When Samsung joins the e-book fray, where Amazon, Sony and Fujtisu are already playing, it confirms one thing: the e-reader is becoming the next "must-have" lifestyle gadget. The Papyrus, a touchscreen e-reader that Samsung introduced at CES earlier this year, is on its way to European and Korean markets, and a U.S. launch may be next.
Little is known about the Papyrus. Nothing's been heard about it since the public appearance at CES earlier this year. The information that's slowly leaked out suggests it's an A5-sized e-ink device (meaning it's 5.8 x 8.3 inches, a little larger than a typical paperback book, while the entire Kindle 2 measures 5.3 x 8 inches with a 6-inch screen). The "electronic paper display" screen is also a touchscreen, and though there seems to be an aluminum stylus, it'll probably also respond to finger-tips since the imagery shows a touchscreen page-turn icon—something that would be awfully limiting if it were stylus-only.
The photos suggest that the device is very slim, and that Samsung, of all the e-readers we've seen so far, has nailed the styling. It has an iPhone-like curved metal edge, and the entire remaining face of the unit is plain—there's just the narrow colored bezel and the e-ink screen. Unlike the Kindle's cluttered and very last-century keypad, and even the Fujitsu Flepia's discrete cluster of controls, the Papyrus would not distract you from the pages you're trying to read on its screen.
But Samsung did leave a few things out. The current rumors say the Papyrus has just 512MB of memory with no memory-card slot, no Wi-Fi and no cellular WAN access. If true, it will severely limit the device's potential—there would be little room for the e-books, let alone PDFs or Word documents, and it probably won't sport an MP3 player with such little space. The lack of wireless connections also contrasts hugely to the other e-readers out there, particularly the Kindle 2 with its cellular content-serving system and associated Amazon purchasing ecosystem. That's why I'm thinking the rumors are wrong—I suspect the final Papyrus will have some or all of those features.
So why are we arguing e-readers are the next "must have" gizmo? Start with the Papyrus's price—it's supposed to be just $300, which makes it the cheapest yet, especially compared to the $1,000 Flepia. And the e-reader is perfectly placed to capture the public's imagination: netbooks are now "the norm," smartphones are already popular and everyone and their cat owns an MP3 player. When e-readers were limited to the Kindle, with Sony tagging along behind, it didn't have the momentum to be a mainstream gadget, but if Samsung enters the market it won't be long before every other consumer electronics maker joins too. Then the specs will improve as competition increases, and everyone will be buying an e-book reader.