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

Barnes and Noble (s bks) 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 (s goog) 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 (s amzn) 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.