New eBook Reader Undercuts Kindle, Sony Reader Prices

Amazon's Kindle electronic book reader costs $359--but you can't get one until at least February. Sony's PRS-700BC costs $399--also pretty darn costly. But Foxit Software will soon begin shipping an eBook reader that costs only slightly more than half what Sony's reader does.

The eSlick will sell for $229 when it first goes on sale in January from Foxit's site (and eventually in retail stores), then for $259 afterward. It is about the size of a medium paperback, but at 0.4 inches, it's much thinner. Its 6-inch, 600-by-800-pixel "electronic paper" screen is made by the same company that makes the Kindle's; it has the same easy-on-the-eyes, grayscale reflective screen (light is reflected off of words and images on the screen, rather than blasted at you with a backlight). You can resize text, and the device will reflow your document (rather than simply magnifying what's on the screen). Those are all features that make the Kindle such a great device on which to read books, magazines, blogs, etc.

Available in black, gray, or white, the device will have 128MB of internal memory, plus USB and an SD Card slot (it'll come with a 2GB card, too). Because its screen draws very little power, battery life should be extremely long; Foxit says it'll go for 8,000 page turns between recharges; it recharges via either USB or an included AC adapter. It uses an embedded Linux operating system, too.

However, at least in its initial version, the eSlick won't have wireless connectivity, so you won't be able to sync newspapers or blogs unless you convert them first on a PC (using included PDF conversion software, which Foxit is better known for) and copy them over manually. It'll read PDFs and text files, and you can convert any printable document for viewing using the PC-based software. You can download digital books, of course, from online libraries and eBook stores, and transfer them to the eSlick.

You can also play MP3s on the eSlick; it has a headphones port and ships with a set of headphones. Foxit says it anticipates adding wireless, an even better screen, and/or perhaps content syncing in a manner similar to AvantGo at some point in the future.

But until then, the question is whether you'd be okay with firing up your computer in the morning, culling your own content, converting it to a eSlick-readable format, and transferring it yourself. At least that process is free; automatic newspaper delivery to a Kindle costs at least $10 per month--each. Blogs cost $1 to $2 per month--each. At least with the eSlick, you don't have to email your own documents to yourself, as you must with the Kindle.

I like reading electronic books, and doing so on a lightweight device that I don't have to hold open, without eyestrain, would be a great thing. For books and my own documents, it doesn't matter whether the device I use has wireless capability, so if that's your anticipated use, the eSlick might be a great inexpensive alternative to the Kindle.

But I think the Kindle--as expensive as it and its subscriptions are, and as flawed as it is (in its initial version)--set the ground rules for this kind of device. I'm too cheap to pay its multiple monthly subscriptions, but with the way that newspaper outfits are going, we may all be forced into reading the news on Kindle or Kindle-like devices one day very soon.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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