In all the fuss about the new Amazon Kindle 2 yesterday, it was easy to forget that the "upgraded" device still has a relatively small paperback-sized screen and can only cope with greyscale imagery. And that's where Fujitsu's new e-reader triumphs: Its display uses full color e-ink and is way bigger—at least three times bigger, it seems.
Fujitsu's e-reader is based on "FLEPia" technology from Fujitsu Frontera that incorporates the color screen with a wireless data management system. And that screen is about as large as the average magazine page—making it far more suitable than the Amazon device for browsing magazine-style info or even e-newspapers. That's certainly why Mainichi Newspapers Co. Ltd. is involved in the trial of the e-papers currently underway in a Tokyo restaurant to see how the public accepts it.
The Termina Kinshicho Fujiya restaurant has a dedicated "BB Mobile Point" wireless LAN installed to serve content to the e-readers—this includes diverse stuff from newspapers to adverts to train timetables and weather reports.
Hardware-wise the e-reader is pretty sleek—it's got a narrow bezel which makes the Kindle 2's huge one look positively ugly, and still manages to be a relatively narrow 12mm deep. It also ditches the keyboard of the Kindle since it's got a touch-sensitive screen. Inside there's Wi-Fi and USB 2 for connectivity, an SD slot for memory expansion, stereo speakers, and the entire Windows CE5. And the device can go for 50 hours use on a single charge.
There seems to be just a single handicap to Fujitsu's device, and that is its price. That larger screen, with color e-ink, and the whole slender-packaged design must, of course, make it a more expensive gizmo than the Kindle. But its price is apparently a whopping $900 or thereabouts, versus the Kindle's $360. And that's so high it means the e-readers are probably only commercially viable as an asset in restaurants and other establishments like cafes. Perhaps Futjitsu can achieve economies if the trial is successful and the e-paper goes into mass production—but the price would really have to drop for it to work as a consumer product and compete with physical copy newspapers and magazines.
Nevertheless, it looks like the future of e-readers/e-books may be a little closer than we may have supposed—perhaps an all-electronic The New York Times isn't such a strange proposition after all.
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