Hands-on review with the Spring Design Alex eBook Reader

Spring Design Alex in action - picture from Maximum PC

Spring Design Alex in action - picture from Maximum PC

If you follow eReader news then you’ve no doubt heard of Spring Design’s Alex eBook Reader. We first heard about it the day before the official Barnes & Noble eReader announcement. Rumor had it that B&N was going to release an Android-based eReader with two screens — one larger E-Ink and a smaller touchscreen color LCD. That’s why when Spring Design trumped B&N’s announcement it didn’t really add up. Why would a company that has had a long-standing relationship with B&N sabotage their big announcement?

The reason became clear yesterday when Spring Design filed a lawsuit and sought an injunction against Barnes & Noble and their nook eReader. Spring Design claims that B&N violated the confidentiality agreement between the two companies by taking specific elements of its Alex eReader and using it to create the nook. So far there’s been no comment from B&N regarding the lawsuit. Spring Design, however, is moving full speed ahead — including giving Maximum PC an exclusive hand-on with the Alex eReader.

The Alex is becoming the showcase piece for Marvell’s new ARMADA 166E chip. The ARMADA 166E triples the frame rate of traditional E-Ink processors and makes it capable of playing 3 frames per second. It also minimizes the traditional chip board to a single chip — allowing a reader to use less power and cost less money. Sounds like a win-win.

See the rest of Maximum PC’s review (pictures included) after the break.

Hands-On: Spring Design’s Dual-Screen Android Alex eBook Reader

There’s good news and bad news for eBook fans. First up: new eBook readers using Marvell’s ARMADA 166E chip could see triple the frame rate of first generation devices. The bad news: the faster frame rate of 3 fps won’t exactly have you playing Doom just yet but low frame rate animation will possible.

An eInk screen playing a 3 fps animation, using Marvell’s new Armada chip

Marvell doesn’t mind though. The company’s new chip isn’t meant to just increase performance, it’ll also offer a cost reduction and power reduction by shrinking what is now a multi-chip board controller board down to a single chip. Marvell showed off several OEM designs including Spring Design’s upcoming dual-screen Alex.

Based on Android, Alex features a color lower touch screen with a 6-inch electronic paper display. Using its built-in 3G modem or Wi-Fi, the Alex will let you visit a web site, select a story, and the device will reflow it to the EPD screen. The color screen can then be switched off to save power. This makes browsing blogs and news sites much more feasible, since you don’t have to wait for the ebook to render individual pages before you get to your target content.

The capacitive LCD touchscreen runs the full Android OS, including support for UI customization, photo galleries, and full-color video playback. When you read an ebook, the interface lets you quickly skip around to any page, using an on-screen slide bar. An on-screen keyboard also makes text entry practical.

One downside is that the Alex is noticably thicker than the Kindle — the added heft needed for the second screen and bigger battery.

Alex is expected to be available by the end of this year.

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