Barnes and Noble may have been the first to append a full-color LCD screen to an otherwise dull e-Ink display with the Nook, but Spring Design knows how to make those pixels sing. The company’s new Alex e-book reader features an enormous color touch screen that you might just mistake for an Android phone at first glance. That’s because functionally, it almost is.
Although the Alex lacks the voice capabilities of an ordinary Android handset like the Motorola Droid, it uses a built-in Wi-Fi to perform many of Android’s other handy tricks, including a full Web browser, e-mail access, and MP3 player. It feels, in many ways, like having a smartphone lashed to the bottom of a Kindle. You can even use it as an auxiliary reading screen for your e-books in the dark, where its backlight makes it handier than the more efficient e-Ink display above.
Although the Alex currently lacks the built-in connectivity of the Kindle or Nook (company reps say they’re currently shopping around for a provider), Spring Designs has partnered with both Google Books and Borders to provide content for the device. It also supports the open ePub and PDF formats for grabbing content from other providers.
Hands on, we liked the Alex’s familiar-feeling Android interface, sturdy hardware, and the quality of both screens – especially the bottom one, which is notably larger than the Nook’s. Although a $399 price tag will make it one of the most expensive e-readers on the market at the moment, it’s also fair to call it one of the most functional.
Currently, Spring Design plans to launch the device on February 22.