Alex: A new e-reader -- and an Android Web device

Spring Design's Alex e-reader offers both a clear e-ink display plus an Android-powered LCD for Web browsing.

Another entry in the e-book reader sweepstakes, Spring Design's Alex e-reader will probably be compared most often to Barnes and Noble's Nook.

Alex e-reader

Like the Nook, the device has two separate screens: a monochrome E-ink display and, below that, a color LCD touch screen. Unlike the Nook's secondary screen, however, the Alex's 3.5-inch LCD isn't simply an adjunct to the 6-inch Electronic Paper Display (EPD) -- it's a full-fledged mobile environment based on the Android operating system.

What does it do? The Alex is 4.7 in. x 8.9 in., making it longer and slimmer than rivals such as the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader. It weighs 11 oz., slightly heavier than the Kindle and Sony Reader, but about the same as the Nook.

The Alex offers four control buttons on either side of the LCD: a Back button and Forward button for the e-reader (the latter also doubles as a Menu button for the LCD), a Page Back button for the LCD, and the power button, which can also be used simply to blank the lower screen.

The upper EPD is always on (since, according to Spring Design, it doesn't use any power when not in use). The lower LCD is where you can (using a Wi-Fi connection) download books and access various controls for your EPD (such as bookmarks and font size).

Since the Alex comes loaded with 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi and Android OS 1.5, you can treat the LCD as a straightforward mobile Android device. The Alex interface includes icons for a built-in browser, calculator, e-mail, photo gallery, music player and YouTube player.

A fifth button, located between the EPD and LCD, lets you sync or unsync the two screens -- so, for example, if you browse to the New York Times site via your Android browser, you can sync the screens and read the articles using the larger EPD.

The system also comes with a 2GB MicroSD memory card in a slot on the back, a pair of speakers (also on the back), a microphone, headphone jack and mini USB jack.

What's cool about it? This is an excellent device if you're an open-source enthusiast looking for an e-reader. Although it doesn't come with the Android Marketplace app, anyone familiar with the OS will be able to download additional apps relatively easily.

And the places it lets you find books is appropriate to open source as well. Currently, the device comes with direct links (via a Library icon) to sources such as Google Books, Epub Books, Gutenberg, Web Books, Feed Books and Smash Words; you can easily download public domain and other free literature. As a long-time Gutenberg fan, this suits me fine.

Since the Alex can read ePub, TXT, HTML or PDF files, you can also purchase more recent books using Web services such as Kobo. And you can move e-books manually from your computer to the Alex using the included USB cable.

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