Tuesday, September 22, 2009

iRex 8.1" release - at Best Buy, for B&N, w/ Verizon

Brad Stone of the NY Times writes that, later today, iRex Technologies (UK), whose 10" DR1000s e-reader is approximately the size of the 9.7" Kindle DX and selling for about $989, will announce they are releasing an 8.1" iRex DR800Sg touch-screen e-reader in the U.S. for $399.

  They've partnered with Verizon to allow free direct wireless connection to the Barnes & Noble E-Book store and to newspapers at Newspapers Direct, which offers more than 1,100 periodicals and presents them onscreen "largely as they appear in print form."  That is a BIG selling feature if pricing is reasonable.

See UPDATED INFO on 9/24/09 also.

  Stone writes that the iRex will "link directly" to both stores which implies that, like the Sony Daily Edition (PRS-2121) which will link only to the Sony store, the iRex will not be allowing direct free access to the entire web as the Kindles do.

  That's a distinction to remember.  The big news last week was In-stat's finding that per their most recent consumer survey,
' "...current e-book owners desire e-mail capability in the next e-book they purchase," says Stephanie Ethier, In-Stat analyst. “Longer battery life and Internet connectivity are the top two desired features among respondents who don’t currently own an e-book but plan to buy one in the next year.” '
At $400 without the mentioned web-browsing or e-mail capability, this would make a difference to many, as then a device does becomes more of the oft-described one-function gizmo (which the Kindle is not).  I think the chosen size is somewhat iffy since it's too large to pocket and too small to present PDFs that well.

  There are many PDFs that I have to look at on the (larger) Kindle DX in landscape format, to read easily in larger font, or convert to MOBI formats so I can see larger overall text

  And, at the moment, while most people do not realize that the Kindle has a basic web browser using Sprint's cellular 3G spare bandwidth, with direct (but slow) access to all web sites, the other e-readers being released or announced weekly just don't offer that apparently desired capability.

  So, Amazon sits on that lead in top-two desired features but doesn't advertise them because too much use of those would cost them money as they pay the Sprint charges for now.

  What the iRex will offer is a size that's
1.  larger than the cute and eminently pocketable new Sony's, PRS-300 and PRS-600, and
2.  larger than the Kindle 2 with its real-estate hogging keyboard (useful for quick searches and short notes) but
3.  almost 2 inches smaller than the Kindle DX (already a bit small for PDFs in original sizes)

and with a touchscreen (popular) and stylus likely and greater file-format flexibility (their current large models support PDF and EPub formats as well as HTML).

  On their current 10" model they charge an extra $100 for the ability to write notes to be added to your book files.  No word on that for the new, smaller U.S. model until later today, for the $399 price.

  In addition, by next month, you'll be able to buy the iRex at a few hundred Best Buy stores, where they'll vie for display space with the newer Sony readers.

Stone adds that "Best Buy is training thousands of its employees in how to talk about and demonstrate devices like the Sony Reader and iRex, and adding a new area to its 1,048 stores to showcase the devices."

  iRex and Barnes & Noble didn't reach an agreement on a house-branded iRex, and B&N may be working on its own reading device, as hinted at by a filing that made the news last week.

  An important consideration will be whether or not its customer support has improved over what is described in a long review posted on the Net from someone with a year's experience with a iRex.  Amazon is providing unusually responsive customer service with its Kindles.

Stone further points out an important wireless detail - "It contains a 3G Gobi radio from Qualcomm, the wireless component manufacturer, which will allow iRex owners to buy books wirelessly when they travel abroad.  By contrast, the wireless modem in the Kindle works only on Sprint’s network in the United States..."

Also, as detailed earlier, they're not quite equivalent in the "unlimited" wireless feature in that the Kindle currently (and for the last 2 years) gives 24/7 free wireless direct access to the entire net, albeit with a clunky web browser, and ability to (slowly) use gmail and other web mail while the iRex will go to two stores.  This is of high value to some of us, less so for others.

  As most who pay for web access on their phones know, that Kindle feature is worth between $30-$50/mo.  The many mobile-optimized site versions available today are best for quicker browsing.

Verizon says it has no plans to subsidize the cost of the iRex reader with 2-yr type subscription fees (as is done for smart phones and for netbooks now).

Analyst Allen Weiner cautions that consumers may wait to see what Apple does with a general-purpose tablet device rumored for the Spring, which will be in color and do video, but most recent whisperings are that it might cost $800.

In my case, I am awaiting what I hope will become my secondary e-reader, in color, for LIGHTER use with materials requiring color, as it would be LCD technology, which brings words and images to our eyes via light, bringing more eyestrain for most.  That would be the Asus EReader with dual-screens in color (LCD) that they hope to sell for about $163.

At that price cellular wireless would not be included for free, but if it has WiFi capability (as opposed to cellular everywhere-wireless) and we could use it in home or office settings), then I would get it as a supplementary reader for books with color illustrations.
 Here's a fanciful mock-up of one.  Note how impossible it would be to read the small print on that kind of layout on it though it looks very nice.  But I'm looking forward to that one.

  In the meantime, the Kindles and Sony's can't be equaled for fantastic ease of readabiity with those e-Ink screens and features (except by the Astak Pocket Pro EZReader, which is orderable from the San Jose company and has a 5" screen, a faster processer than its 6" screen model, is able to read Adobe-rights-protected PDF files, normal PDFs, ePub, and has text-to-speech function, probably through headphones, but NO search/dictionary/highlighting/note-taking).  It also takes a 16G SD card and a has a "promotional" price of $199.
  If not able to afford a Kindle or a refurbished Kindle for $219, I'd take a good look at that one, although I have no idea what the functioning is like, which is important.

 In the meantime I am waiting to see what ASUS comes up with --per multiple reports they will offer two models, one inexpensive (see above) and a version with more features.

See UPDATED INFO on 9/24/09 also. Below are ways to Share this post if you'd like others to see it.
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  1. Good news about the iRex! The $489 price tag for the Kindle DX needs to come down a bit since a laptop can be a good substitute for readuing e-books. Would you believe that eBay has the Kindle DX pricing from $488 up to an unbelieveable $999.95!! Amazon needs a worthy competitor in the e-Reader product line. I hope that the DR800SG is it.

  2. Leonard,
    A laptop ? It's just a world of difference for the eyes to read steadily for hours on an e-ink screen vs the short-sessions on laptops where we jump from topic to topic. I have had my current laptop since 2005 and it is ultra clear and I do photoshop on it but I'd never use it for reading a book.

    The iRex screen is 8.1" and the DX is 9.7" which is quite a difference for reading a PDF as-is before expanding or rotating.

    So the size difference alone for that expensive large e-ink screen is something but no laptop has 24/7 free wireless as the Kindles do even if you are standing in a grocery or bank line or sitting in a cafe somewhere or in a bus.

    The iRex (and Sony) won't have access to web-sites (except for B&N and NewspaperDirect). Mobile-cellular net access like the Kindle's is worth $30/month minimum if already piggybacking on local phone access but is actually worth about $50-$60/month, slow or not.

    If you know how much can be done on the current free 24/7 web-browser when you optimize sessions with mobile versions of sites, there is just no way that another e-reader today can offer that even minimally since they won't allow you anywhere but their stores. And laptops need WiFi connections.

    BUT, having said that, the iRex will be a -very- worthy competitor since it has more file formats as of today and EVENTUALLY will have capability (not right away) to use the stylus for notes and highlighting on the unit. The latter won't be ready for awhile.

    Yes, EBay pricing is outrageous :-) I hear they do that because people living outside the U.S. can't easily buy a Kindle, so they take advantage of those people if they haven't explored or researched how it can be done.

    The iRex screen also has a somewhat lighter background, from what I hear although only 16-shades of gray also, and many will prefer it to the Kindle for the way it works, with a stylus.

    Thanks for the feedback, Leonard.

    - Andrys

  3. Does the DR800 display page numbers that are equivalent to those of its paperbound kinfolk?

  4. James,
    I don't know about whether the DR800 displays page numbers equivalent to the paperbound edition (and those can vary anyway).

    The Sony displays page numbers but it's been uncertain how accurate they are.

    I'll watch out for that information though, and we'll all know soon.


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