A huge number of e-readers are on display at this year's CES. Although the biggest player, Amazon, isn't expected to reveal any Kindle surprises, plenty of other companies already have. The Alex dual-screener, for example, is a disruptive device that could become a real competitor in the e-reader market.
We first heard about the Alex thanks to a controversy with Barnes and Noble. The device's creators, the little-known Spring Design, claimed that B&N copied the design for their own Nook e-reader. The device grabbed attention because of the twin-screens (one on top, one on bottom), and full Android OS implementation (like everything else at CES, it seems.) This promised to give the Alex full Web-browsing powers on a largeish color LCD on the bottom, while offering a long battery-life e-book experience on the top screen.
And the Alex had even more promise than its half-brother the Nook, since B&N have chosen to cripple the functionality of the Nook so that it is little more than a swish e-reader with a neat color navigation system. Whereas the Alex can run apps, connect you up to your email, act as a full-on media player and so on: Essentially it's a teeny tiny tablet PC with added big-screen e-reader powers.
Today Spring Design pulled off an even more impressive stunt with the machine. They revealed its Feb 22 launch date, which is fabulously soon (compared to MS and HP's "sometime this year" slate tablets). And they revealed that the Alex will cost a mere $400, which puts it right in the middle of netbook territory, competitive in smartphoneland, and in a commandingly good position in the e-reader world. It's half the price of the new Plastic Logic Que, for example.
Here's the best bit of news though: Spring Design has announced a partnership with Borders, who'll supply the Alex's ebookstore ecosystem, and will also feature the Alex "prominently" on shelves in its stores. That's hugely exciting, since Borders is the number two bookstore in the U.S., and the deal will give real ebook power to the Alex's already impressive capabilities. That would make the Alex a truly disruptive device...with just one little sticking point. In November Spring Design sued B&N over the alleged IP theft issues with the Nook. It's not known how that case will work out, or even if B&N are the guilty party--so it wouldn't be surprising to discover if a serious chunk of the Alex's potential is riding on decisions made in court.