Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2010 Issue

New Color E-Readers Announced - Do They Stand a Chance?

Primer

The Skytex Primer.


By Tom McKinney

Until Apple's iPad was released there were few, if any mobile devices (other than smartphones) that featured both a color screen and e-book reader software. Dedicated e-book readers have in the past all featured a black and white "e-ink" display, with some having smaller color screens used for navigation. The arguments for e-ink include easy readability in any environment, and better battery-efficiency. However, a black and white screen has strong limits on the sort of content it can display. It's why only devices dedicated to reading e-books use e-ink. Magazines would not even appear correctly on these readers as they make prominent use of color. Apple was the first to design a multi-function tablet, with one of those functions being an e-reader. Apple's contemporaries in the computing industry have taken note, though, and have already begun releasing competitors, like Dell's Streak. The Streak carries a pricetag of $549, though, so it's right up there with the iPad in terms of price. Apple has opened the door for other competitors to try to create cheaper alternatives, and they've begun to arrive.

Two recently announced E-Readers from relatively unknown players carry color displays, and pricetags of $200 or less. First up is a new device called the Primer. Due for release in October by Skytex, a developer of netbooks, tablet computers and other portable devices, it features a 7" color screen and costs $99. It includes 2GB of internal memory and is expandable up to 16GB using separately sold flash memory. For $99, you get a device that reads e-books, but also plays movies and music. There's no wi-fi or other wireless connection so Internet's out of the question. While the device is limited to multimedia consumption, and it lacks Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble's slick wireless downloading systems, it's hard to argue with a color-screen costing less than most e-ink E-Readers today.

What makes or breaks a device like the Primer is how easy the software of the reader is to use, and the selection of e-books available. The Primer has these formats listed as compatible: PDF, TXT, ePub, HTML, PRC, JPG, & PNG. These seem to be pretty standard when compared to the specs for Amazon's Kindle 3: Kindle (AZW), TXT, PDF, Audible (Audible Enhanced (AA, AAX)), MP3, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively; HTML, DOC, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP through conversion. It is unclear currently where the Primer's main source for material will be. And I think unless a partnership is made with one of the major e-book sources, there's no chance this device succeeds as an e-book reader. Human readers want a selection that rivals what they can obtain traditionally. However, for $99, the Primer could easily be viewed as a very cheap multimedia platform for watching movies on the go.

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