One major drawback of Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader is the lack of a Web browser, but Spring Design has fixed this problem with Alex, an e-reader that otherwise looks and acts quite similar to the Nook.
Alex was on display at a CES media event last night. Like Barnes & Noble’s reader, Alex has an E-Ink display that comprises most of the front panel, along with a smaller color touch screen running Google’s Android mobile operating system. But unlike the Nook, Alex’s flavor of Android has a capable Web browser.
The coolest part of the browser is the “Navigate” button situated between the two screens. Press it, and the Web page on the bottom screen gets loaded into the E-Ink display for easier reading. You can then use page up and page down buttons to read through the page, as the E-Ink display quickly fades to black, then fades back into view with the new text and images. Who needs costly newspaper subscriptions in e-reader form, as offered in Amazon’s Kindle, when you can read the Web site for free?
Other Android functions on the e-reader include a music player with built-in speakers or headphones, photo galleries and a calculator. Of course, the reader supports PDF documents and the ePub format for books. Media is stored on MicroSD cards.
Alex’s similarities to the Nook may not be a coincidence. In November, Spring Design filed a lawsuit against Barnes & Noble, claiming intellectual property theft. Spring Design claims it was working with Barnes & Noble under a non-disclosure agreement (likely to get support from Barnes & Noble’s e-book store), before the Nook was announced. Barnes & Noble then released its own e-reader with a similar look and feel.
Though I haven’t tried the Nook, I’m inclined to favor a reader that can access the Web. But the big question is whether Alex can match the Nook’s competitive $259 price. We may hear something on that front later in the show, in which case I’ll update this story.
Update: Alex has announced a price of $349, plus a partnership with Borders for in-store promotion and a branded e-book store.