file types to both PDF and EPUB.

Audio formats

They definitely push the Alex as a multimedia device, but there are some limitations here as well.  One weird thing: pretty much all of your popular portable devices that play audio (like an iPod or a Kindle) use a 3.5mm headphone jack.  The Alex uses 2.5mm…so it’s nice they give you a set.  :) They say that the device is too slim for a 3.5mm.  They say they’ll have a 3.5mm in the next generation.

You can listen to these formats: MP3, M4A, AMR, MIDI, WAV, OGG, and Vorbis.  Notice anything missing there?  The formats that Audible.com (owned by Amazon) uses.  So, if you bought audiobooks from Audible, you can’t use them on the Alex (although you can on a Kindle).

Other

Spring Design offers a discount to enrolled students.

Alex can only be purchased in the USA, but they are working on that.

One of the cool things is that it can run a lot of Android apps (but not ones that require a camera or GPS).

They say you can make folders!

A bit plus is to display additional character sets compared to the Kindle, including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Russian.

You can record audio notes.

It has an SD card slot, and comes with a 2 GB card.  Looks like it is MicroSD.

The battery life is 7500 page turns or 6 hours of internet.  That’s pretty good, actually, although the internet is not as long as the iPad. 

It comes in two colors…that’s like…twice as many as the Kindle!  ;)

Upcoming enhancements

  • 3G
  • Reading password protected pdfs
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Text-to-speech (this summer)
  • VPN (Virtual Public Network) support (this summer)
  • An Alex online bookstore
  • Third party apps

Summary

If you want the classiness of E Ink and the coolness of the web, this device brings you both.  However, it does seem to me that some of the best features are coming later this year…the summer’s that far away, I might suggest you wait.  They’ll have to convince people not to pay $100 more for an iPad…that might be tough.  I could see this being a cult collector’s item in the future, but it may have a tough time squeezing into a 5% market share. 

More information

Spring Design website

Tip of the day: when you viewing a word’s definition at the bottom of the Kindle’s screen, you can hit Enter to go to that word in the dictionary.  Then, you can change the text size, bookmark it, and so on. 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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