An Alex eReader arrived in my mailbox earlier today, and after a few hours browsing books and navigating the LCD screen, I have a few initial thoughts to share on the Android-powered Kindle competitor.
Some tech observers feel the eBook reader market is dead, destroyed by an Apple iPad that can offer big colorful graphics and interactive elements, so long as they are not flash-based. But as any eReader owner can tell you, E Ink displays are ideally suited for reading, as J.R. noted in his Amazon Kindle 2review:
All told, it [E Ink] makes for a reading experience that simply can’t be matched by those offered on readers that use LCDs… There is, simply put, no comparison. At least, no comparison in which the LCDs come out on top.
Build & Design
The Alex eReader is a sleek 4.7 inches wide by 9 inches tall and weighs a scant 11 ounces, and though it’s a very thin device, it’s certainly not frail. The textured plastic shell feels thicker than it probably is, and the device looks like it can take a bit of punishment. In fact, the scuffmarks on the back of my review unit suggest my particular Alex eBook reader already has.
There are only five buttons on the device: two on each side of the LCD (navigation and power buttons) and one in between displays to sync them up.
The majority of navigation occurs in the LCD touchscreen, which is acceptably responsive but can be sluggish, especially when connected via WiFi.
In regards to LCD and E Ink, it seems Alex developer Spring Design is splitting the difference. The main Alex E Ink screen measures 6 inches diagonally (800×600 pixels, same as a Kindle 2) and sits just above a 3.5-inch 480×320 LCD capacitive touchscreen.
The LCD is the unique feature. While the Barnes & Noble nook has a similar display, the Alex eReader’s is much bigger and more functional. It’s reminiscent of a mobile OS, complete with icons for settings, a full browser and applications.
Though I haven’t sufficiently tested it out, I assume the LCD will also eat into battery life. Part of the eReader appeal is that they can last for days between charges, only consuming power when refreshing a page. I’m eager to see how much the bright LCD increases the Alex’s power consumption.
As is, it’s still very impressive and makes the Alex something more than just a device for reading books. Also, the Alex can run Android apps, so long as they are not dependent on a camera, GPS or a cellular connection. However, there is currently no built-in app store or an obvious way to load apps onto the eBook reader. The Spring Design website teases an Alex app marketplace, launch date yet to be determined.
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