First Look: Spring Design Alex– Dual Screen e-Book Reader

Alex jkOTR

Barnes and Noble cranked up interest in e-book readers using two screens with the introduction of the Nook, as it provides a better method for interacting with the reader than clunky menu buttons as on readers with single screens. Spring Design is now shipping the Alex reader, a device similar in design to the Nook, but with a larger color touchscreen below the standard e-Ink screen. I am giving the Alex a good test, and felt it worthwhile to share my initial impressions of the reader.

The Alex has an interesting design, with a 6-inch e-Ink screen (non-touch) residing over a 3.5-inch color touch LCD screen. Android is the operating system running the Alex, and the implementation demonstrates how good the platform is for e-book readers. The bottom screen is a typical Android home screen, with the special utilities and apps just a tap away.

The hardware on the Alex is a good fit for a reader, and the construction is very solid. It feels as well constructed as the Amazon Kindle, and that reader is a nice piece of kit. Here are the full specs of the Alex as reviewed:

  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g, USB 2.0 to PC
  • Dimensions: 8.9 in. x 4.7 in.; weight 11 ounces
  • Displays: 6-inch e-Ink (600×800); 3.5-inch color touch LCD (320×480)
  • Memory: 256 MB Internal; 4 GB Flash memory; 2 GB microSD (included)
  • Audio: 2.5 mm headphone jack (headphones included); integrated stereo speakers
  • File Types Supported: JPEG, GIF, BMP, PNG, MP3, MIDI, WAV, MPEG2/4, 3GPP, Flash Lite, PDF (Adobe DRM), ePUB, TXT, HTML
  • Power: 6 hours online browsing, 7,500 page turns, charge from PC USB or included adapter
  • Included Apps: Picture Viewer, Music Player, Video Player, GMail, Calculator, Browser

I’m going to give the Alex a good test to determine how good an e-book reader it can be. I already find it useful to have the color touchscreen to run things, although the interface controlling the book library is pretty basic. It is cool to have a web browser on board, although it’s not very fast. That’s my biggest problem with the Alex so far in general — the performance is really slow. It can be frustrating at times waiting for a user-triggered action to happen.

The included music player is a basic way to listen to music while reading on the Alex. It actually sounds OK on the stereo speakers on the back of the device. Youtube video can also be played on the color screen, and it works well.

The e-book reader is as expected, a typical e-Ink experience. The page turn lag is noticeable but not excessive, and the screen contrast is typical for the genre. The color screen can be turned off while reading to save battery, with a simple tap of the power button.

The screen sync button is located between the two screens, and it toggles the sync mode. In normal action the two screens display independent information, with the top screen for reading e-books and the bottom screen for system control. A simple tap of the sync button causes the bottom screen to be linked to the top one. This makes it possible to view web pages on the bigger screen for example. Hitting the sync button again breaks the link between the two screens.

The Alex is a decent reader, and I like it so far. I was surprised to see how narrow the device is, and it makes it comfortable to hold totally in my left hand while reading. It is available from Spring Design in either white or black, for $399. That’s the biggest problem I have with the Alex, I can’t see spending so much on a single function gadget.

  1. What a waste of time and money.

  2. Clunk-o-rama. Next!

    1. What’s so clunky? Device is pretty much break even with other ereader with exception to it’s length. Seeing the capabilities they’ve enabled on release firmware between the LCD and EPD I’m eager to see how this one develops.

  3. What ebook store do they use?

    1. They use their own store, but you can use other content on the Alex. ADobe DRM is supported for example.

    2. The word is that the Alex will be officially attached to the Borders ebook store when it hits the web in June, and the devices will be available for purchase in Borders stores.

  4. I agree. Nice eReader but it might be a little to late, since you can pickup the 499.99 iPad with more functions. I’m sure this does great as a eReader, but you can find other devices for about the same price point or little more with more features as well. James maybe you can take some pics next to your iPad. I does look pretty narrow. Looks like the iPad has better battery life compare to the Alex.

    1. iPad doesn’t have an EPD screen which is the key component of this and other ereaders. I agree that the $400 price does push it close to other devices but if I was going to settle for an iPad as an ereader I would just stick with my higher resolution laptop display.

  5. Looks too impractical. Would be nice if the bottom part was detachable to have a pocket MID type device.

  6. I agree that it’s pricy for an e-reader device, but if you think of it as an e-reader with a bonus Archos 5 MID included, it’s a substantially more reasonable price point. You lose the portability of two separate devices, but you get the ability to kick any web content up to the e-ink screen for increased readability.

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