Hanvon Color eInk Reader Revealed

One of the things that I failed to mention in my previous post on CES Goodies was the announcement and demonstration of the first ever Color E Ink eReader.  I’d like to say that this is the beginning of a trend that will eventually lead to a Kindle with color of some sort, but there are concerns to be addressed yet.  Here’s where things stand so far.

Hanvon, a company primarily focused on handwriting recognition and OCR software, known in the eReader marketplace for their WISEreader line of eReading devices, had a demo model for their new 9.7″ color eReader.  There are any number of videos of it floating around the net.  This new eReader is expected to be released in May to a Chinese audience at around $500.  For what is effectively a first generation device, not a bad price, I suppose.

The device will have a resolution of 1200×1600, the usual E Ink lack of constant screen refresh (this being what makes the battery life so much better than your typical screen options), and a resistive touchscreen capable of handling handwritten annotation and sketching.  On paper, looks pretty good, right? The problems that I see at this point are two-fold.

First, the screen is badly washed out compared to what users will be accustomed to.  The lack of back lighting makes this somewhat inevitable, of course, but it’s more of an impediment to new users than it is a selling point right now.  It could just be that Hanvon was not able to display the device to show off its best side, but you almost get the impression that the color will only be noticeable either up close or under truly bright light.

The second problem is the refresh rate.  I know I’ve been the first to tell people that complaining about that on an eReader is silly, but this seems to take it a little far.  Average page turn time comes in noticeably over 2 seconds for every push of the button, including navigating the simple black and white menu.  I do not get the impression that this is a product of the screen, from what I’ve been able to find, but rather a product of the GPU that Hanvon chose to go with for this model. I get that it’s a big screen and they’re trying to conserve as much battery life as possible and all that, but consumers have just started getting used to E Ink screens in their products now that the refresh rate is comparable to a page turn in a book.  Nobody really wants to go back this far.

Basically, I don’t see this one being competition for even the existing Kindle devices, and I can kinda see where Amazon(NASDAQ:AMZN) is coming from in not jumping on the color bandwagon the second a viable screen comes along. Sure, I’d love to be able to get color on a Kindle, or whatever they decide to call the new one when it comes out, but quality should take precedence over speeding to the release date. This will only be cool if it’s done right.

A not-so-Novel Device from Pandigital

Pandigital, a company until now known for their digital photo frames, has entered the eReader market with their new device: the Novel.  This 7-inch tablet device features what is described as a responsive touchscreen, 1GB of internal storage, a 6-hour battery, a full web browser, and the ability to store and view both pictures and video, among other things.  At first glance, it’s honestly kinda cool.  Almost like getting an iPad without all the extra expense, maybe. Given the price, however, and the emphasis on it’s status as an eReading device, we find some shortcomings by comparison.

A $199.99 MSRP is a good start, however it hardly makes this a revolutionary introduction to the marketplace with the Kobo coming in at $149.99 and the anticipated nook Lite matching the $199.99 asking price.  Oddly enough, what is said to make the nook price drop so much in the move to the Lite model is the lack of 3G wireless support, which the Novel lacks in the first place.  Makes some sense.

Also, not to belabor a point that most people have probably realized on their own by now, it is an LCD display.  This means that while it’s likely to be pleasant to look at and great for displaying full-color texts(especially magazines and such that rely on this), it is going to be harder on the eyes than something like the Kindle.  No, I haven’t held one in my hands yet, but with LCDs it’s the nature of the beast.  Some are better than others, but for reading eInk puts them all to shame.

The thing that stands out the most for me, however, is the battery life.  One of the most pleasant parts of owning an eBook Reader is the fact that you can treat it just like a book for the most part.  My Kindle comes out once a week for charging, if that, and otherwise sits in my bag or on the bookshelf, always ready to go.  I don’t have to come home and worry about plugging things in.

Needless to say, I’m unimpressed by what’s being presented here so far.  It’s a neat little device, but it’s too late to make a splash.  There are better eReaders out there for the same price, better multi-purpose tablets for just a bit more.  Unless you spend extremely long periods of time with books or magazines that require color displays, this will probably be something you pass on.