Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

CES 2010: The Ebook Hardware Highlights

There were a number of eink prototypes at CES, so many that it prompted this article at Gizmodo calling eink readers the spam of the show.

There will soon be two kinds of happy ebook-reader owners. The people who paid a fair amount for a reputable ebook reader from one of the companies they already buy books from, and the people who spend like $50 on a no-name ebook reader that supports a lot of formats, who gets every book they can think of as a pirated copy over BitTorrent. Everyone else-‘both the buyers of tier-two ebook readers and the makers of them-‘are going to be screwed.

I don’t disagree with this assessment and the reason for that is because of the rise of netbooks which experienced a 72% increase in sales in 2009. 2010 is shaping up to be the year of the tablet. Steve Ballmer displayed an HP tablet, Apple is purportedly releasing one in the second quarter of this year and Notion Ink displayed its tablet, Adam, with the Pixel Qi transreflective screen.   This is not to say that there won’t be a continuing market for dedicated devices but it’s likely to be small.

The best of the show: Notion Ink’s Adam tablet.

This was only a prototype but functional versions will be displayed in February 2010. The 10″ Notion Ink tablet runs off Android and presumably would allow a user to avail themselves of the Android App market. Kindle and BN eBook Reader are supposed to have Android apps in the works. Other platforms may be available in the future.

Slashgear described the Pixel Qi screen on the Notion Ink tablet as follows:

Pixel Qi's technology means you can operate the display in two different modes: as full color LCD for use indoors or in a low-power reflective mode that actually gets brighter the more direct sunlight falls upon it. This latter mode is comparable to E Ink in its appearance, but Pixel Qi can still show smooth, responsive video (and slightly muted colors). Users will be able to manually switch the backlighting on or off, or leave it set to automatic and have the Adam toggle it itself.

You really need to go to Slashgear and look at the different photos they have. The battery power for this device is quite robust. The manufacturer of the tablet is professing the device can get up to 160 hours of use off a 3 cell battery (3 cell batteries are standard for most laptops).

The rest of the pack.

A. Entourage Edge.

Entourage Edge

This is a dual screened ebook reader/tablet. It has an eink screen on one side and an lcd screen on the other. You read one the eink side and browse the internet or your ebook library on the other. One of the problems I perceive is that while you type one handed on the right side, the notes appear on the eink side. The refresh rate of eink devices is fairly slow. When I was using the nook, I was disappointed that the notes output appeared on the eink screen because it caused a big disconnect between the input (you typing) and the output (the letters appearing on the screen).

The Entourage Edge reads ePubs and PDFs. It connects wirelessly to the internet and includes an audio recorder and a video camera. The Edge runs Android but I’m not certain whether you can add Android applications. The device is rather heavy, weighing in at 3 lbs, and the cost is $490. You can demo the device here.

2. Plastic Logic QUE proReader

Plastic Logic Que
Plastic Logic is marketing this a business reader. The screen is not the same as the other eink devices which incorporate the Vizplex displays. No one has done a comparison of quality or clarity of the Plastic Logic screens v. the eink screens. Gizmodo says that the refresh rate felt slower than the nook or the Kindle (and I consider the nook to be very slow).

The device is also very costly. For $650 you get 4 GB on board storage with Wifi and Bluetooth and $800 for the 8GB 3G-enabled model. The screen size is the same as a piece of paper: 8.5″ x 11″. It reads the following formats natively (meaning without conversion, just load the device up and go): PDF, GIF, JPEG, PNG, BMP, ePub, and TXT.

Plastic Logic is targeting this toward the business reader. This may make a lot of sense. More companies are paperless and these devices, even at the high price, would represent a savings.

There are no buttons. Navigation is entirely through the touchscreen which is the advantage it has over other large screen e ink devices such as the Kindle Dx or the Iliad by iRex.

3. Skiff Reader

Image of the flexible eink screen by Skiff

Another large screen device is the Skiff Reader. The Skiff Reader is a large, flexible eReader. The screen measures 11.5 inches diagonally. From the specifications, it appears that it does not incorporate the Vizplex screen either, instead a “Rugged Metal-Foil e-Paper Display”.

Gizmodo reports that book reading seems awkward on the device:

Books look fine, although clearly the Skiff is designed for newspapers; there’s about an inch of blank space on all sides when you read a book, because 11.5 inches of text is a lot to stare at. Other than that slightly unfulfilled feeling when you see unused space, book-reading should be no problem.

This looks to be a content specific device. How many people will want to use this just for newspapers remains to be seen. The price of this device has not yet been announced. Perhaps this device will be subsidized as it will be sold in Sprint stores.

4. Liquavista Color eReader

Of the dedicated devices, I thought this one was the most interesting.   Liquavista brings color to paper like computer screens but MobileRead notes that the release of a commercial device might not come until 2011.   By then, some believe that Kindle and PixelQi will have already released color eink devices.   Kindle is purportedly in talks with Qualcomm and PixelQi is said to be working with Notion Ink to release a dedicated color eink reader.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


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  2. Keishon
    Jan 17, 2010 @ 09:44:27

    Yes. Thanks for this article. Something tells me that for dedicated ebook readers – it’s better to wait as they continue to evolve. Go for the multi-functional device if one must have a ebook reader I say.

  3. DS
    Jan 17, 2010 @ 10:13:35

    The Entourage Edge might be a useful office device. Because I do a lot of online research it would be useful to have the document and a website on one plane. Have to try it first though.

    Doubt if it would replace my dedicated ereader though.

  4. becca
    Jan 17, 2010 @ 12:36:08

    it’s not the hardware (or, not only the hardware) that’s keeping me from getting into ebooks, it’s DRM. Until the DRM issue is resolved, I don’t see any reason to jump into this new technology.

  5. library addict
    Jan 17, 2010 @ 13:32:13

    Cost is the huge factor for me.

    Having internet access isn’t as important to me as I know it is for others. I like the idea of having a multi-function tablet, but I want something that fits in my purse.

    The new Pixil Qi screens look promising. I like the idea of seeing the covers in color. Thank goodness Calibre allows users to get covers from the internet since so many of the books I buy come with a B&W page, often with no image, as opposed to the actual book cover.

  6. joanne
    Jan 17, 2010 @ 14:24:46

    Just a big ole’ WOW to the technology that went into that Skiff Reader. It’s too big for an ebook reader, at least for me, but I’m awed by how thin it is and the advances that say that we are getting to ‘there’ so quickly.

    In the meantime I’m occasionally dusting the dedicated ereader that sits in the corner and reading ebooks on my comp.

    Thanks for the information Jane.

  7. Seressia
    Jan 17, 2010 @ 15:16:06

    Right now my netbook is doing what I need it to do–it stores my music and books and my writing projects, plus I can check email and social networking sites with no problem. Much more worth its price point than a dedicated reader.

  8. Roslynholcomb
    Jan 17, 2010 @ 16:14:34

    I think I’m probably going to do the netbook thing. I know I’m going to go nuts over whatever Apple comes with, but I know Apple and it’ll be well over my budget. Right now I need a laptop, and I can also read on the netbook as well. I can get a netbook and a new iMac and cover all my bases. And with the netbook I won’t have to worry about the fact that all the ebooks I currently own are in pdf format. I don’t really care about DRM, I buy most of my ebooks from epubs. I don’t typically read bestsellers and the like and for non-fic I prefer a paper book anyway.

  9. Fran Lee
    Jan 17, 2010 @ 18:35:24

    I still feel the cheapest and most reliable reader is my own computer monitor. I can read html and pdf documents and have enlarged prints for easier reading. I can’t lose my reader or have it stolen from my purse. LOL! I can’t drop it and break it and have to pay $200 for a repair.

    If the new wave of e-books make it impossible for my publisher to sell the usual multi-format files without having to convert the files to their style of readout (for instance, Kindle), and divvy up even more of MY share of the profits, I guess I will have to hang up my quill and go work for McDonald’s.

    I know that pirates are a major problem for authors of e-books, and they seem to genuinely believe that all authors are wealthy. Most of us write to make a living, and we make so little off our books, every book they steal or allow another to download for free is money that I don’t get to pay my bills with. Between the pirates and the folks at Amazon and other e-book sales pages raking off a good sum of MY share, my share has pretty well dwindled down to a small trickle.

  10. Fran Lee
    Jan 17, 2010 @ 18:45:13

    @Roslynholcomb: Good for you, Roslyn! Buying direct from the e-publisher saves the rake-offs the author must take from secondary sales sites. You are a love!

  11. Fran Lee
    Jan 17, 2010 @ 18:48:34

    @joanne: Good for you, Joanne! Dedicated e-readers often force the e-publishers to reduce the author’s share by 30-70% in order to offer the e-books in their own formats. I feel most comfy sitting at my 18″ computer monitor and reading.

  12. Fran Lee
    Jan 17, 2010 @ 18:59:03

    @becca: Becca, DRM is controversial, but are you aware that any book or item you buy electronically is licensed ONLY to the original purchaser, and not meant to be traded, sold, or shared? e-books are not the same as printed books, where you can give away or resell your single copy on eBay if you get tired of it. When you buy an e-book, you buy the license to read that e-book as often as you want on ONE computer or reader. Every e-published book has anti-piracy warnings printed right up front. And odd as it may seem, many folks purchase an e-book, then proceed to “share” it illegally with hundreds or even thousands of others. I am an author, and people love my books enough to “share” these books with thousands of strangers on pirate sites. The only problem is, I spent hundreds or even thousands of hours creating that book, and my publisher spent a lot of money creating the cover, advertising the book, etc. and I make a living off selling my e-books. Can you imagine how it feels to see 10,000 free downloads of that book, and only 1,000 purchased copies? It is one of the reasons that DRM was created, (even though it was not intended to protect author’s right, but rather publisher’s rights). I own hundreds of e-books that I purchased. I would never sell an e-book or offer it for free downloads to pals, because I know how devastating that is to the author.

  13. Jane
    Jan 17, 2010 @ 19:05:29

    @Fran Lee: whoa, here. This is not true. There are many kinds of ebook sales and with each there are varying restrictions. For example, if you buy an ebook from Kindle, you have the ability to read that on up to 6 registered devices. If you buy an ebook in Adobe ePub, you can read that on up to 6 registered devices. I think that is true for MS Lit books.

    If you buy an eReader or Mobipocket, there is no limitation on devices you can read an ebook on so long as you enter in the correct unlock code.

    Further, there is a definite legal debate as to whether a digital sale is a license or a free sale. Courts have been grappling with this issue as it relates to software and the courts have come to various conclusions.

    It is not accurate to say that all ebook sales are licenses or that you can read the book on only one device or one computer.

    If you want, there is nothing to prevent a reader from sharing an Amazon account with a friend. That is currently within the terms of the agreement.

    DRM does not prevent piracy. I completely understand a reader’s reluctance to enter the ebook market because of the varying proprietary formats and the fear that books bought today will not be readable in the future.

  14. Fran Lee
    Jan 17, 2010 @ 19:31:34

    @Jane: @Jane: Jane, you are right on the button about the Kindle “sharing thing”. But my first sentence was as follows:
    “but are you aware that any book or item you buy electronically is licensed ONLY to the original purchaser, and not meant to be traded, sold, or shared?”

    Regardless of what Kindle or Nook or Mobi-pocket says of their DRM measures, the above statement is printed in the front of every e-book that comes from my publishers.

    I am looking at this from the other side. I am not worried about how many devices that one e-book is readable on…I am concerned at how many times that one e-book is “shared” with others. The “license” on an e-book is bought by one person. It isn’t meant to be given away to thousands more from that one copy. I don’t like Kindle or Nook because of the “sharing”, even though the sharing is restricted to 6 or 14 pals. I genuinely DO NOT think all buyers of e-books are going to turn around and “share” my books thousands of times on a pirate site, but the fact that more people have FREE copies of my books than my publisher has sold makes me a bit concerned about my ability to pay my bills every month. And most of these “shared books” appear on the pirate sites within the first 72 hours after it is released. Unless you have been on the other side, it’s hard to see the other side of the issue.

  15. becca
    Jan 17, 2010 @ 20:12:26

    @11 Fran: oh, yes, I’m very aware of all that. And I’m not anti-DRM because I want to share or give away an ebook when I’m done with it. I’m more worried about technology changes making a previously purchased book unreadable. I know that my mp3 audiobooks will stay viable for a long time, because I don’t think that the technology is going to change that much away from mp3s…and I can play mp3s on my computer, on my iPod, on a Creative Zen, even my little cheapo Muvo. Right now, there are so many different formats out, and so many dedicated readers that I’m sure I’d finally decide to standardize on Betamax, only to have VCR become the dominant technology.

  16. Jane
    Jan 17, 2010 @ 20:34:34

    @Fran Lee I understand that piracy is a very important subject for authors and I understand that it must be painful for authors to see their work blithely traded by readers without compensation for authors. But there is a big difference between how you want the world to be and how the world is. I assume that you understand that there is a difference between a license agreement and a sale, right?

    but are you aware that any book or item you buy electronically is licensed ONLY to the original purchaser, and not meant to be traded, sold, or shared?” Regardless of what Kindle or Nook or Mobi-pocket says of their DRM measures, the above statement is printed in the front of every e-book that comes from my publishers.

    A license is a contract and the parties to the contract are the reseller and the customer, not the customer and the publisher. Therefore, if the publisher has issues with the way in which Kindle is licensing its product, that is an issue the publisher takes up with the reseller. Publisher restrictions that are printed on the front page of each book do not bind a customer because the relationship with the customer is with the seller, in a license situation.

    When you buy an e-book, you buy the license to read that e-book as often as you want on ONE computer or reader.

    This is the statement that I was objecting to, among others.

    Each copyrighted item that is sold is subject to the copyright law. The same law that gives authors the exclusive right of distribution of their work give readers the right of first sale and the right of fair use. Those reader rights may allow them to share an ebook, read it on multiple devices, and even resale, although those issues have not been fully resolved (and need to be) within the legal system.

  17. Fran Lee
    Jan 17, 2010 @ 21:39:14

    “The same law that gives authors the exclusive right of distribution of their work give readers the right of first sale and the right of fair use.”

    Maybe this is the crux of the problem, Jane. Semantics. Transferring one book to another owner does not seem unreasonable or out of line. But the wholesale transferring of one purchased e-book to thousands of readers is not only unethical…it is illegal. The rights you are talking about are what the world SHOULD be…but to quote you, there is a big difference between how you want the world to be and how the world is. If all the people in the world were honest, ethical and concerned about others, there would be no such thing as copyright infringement or wholesale e-piracy. I have spoken to several people who get all their books off pirate sites, and these people genuinely feel that every author is independently wealthy and can easily afford a “few” freebies to go out to readers. Pirates have actually driven some good authors out of the business, because they can make more money working a job at a grocery store than they make off the sale of their books.

  18. joanne
    Jan 17, 2010 @ 21:57:28

    @Fran Lee:

    @joanne: Good for you, Joanne! Dedicated e-readers often force the e-publishers to reduce the author's share by 30-70% in order to offer the e-books in their own formats.
    Um, that never comes into play when I’m buying an ebook. Sorry. If an author has a link to buy or is associated with a seller that I know and trust then that’s where I’ll purchase the ebook, if not then I’ll go where I’m comfortable. Again, sorry but although I want to see authors prosper I’m not going to police the sites I buy from to see what cut the author gets.

    Reading on my comp is not as comfortable as it was when I was ten years younger but I’m not comfortable buying multiple e-devices only to find out that there are limitations on who I can get books from or when or what I can buy and will it be in the proper format.

    I don’t think it will be long before an all-encompassing ereader hits the market that will be good for voracious romance readers. I live in hope.

    Sorry to be so late responding but George Clooney in a tux on tv trumps web and book.

  19. MaryK
    Jan 17, 2010 @ 22:23:11

    @becca: “And I'm not anti-DRM because I want to share or give away an ebook when I'm done with it. I'm more worried about technology changes making a previously purchased book unreadable.”

    This has happened to me. A small e-press with proprietary DRM went out of business and took my ebooks with it. It’s why I no longer buy DRM’d books. Not to mention how confusing it can get when you have different types of DRM and can’t remember which platform opens it or which password you keyed it to. Authors can lose possible sales from pirates or they can lose definite sales from people who don’t want to put up with DRM.

    Back on topic: I saw this interesting article which speculates that the PixelQi screen will be a dedicated ereader killer.

  20. Mike Briggs
    Jan 18, 2010 @ 01:03:30

    Piracy is a huge issue, and definitely one of my hot buttons. However, it’s probably one of the most polarized issues of our time, and it’s starting to overshadow EVERY conversation on any sort of literary topic.

    Jane somehow manages to scrape up awesome publishing news from all over the internet and present it here at DearAuthor, along with cogent and intelligent commentary. It’s kind of sad that nearly every post on the publishing industry devolves into a piracy thread. I know Jane has been biting her tongue, and treading very carefully to avoid any mention of it.

    So, here’s to Jane, and to the readers. Let’s talk of cabbages and kings, of readers thin and flexible, but leave the piracy in the many previously hijacked threads . . . let us move to more pleasant and beneficial discussion.

    P.S. That Adam tablet is sexy.

  21. Fran Lee
    Jan 18, 2010 @ 02:41:08

    @Mike Briggs: You are absolutely right, Mike! Let’s not let this devolve into a discussion of that naughty “P” word. My apologies, Jane, and the rest of you. My mistake. This is one of those subjects people do not wish to hear about or discuss. I didn’t mean to hijack the thread. Forgive me. The term “DRM” has so often been brought up as a so-called “remedy” for the “P” word, I thought perhaps the thread was open to full discussion. Thanks for setting me straight.

  22. Mina kelly
    Jan 18, 2010 @ 05:18:08

    @Fran Lee

    No need to be so snarky. The point being made was that (a) DRM does not stop piracy (as evidenced by the sheer volume of pirated books) and (b) it massively inconveniences the reader. Also, (c), your original post did misrepresent the way eBooks are licensed in the process of making your point, which others have since corrected.

    It’s like those anti-priacy ads you have to sit through when you buy a DVD; my friends joke that the only way to avoid them is to buy a pirated copy. You’re punishing the legitimate purchaser and rewarding the pirate. And with eBooks there’s the added risk that if you buy a new computer or eReader, or the publisher goes out of business, or the reseller has made an error, then the book you’ve bought will cease to be yours.

    This conversation happens in almost every post about eBooks at DA now, and it’s no wonder people are getting tired of it – exactly the same points are made every time and the same conclusions reached. Unless a software engineer turns up announcing they’ve found a way to make DRM work or a viable alternative, then regulars are going to find their eyes glazing over, especially if they click3d the comments thread in the hope of reading about something else entirely.

    So, on topic? The Que and the Skiff are in theory both flexible, but they’ve both been put in stiff cases. I’m sure there’s a good, practical reason for it, but I can’t help but be a little diappointed the pictures of the screen don’t represent the finished product. I wanta bendy e-reader! I think the dual devices are interesting, but I don’t think typing on the LCD should appear on the eInk. It’s counter-intuitive and with the refresh rate annoying. I like the idea, though. I don’t like reading on a computer screen, and the idea I could scoot over any long document appeals to me so I can rest my eyes a bit. Though I like the idea of having the internet attached it would massively impact the amount of reading I actually did, which makes the multipurpose devices a bit defunct for me. Need to brush up on my willpower!

  23. Jane
    Jan 18, 2010 @ 08:39:22

    @Fran Lee I do understand (and I think many readers do as well) that piracy is a very important topic to authors. I just think it’s important that we speak with clarity on what the “rules” of ebook reading are. If the primary way of publication is epublishing for you then you want to promote ebook reading. When there is confusion about the ebook formats and DRM and usage, I think those things can deter people from ebook reading.

  24. Estara
    Jan 18, 2010 @ 10:10:39

    On topic: My eyes aren’t that good any more, so unless some of the multi-purpose hardware gets a screen with as little glare/backlight – whatever it’s called – and as much sharpness as my Sony 505, I’ll continue reading my ebooks on dedicated e-readers ^^.

    I do expect that they eventually will have the advantages of e-ink and the colour and ability to show videos, etc. successfully integrated.

  25. Fran Lee
    Jan 18, 2010 @ 13:02:16

    @Jane: Thanks, Jane. I appreciate your reply. Authors do tend to get into the hyperventillation stage sometimes. :) I do write for e-pubs, and many of the old readers out there gave readers choices without forcing one format or the other (until Kindle). I think everyone is trying very hard to beat Kindle, and it’s turned into sort of a feeding frenzy among e-book reader manufacturers. But the prices are skyrocketing, and many of the new readers do force buyers to buy only certain formats. Makes it really hard on readers who want a simple, easy to use reader.

  26. DS
    Jan 18, 2010 @ 14:37:55

    I’m not sure I really understand the purpose bendy e-ink screen. I’m not sure what use it would be– nostalgia for the scroll?– although I have to admit thinking it would be cool to have.

  27. MaryK
    Jan 18, 2010 @ 16:12:24

    @DS: Is bendy is not as fragile, maybe?

  28. Jane
    Jan 18, 2010 @ 16:40:16

    @MaryK I worry that it would get creases in it. I actually prefer the rigid design. My bag would be brutal on a flexible screen.

  29. brooksse
    Jan 18, 2010 @ 20:16:42

    Re: the Gizmodo article… I started reading ebooks on my laptop. There were two main reasons I switched to a dedicated ebook reader, and a third that I discovered after buying the device:

    1) I wanted a more portable reading device (got tired of lugging the laptop around the house, and wanted something that would fit in my purse).

    2) I wanted a reading device that would hold a charge for more than a few hours (a hurricane that left us without power for a week really drove this point home).

    3) I want something that is much, much easier on the eyes than reading on a computer. (Something I came to appreciate after owning an e-Ink device.)

    I chose the device I own because it was compatible with the ebooks I already owned, and I wanted to keep buying my ebooks from a variety of retailers. I didn’t want to be tied to the device maker’s ebook store (for buying DRM’d ebooks).

    As for switching to a multi-function device…. I don’t want to read ebooks on anything that even remotely feels like reading on a computer (I do enough of that at work!). So until someone comes up with a multi-function device that’s as easy on the eyes as e-Ink, is the size of Sony’s 5″ or 6″ reader (no smaller, no bigger), and has internet connectivity, I’m happy with my dedicated ebook reader. And don’t really fall into either category of “happy ebook reader owners” mentioned in the Gizmodo article.

  30. A
    Jan 18, 2010 @ 22:51:36

    @Fran Lee:

    I have spoken to several people who get all their books off pirate sites, and these people genuinely feel that every author is independently wealthy and can easily afford a “few” freebies to go out to readers.

    An author’s earnings are not justification to steal from the author.

    Do these same people think it would be acceptable to hold up a wealthy person at gunpoint and deprive the person of whatever money and valuables he has with him? After all, if the person is wealthy “he can afford a few freebies.”

    The problem isn’t that pirates think authors are rich, the problem is that pirates are amoral and criminal.

    Pirates have actually driven some good authors out of the business, because they can make more money working a job at a grocery store than they make off the sale of their books.

    Right on. This is why piracy is not a push-button issue solely to authors. It is also a push-button issue to intelligent readers.

    As a reader, every dollar I put in an author’s pocket stabilizes that author’s career.

    Authors do not always choose to leave off writing professionally. If their books do not sell well, publishers will not contract them.

    If you care about reading good books, piracy impacts you. Period.

  31. Fran Lee
    Jan 18, 2010 @ 23:42:20

    @A: Thanks, A. I appreciate your kindness. e-mail me, and I’ll send you a gift for being so sweet.

  32. Stumbling Over Chaos :: La-la-la-la-la-linkity!
    Jan 21, 2010 @ 07:42:53

    […] Dear Author talks about the most interesting ebook hardware at CES 2010. […]

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