Hands-On: Spring Design's Dual-Screen Android Alex eBook Reader

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There’s good news and bad news for eBook fans. First up: new eBook readers using Marvell’s ARMADA 166E chip could see triple the frame rate of first generation devices. The bad news: the faster frame rate of 3 fps won’t exactly have you playing Doom just yet but low frame rate animation will possible.

An eInk screen playing a 3 fps animation, using Marvell's new Armada chip

Marvell doesn’t mind though. The company’s new chip isn’t meant to just increase performance, it’ll also offer a cost reduction and power reduction by shrinking what is now a multi-chip board controller board down to a single chip. Marvell showed off several OEM designs including Spring Design’s upcoming dual-screen Alex.

Based on Android, Alex features a color lower touch screen with a 6-inch electronic paper display. Using its built-in 3G modem or Wi-Fi, the Alex will let you visit a web site, select a story, and the device will reflow it to the EPD screen. The color screen can then be switched off to save power. This makes browsing blogs and news sites much more feasible, since you don't have to wait for the ebook to render individual pages before you get to your target content.

The capacitive LCD touchscreen runs the full Android OS, including support for UI customization, photo galleries, and full-color video playback. When you read an ebook, the interface lets you quickly skip around to any page, using an on-screen slide bar. An on-screen keyboard also makes text entry practical.

One downside is that the Alex is noticably thicker than the Kindle -- the added heft needed for the second screen and bigger battery.

Alex is expected to be available by the end of this year.

Marvell also showed off an even smaller Star Trek PADD-sized eBook.  The device was just a mockup, but Marvell officials say the size is quite possible given the smaller foot print of its new ARMADA 166E chip. The company said it expects eBook readers in the next year to dip to near the $100 level as volumes ramp up and OEMs realize the savings from using the ARMADA 166E.

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