eBook readers are starting to gather pace, and that means there are now plenty to choose from. Spring Design's Alex ebook reader sprung on to the scene late last year, and has already garnered interest because of its similarities to the Barnes & Noble Nook.
As it turns out, it's the Nook that looks like the Alex, but design copyrights aside, is the Alex any good, can a dual screen really be the answer, and what's the reading experience like anyway? We managed to get a play with the new ebook reader at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Slim but tall is the best way to describe the Alex. For those interested in the exact measurements they are 120 x 225 x 14mm with a weight of 310 grams. The design is made up of two screens stacked on top of each other, an E Ink display for reading and an Android powered touchscreen for moving around the menus.
The main reading screen is of course the EPD (electronic paper display) that measures 6-inches in diagonal and comes with a resolution of 600 x 800 pixels. Beneath that is the 3.5-inch colour touchscreen.
It might sport a touchscreen display, but that hasn't meant that designers have created a buttonless device. Far from it, and down either side of the colour screen are forward and backward buttons for page turns, a back key and power switch. The inclusion of the buttons is mainly for when you don't want to use the secondary screen, something that you'll probably find happening a lot of the time, if you are worried about battery life.
When you aren't worried about the battery life then the touchscreen lets you access the menu system, choose your books to read and do a host of other things that only the inclusion of an Android powered touchscreen could.
That means you get internet browser access so you can look up words you perhaps don't understand, add annotations to your pages via voice rather than writing directly on the reader screen (it's not touchscreen remember) and access all the other features the Android OS has to offer like email, apps and games.
All this connectivity is capable thanks to the inclusion of 3G and Wi-Fi, although it's not entirely clear at the moment whether the reader will come with its own connection package if you plan to make use of that 3G connection to go surf the web. We presume it will.
In use and the Alex seems nippy, both parts, certainly faster than the Barnes & Noble Nook, with the touchscreen being responsive to touch and the ebook display refreshing pages quickly. The design of the device is on the long side, certainly compared to other ebook readers on the market, but the touchscreen display, complete with on-screen keyboard is considerably easier to use than the Kindle's fiddly QWERTY keyboard offering.
In an attempt to make sure the battery isn't drained within minutes by powering the second screen, it automatically turns off when not in use and considering that you won't need it for the most part, you should still get a decent battery life from the unit. Spring Design promise 7500 page turns or 6 hours of media playback. We weren't able to test either claim in our 30 minutes with the unit on the show floor.
Perhaps what would have been nicer is if the second screen could slide away creating a thicker but more compact design.
The Spring Design Alex is very similar to the Barnes & Noble Nook in its offering, i.e., you use the touchscreen for navigation. The difference here is that rather than a thin landscape screen as found in the Nook, the Alex screen is the equivalent to a smartphone bolted on the bottom and therefore squarer. That also means the interface is a lot more familiar and when it comes to doing other things like playing media files or surfing the web an easier experience.
The catch? Currently the Alex is certainly pricier than the rest of the competition. At $399 compared to $259 for the Nook and the standard Amazon Kindle, this isn't one for those looking to read electronically on a budget. Forgetting the price for a moment, the Spring Design Alex is one of the more innovative ebook readers we've played with so far at Pocket-lint. Giving you that little bit more than just a device to read your books on.
Time will tell, when the ebook is released to the public in February, whether or not the extra dollars will be worth it.
Expect a full review of the Spring Design Alex soon.