Asus 'Eee Reader' to join e-reader fray, says report

While nothing is official yet, the company is reportedly considering a budget and premium model of the Eee Reader

Computer maker Asus may be getting ready to launch an e-reader that would mimic the traditional book, be in full color and come loaded with a variety of innovative features. Jerry Shen, Asus' president, reportedly confirmed to London's Times newspaper that Asus is planning on launching its e-reader before the end of the year. The device is being dubbed the Eee Reader, named after Asus' line of moderately priced laptop and desktop computers the Eee PC and Eee Box.

Eee-Reader Premium

While nothing is official yet, the company is reportedly considering a budget and premium model of the Eee Reader. Details are slim about what these devices would look like, and the details that have been reported are mostly based on speculation and prototypes. But according to the description from the Times, the premium version looks set to knock the socks off competitors like Amazon's Kindle reader. Asus' top of the line Eee Reader would be a dual screen, full-color device with both screens connected by a hinge to emulate the look and feel of a traditional book. Asus showed off a concept version of this device earlier this year.

But Asus' device may be more than just an e-reader; it will reportedly be able to simultaneously read text on one screen and view a Web page on the other. Dual Web/reading access could be a handy feature for students who want to have an online reading guide open while they study, and every day readers could enhance their understanding of a book by referring to online sources relating to their text.

One of the screens may also have the ability to convert into a touch-based keypad, turning the device into some sort of netbook for easy Web access. Other features include Wi-Fi, speakers, Webcam and microphone. When PC World originally reported on the Eee Reader, there was also the possibility the dual screens could function as one widescreen, the Times report does not mention this functionality. There's also no word on whether the Eee Reader will have 3G capability or how much Asus' premium device would cost.

Eee-Reader Budget

Details about the budget version are even fewer than the premium model. The only information the Times has is that the budget version would compete against other moderately priced e-readers. The Times doesn't say whether that means the budget version of the Eee-reader would have dual screens, full color or any of the networking features found in the premium version. A cheap price would be the budget Eee Reader's biggest feature, with a UK price tag in the neighborhood of $US165. There was no mention of when the Eee Reader would arrive in the United States or how much it would cost on this side of the Atlantic.

What will the Eee Reader actually be like?

While Asus' specs are promising, I've got some questions about this device. A dual-screen device sounds great, and I've wondered how long it would take for e-readers to get there, but it begs the question of how durable this device will be? Sure, laptop hinges hold up pretty well, but you don't hold a laptop the way you do a book, so the stress on the Eee-reader's hinge will be completely different. I'd want to take a look at that before getting one of my own.

I'm also not thrilled about a touch-based keyboard, but then again what would be the alternative on a device like this? I'd also want to make sure the Eee Reader doesn't feel like I'm carrying around an encyclopedia--my laptop stresses my shoulders enough as it is.

Despite my reservations, the idea of Asus getting into the e-reading business is good news. The company shook up the computer market in 2007 when it introduced its moderately sized and priced Eee PC 701 laptop that is credited by some for sparking the current netbook craze.

Sony recently announced its own cheaply priced e-reader earlier this month offering a reader with a 5-inch screen for $US199. Asus may be able to force the price down even further, as it did with netbooks, by introducing a cheaper and usable e-reader. Would Amazon follow suit by dropping the $US300 price tag of the Kindle 2? I doubt it, but if a lot of Asus Eee Readers start showing up on your morning commute in the near future, Amazon may have no choice.

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Ian Paul

PC World (US online)
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