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CES 2010: eReader Roundup

Posted: 02/04/10 02:28 PM ET

Technology is playing an ever larger part in our everyday lives. Nowhere is this more evident than the eBook market. DigiTimes estimates that over 9.3 million eReaders are expected to be sold in 2010, up from 3.82 million in 2009. Amazon has reported record sales of their Kindle eReaders this past holiday season, and on Christmas Day, they sold more eBooks than traditional books for the first time in their history.

In November 2007, Amazon released the Kindle eBook Reader, largely credited with bringing eReaders to the masses. They offered an entire solution - hardware, eBooks, and even more importantly, a community. Since then, the worldwide network of Kindle users, websites and forums has continued to grow.

Fast forward to 2010, and a number of other companies have thrown their hats in the ring. Consumer electronics companies like Sony and Samsung, traditional media companies like Hearst and Conde Nast, and startups like Plastic Logic and Entourage Systems are getting involved with readers that not only display books, but offer users a growing number of advanced features.

At this year's Consumer Electronics Show, these companies and others have offered us a plethora of choices in this developing market. Aimed at students, business users, and reading enthusiasts, these readers are poised to make sweeping changes in everyday life.

I offer you my overview of the huge selection of eReaders publicized at the show, separated into two general categories. Advanced readers offer users a wide variety of features above and beyond reading books. With features like built-in calendars, web browsing and netbook capabilities, touch and pen input, and multimedia recording and playback, these devices take aim at students and business users alike. Basic readers are just that - devices for reading books.

Advanced Readers

2010-01-27-enTourageeDGe3_web.jpgenTourage eDGe™ dualbook™ - This multi-function device is more than just an eReader - it marries a 9.7" e-Ink reader with an 10.1" color LCD tablet netbook. The eReader supports EPUB and PDF formats, has support for ADE/Overdrive, and includes touch/pen support from Wacom. You can use the pen to notate eBooks, or to take notes on the included Journal application. The netbook is based on Google's Android operating system, and allows for media recording and playback, web browsing, eMail, and instant messaging. This screen is also touch/pen enabled, and supports the full range of Android applications. The dualbook™ includes a built-in 3 megapixel webcam and noise-canceling microphone.

The real distinction of this device is the interactivity between the two sides. Books and documents with embedded web links can be clicked to browse the site on the netbook side. Photos and illustrations in books and documents can be selected and transferred to the netbook for viewing in color. Media files (audio and video) can be launched from the eReader and played on the netbook. The device library catalogs and stores content on the netbook, and when selected, launches books or documents on the eReader. You can select text in an eBook, and instantly search within the book, library, a search engine, Wikipedia, or the built in dictionary.

The dualbook™ comes with Wi-Fi (b/g) and Bluetooth (2.1) connectivity, and 3G support is planned for the future. Internal memory is 4Gb, and can be expanded via SD/MMC card. The device includes 2 USB (2.0) ports to connect peripherals (keyboards, mice, thumb drives, network adapters, etc.) as well as headphone and microphone jacks. You can connect it to your computer via a mini-USB port, which also serves as a charging port. The battery is rated for 16+ hours of eReader only usage, or up to 6 hours of netbook usage.

The eDGe™ can be pre-ordered today for $490, and is expected to ship in February. For more information, visit www.entourageedge.com.

2010-01-27-que_01.jpgPlastic Logic QUE™ proReader - Probably the most anticipated eReader at this year's show, the QUE proReader from Plastic Logic made a huge splash with their wafer thin, ultra-light business reader. The unit is 1/3" thick has a 10.7" (diag) touch-enabled monochrome screen, and weighs about one pound. The QUE™ proReader uses plastic electronics, which are lighter, more flexible, and ecologically friendly.

Unlike many of the current crop of readers, the QUE™ is aimed at the business user, not the consumer. As such, the proReader supports document formats Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint, in addition to the standard ePub and PDF formats. They also support GIF, JPEG, PNG, BMP, Text, HTML, RTF and Visio files. You can also synchronize the QUE™ with Outlook to view your calendar or e-mail on the device.

Plastic Logic has partnered with a number of content providers for both eBooks and Periodicals. The QUE™ Store is powered by Barnes & Noble, and can be accessed directly from the reader (internet connectivity required). They have also partnered with some of the leading business, news and sports publishers and publications, including news publications from the Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News, the Contra Costa Times, the Oakland Tribune, The Huffington Post and The Sporting News Today, along with magazines from Barron's, Fast Company and Forbes. More content partners are being added regularly.

One strength for the proReader, in the area of periodical content is their unique truVue standard. Existing eReaders typically display just the text articles from periodicals. QUE™ allows providers to format their content especially for the QUE screen, complete with graphics and article summaries.

Plastic Logic has two models available for pre-order. The 4Gb model can hold up to 35,000 documents, has Wi-Fi (b/g) and Bluetooth connectivity, and sells for $649.00. The 8Gb model adds 3G capability (AT&T) and can store up to 75,000 documents for $799.00. Both models are expected to ship mid-April, and later in 2010, will be available at Barnes & Noble stores nationwide and www.bn.com. Visit the QUE website at www.quereader.com for more information.

2010-01-27-alex_01.jpgAlex by Spring Design - Largely considered the inspiration for the Barnes & Noble Nook, the Alex eReader is yet another device that enhances the traditional 6" e-Ink reader with a 3.5" color touchscreen display. It weighs just 11 ounces, and is a sleek 8.9" x 4.7"x 0.4".

The device supports ePub and PDF (non-DRM and ADE/Overdrive), JPEG, GIF, BMP, PNG, text and HTML. Multimedia support includes MP3, MIDI, WAV, MPEG 2/4, 3GPP, and Adobe Flash Lite. Audio plays through built-in stereo speakers or 2.5mm headphone jack (headphones included). A microphone jack is included for recording audio.

Based on Google's Android operating system, the Alex can run many of the Android apps available today. It comes with 256Mb of internal DRAM and 2Gb Internal Flash. You can further expand memory with MicroSD memory cards.

Like other dual screen eReaders, the Alex integrates the two in operation. The color screen is where the library is displayed, and upon choosing a book or document, it is displayed on the eInk screen. Web links and media files embedded within books and documents also open on the color screen.

Connectivity is currently Wi-Fi (b/g) or hard-wired (mini USB) only. A future model will include 3G support. The mini USB connector also serves as a charging jack. The user-replaceable battery is rated for 7500 page turns, or 6 hours of media playback. Recharge time is 3 hours. An AC adaptor/charger is also included.

The Alex can be pre-ordered now at the Spring Design website for $359, and is expected to ship in late February. It will also be available in Borders bookstores later this year.

2010-01-27-nook_01.jpgNook from Barnes & Noble - Remarkably similar to the Alex eReader above, the Nook has been panned by many reviewers due to software and performance issues. Introduced for holiday 2009, this was the first Android-based reader to be released.

The Nook measures 7.7" x 4.9" x 0.5", and weighs 12.1 ounces. A 6" e Ink display is complemented by a 3.5" color LCD touch-enabled display. The reader supports ePub and PDF (non-DRM and ADE/Overdrive), and PDB for reading books. Graphics files in JPG, GIF, PNG or BMP format and Audio files in MP3 format are also supported. At this time, the Nook does not support text files.

The eReader has 2Gb of internal memory, expandable via a microSD slot. Wireless support includes Wi-Fi (b/g) and 3G (via AT&T). The Nook connects to your computer via a micro USB port, which also serves as the charging port. Battery life is rated at 10 days (with wireless turned off), and the battery will fully recharge in 3.5 hours.

While the Nook is Android-based, it does not currently support the installation of applications. Nor does the reader support web browsing or other non-reader functionality. The color display serves only as a keyboard and for the built-in library or purchasing books through the Nook store.

One unique feature of the Nook is the ability to share a book with another Nook user. This ability is contingent on publisher support (book publishers can disable this feature), and is limited to one loan per book, for up to 14 days. Like a traditional book, you will not have use of the book during the loan period.

The Nook is available at most Barnes & Noble stores, and on their website, for $259.

2010-01-27-sam_02.jpgSamsung E6 and E101 - Samsung is a recent entrant into the eReader market, and introduced two readers at the show - the E6, a 6" reader, and the E101, a 10" device. Both devices have a high-contrast E Ink display, with pen capabilities. Both readers support ePub, PDF and text files, as well as MP3 audio files. They have Wi-Fi connectivity and the ability to share content with other Samsung readers. Using the pen stylus, you can annotate documents and books, and can share your notes. A built-in dictionary and calendar synchronization with Outlook round out the features. Unfortunately, not a lot of details are currently available. Both readers are expected to ship mid-year, and the E6 and E101 will sell for $399 and $699 respectively.

Copia Ocean and Tidal eReaders - At the show, Copia announced what they call, "An open Platform for Delivering eBooks, Entertainment Content and a Collaborative Social Experience." What does this mean? It can simply be described as Social Networking meets eBooks. While they are releasing six new eReaders this year, the big news is the social experience of their platform. Community profiles are linked to your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, allowing you to share content with others. You can annotate and share content and comments with your friends, family, fellow students, and business contacts. These are just a few of the features that set Copia apart from the other eReader manufacturers. For more information on their social platform, visit their website.

2010-01-27-copia_01.jpg2010-01-27-copia_02.jpg

Their eReaders (they have announced six models) all take advantage of their social platform. Their basic reader, the TIDAL, is a 6" ePaper device with 2Gb of memory. It has a soft-touch keyboard and only has hard-wired connectivity through your computer. The other five readers share the following features: Touch enabled ePaper display, Wi-Fi (b/g) connectivity, 4Gb of internal memory with a MicroSD expansion slot, earphone and microphone jacks, and a 4 direction tilt sensor. Two of the readers (the OCEAN9 and OCEAN9 3G) have a 9" 768x1024 display, while the others (OCEAN6, TIDAL touch and TIDAL touch 3G) have a 6" 600x800 display. The two 3G models offer connectivity over cellular connection.

All models are expected to be available for purchase online in April, for prices ranging from $199 to $299. Retail availability is scheduled for mid-summer. Watch for my upcoming interview with Copia co-founder Tony Antolino on Copia's unique social features.

2010-01-27-skiff_01.jpgSkiff Reader - Another new release at the show, the Skiff Reader from Sprint is the first dedicated device within the Skiff ecosystem developed by media powerhouse Hearst. With the largest ePaper display yet (11.5" diagonally, developed by LG Display), this reader can tackle the full range of content, from newspapers (in traditional layout) to Magazines and eBooks.

The Skiff Reader measures 9" x 11" x .25" (yes, it is really a quarter-inch thick), and weighs just under a pound. The display is a touch-enabled, metal-foil and silicon e-Paper design that offers 1200x1600 resolution, and is shatter and crack-proof. It offers Wi-Fi and 3G (Sprint) connectivity as well as a mini USB port to connect the reader to your computer. The port also serves to charge the internal battery. The battery is rated for one week of standard usage and recharges in 2-3 hours. Internal memory is 4Gb, and there is a standard SDHC slot for external expansion.

While availability are yet to be determined, the Skiff Reader is expected to be available for purchase in more than 1,000 Sprint retail locations across the country as well as www.sprint.com. For more information on the Skiff service or the Skiff reader, visit their website at www.skiff.com.

Sony Touch & Daily Editions - Released in August and December 2009 respectively, Sony showed these two eReaders, along with their basic Pocket Edition. Sony is no newcomer to the eReader market, having released some of the first mass market eReaders starting in 2006.

Both models sport e-Ink touch-enabled displays - The Touch edition offers a 6" screen, and 512Mb of internal memory. The Daily Edition has a 7.1" eInk screen, with 1.6Gb of internal memory. They both support Memory Stick® PRO Duo™ or SD media for memory expansion, support ePub & PDF (non-DRM and ADE/Overdrive), BBeB, MS Word, text or RTF documents, MP3 or AAC audio files, and JPEG, GIF, PNG and BMP graphic files.

Connectivity is USB only for the Touch, while the daily offers 3G wireless. The Touch sells for $299.99 and the Daily is $399.99. Both are available at the Sony Style website or retailers nationwide.

Some other advanced eReaders shown at CES were:

Bookeen Orizon - 6" eInk touch screen, 2Gb Internal/microSD HC support, Wi-Fi b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1 connectivity. Pricing is yet to be determined, availability mid-2010. (www.bookeen.com)

Dittobook D6 plus - 6" eInk touch screen, 512Mb internal/SDHC support, Wi-Fi and 3G support, built-in audio player. Pricing and availability not announced. (www.dittobook.com)

Hanlin A6 series - 6" eInk touch screen, 2Gb internal/SDHC support, Wi-Fi b/g and 3G support, built-in audio player. Pricing and availability not announced. (www.jinke.com.cn)

Hanlin A9 series - 9" eInk touch screen, 2Gb internal/SDHC support, Wi-Fi b/g and 3G support, built-in audio player. Pricing and availability not announced. (www.jinke.com.cn)

Hanvon WISEreader N518 - 5" eInk touch/pen screen, 512Mb internal/SD card support, no wireless connectivity, built-in audio player. Available now for $269.00. (www.hanvon.com)

Hanvon WISEreader N526 - 5" eInk touch/pen screen, 512Mb internal/microSD HC support, no wireless connectivity, built-in audio player. Pricing and availability not announced. (www.hanvon.com)

Interead COOL-ER Connect - 6" eInk touch screen, 1Gb internal/SD card support, Wi-Fi connectivity, built-in audio player. Available this spring, price not announced. (www.coolreaders.com)

Interead COOL-ER 3G - 6" eInk touch screen, 1Gb internal/SD card support, 3G connectivity, built-in audio player. Available mid-2010, price not announced. (www.coolreaders.com)

PocketBook 302 - 6" eInk touch screen, 512Mb internal/SDHC card support, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, built-in audio player. Available in March, price not announced. (www.pocketbookreader.com)

Basic Readers

Aluratek LIBRE - 5" eInk screen, 2Gb (SD card only) Available now for $179.99 (www.aluratek.com)

Astak - 6" eInk screen, 512Mb (SD support up to 4Gb) Available now for $239.00 (www.astak.com)

Bookeen Opus -5" eInk screen, 1Gb (micro SD support) Available now in white for $250.00, 7 other colors in March. (www.bookeen.com)

Bookeen Cybook gen 3 gold - 6" eInk screen, 64Mb (SD card support) Available now for $350.00. (www.bookeen.com)

Dittobook D6 - 6" eInk Screen, 2Gb (SD card only), Built-in audio player. Available now for $260.00. (www.dittobook.com)

Dittobook F-150 - 6" eInk screen, 512Mb (2Gb SD included), Built-in audio player. Unknown availability/price. (www.dittobook.com)

Hanvon WISEreader N516 - 5" eInk screen, 2Gb (SD card only), Built-in audio player. Available now for $229.00. (www.hanvon.com)

Hanvon WISEreader N520 - 5" eInk screen, 512Mb (SD card cupport), Built-in audio player. Unknown availability/price. (www.hanvon.com)

Interead COOL-ER™ Classic - 6" eInk screen, 1Gb (SD card up to 4Gb), Built-in audio player. Available now in 8 colors for $249.00. (www.coolreaders.com)

Interead COOL-ER™ Compact - 6" eInk screen, 2Gb (SD card up to 6Gb). Available this spring, price not announced. (www.coolreaders.com)

iRiver Story - 6" eInk screen, 2Gb (SD card up to 32Gb), Built-in audio player. Available later this spring, price to be determined. (www.iriver.com)

PocketBook 360 - 5' eInk screen, 512Mb (micro SDHC support). Available now for $239.99. (www.pocketbookreader.com)

PocketBook 301+ - 6" eInk screen, 512Mb (SDHC support up to 32Gb), Built-in audio player. Available now in 4 colors for $275.00. (www.pocketbookreader.com)

Sony Reader Pocket Edition - 5" eInk screen, 512Mb (no memory expansion). Available now for $199.99. (www.sonystyle.com) [see my review of the Sony Pocket edition here]

As you can see, the choices available in selecting an eReader continue to grow at an amazing rate. From basic readers to advanced devices and tablet/slate computers, there should be a reader out there for just about everyone. Will eReaders become as prevalent as cell phones? Do you have suggestions for others on which eReader they should choose or avoid? Do you have tips on how to make the most of your eReader? Chime in below with a comment. I read all my comments and reply to as many as possible.