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E-Book readers: a round up


By Priya Ganapati ( March 25, 2009


Samsung’s announcement that it plans to release an e-book reader called Papyrus means it is at least the seventh company to hop on the digital-book bandwagon.

With touchscreen capability and an e-ink screen, the Papyrus will cost just $300, Samsung says, making it even cheaper than the Sony Reader and the Amazon Kindle.

Papyrus, when it becomes available, will join an increasingly crowded field that includes the Kindle, Sony Reader, Fujitsu FLEPia, Hanlin eReader, Foxit eSlick Reader and the yet-to-be-released Plastic Logic reader. All of them are based on low-power electronic displays made by Cambridge, Massachusetts, company E Ink.

The Papyrus launch is still a few months away. Samsung is first expected to make Papyrus available in Korea this summer, says the Pocket-Lint website, with a later launch date in the United States and Britain. The device will come with a stylus for the touch screen, 512 MB of memory but no SD card slot, says Pocket-Lint.

But the Papyrus will have to struggle to stand out. Here’s what the competition looks like:


Amazon Kindle

The most successful e-book reader to date, the first version of the Amazon Kindle launched in November 2007 and sold an estimated 500,000 units by the end of 2008. The Kindle got a makeover in February 2009 with a new sleeker, slimmer device that sports iPod-like curves and a metal back.

The Kindle 2 has a 6-inch display but no touchscreen. It comes with 2-GB memory that can store about 1,500 books. Other features include text-to-speech for books to be read aloud, and a basic web browser. Kindle supports text, images, mp3, doc and HTML formats. Transfer of PDF files to Kindle costs an additional 10 cents per file.

Price: $360

WIRED Good-looking design is easy on the eyes. The wireless connectivity, provided by Sprint in the U.S., makes downloading books easy — no syncing with your PC required. Amazon’s retail clout ensures a wide selection of books, blogs and periodicals.

TIRED Some users have complained about the low-contrast text. The book content is shackled by DRM that makes it impossible to use on any other device you own, unless you use Amazon’s Kindle application. Will display PDF files, but Amazon charges a conversion fee of 10 cents per file. No touchscreen, and keyboard-based typing can be tedious. Available in one color only. product review of Amazon Kindle 2.

Sony Reader

Sonyprs700bc_2 The Sony Reader was one of the earliest e-book readers, with the first version launched almost a year before Amazon Kindle 1.0 was released. So far, Sony has three versions of the Reader including one touchscreen-based model and two with keyboards.

The latest model, the Sony Reader PRS 700-BC, comes with a touchscreen and a 6-inch display. It offers 512 MB standard storage that supports about 350 books with scope for expansion using memory cards.

Price: $350 for touchscreen model

WIRED  Sleek, attractive design. Choice of colors including silver, black and red. No extra charge to access or convert PDF files. Partnership with Google gives users access to about 500,000 public titles from Google Books.

TIRED  No wireless connectivity requires users to be tethered to their computers to download a new book. The proprietary software used to download books from the Sony store is clunky. No browser available.

Comparison: Kindle 2 vs. Sony Reader


iRex iLiad

iRex Technologies, a spinoff from Phillips, first launched its e-book reader in 2006 and now has a second generation version of the device. Larger than the Amazon Kindle or Sony Reader, the iLiad Book Edition has an 8.1-inch screen. And at 15.3 ounces it is also about 5 ounces heavier than its peers.

But the iLiad has built in Wi-Fi capability with an option for external ethernet networking. It comes with 256 MB internal flash memory, of which 128 MB is accessible to the user, and supports text, PDF, images and HTML format.

Price: $600 for iLiad Book Edition

WIRED  Wi-Fi capability and USB/ethernet connectivity makes it easy to download books. Allows users to add notes and sketches to existing documents. Runs a Linux operating system that allows third-party applications to be created and run on the iLiad.

TIRED  More expensive than the Kindle and the Sony Reader. Access to pulp fiction and best-sellers is limited, as the iLiad cannot download files from the Sony or Amazon book stores — for commercial books, it only supports Mobipocket files.

Ars Technica review of the iLiad


Fujitsu Flepia

The Fujitsu FLEPia is the first e-book reader to sport a color e-ink screen. It has an 8-inch display capable of showing up to 60,000 colors in high definition. And yet the battery life can extend up to 40 hours, says the company.

Even better, it comes with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi support. Other features include storage via a 4-GB SD card, touchscreen and a stylus. Right now the FLEPia is on sale only in Japan, with shipping scheduled to begi April 20. Japanese FLEPia users can purchase e-books from the largest e-book online retailer in the country, says the company.

We hope it won’t be long before this device comes to the U.S. and British markets.

Price: $1,025 approx. (99,750 Japanese yen)

WIRED  Color screen. Wireless capability. Includes a browser and Windows Windows CE 5.0 (Japanese version) that allows email and use of Microsoft Word, Powerpoint and other Office applications.

TIRED  Super expensive! You probably need to get a third job to support your reading habit if this is your e-book reader.

Hanlinereaderv3_3 Hanlin eReader

The e-book reader from Chinese company Tianjin Jinke Electronics was released in 2007. Featurewise there may not be much to differentiate it from its peers. It has all the basics: a 6-inch display, 32-MB SDRAM and support for the usual text, docs and images. It runs Linux OS but has no wireless capability. The Hanlin eReader is available under different brand names, such as BeBook in Netherlands.

Price: $300

WIRED  Runs a Linux-based operating system and offers an SDK so functionality can be extended.

TIRED Zero points for looks. No wireless capability to download books. Not clear how compatible it is with the Amazon or Sony e-book stores. 

Foxiteslick Foxit eSlick Reader

Foxit’s eSlick’s price tag is probably the best thing going for it right now. The device offers features similar to the Kindle and the Sony Reader. But at 6.4 ounces, eSlick is among the lightest readers on the market and comes with internal memory of 128 MB and a 2-GB SD card, and the standard 6-inch screen.

Price: $260 promotional price. Shipping starts April 10.

WIRED Excellent PDF support — to be expected from a company that has its roots in PDF software development. Built-in MP3 player. Low price.

TIRED Yet another e-reader! Doesn’t support popular e-book formats. Requires  USB connection to your PC to download new titles.


Plastic Logic

Probably the most distinct of all the e-readers, Plastic Logic is closer to a digital tabloid than a Danielle Steel paperback in its looks.

The reader is expected to measure 8.5 by 11 inches. It will be thinner than a pad of paper, but better than many of the electronic readers available currently, claims the company.

The Plastic Logic reader will support Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Adobe PDFs, newspapers, periodicals and books. It will have a gesture-based user interface and wireless capability, says the company.

The catch? The device isn’t released yet.

Price: Unknown. Trials are expected to begin in the second half of the year.

Photos: Samsung Papyrus/Pocket-Lint, Amazon Kindle/Jim Merithew, iRex iLiad (xmacex/Flickr)


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