CES: Plastic Logic's Que E-Reader Revealed

Plastic Logic has been teasing us with previews of its e-reader -- now dubbed the Que proReader -- for sixteen months. This morning at CES, it formally announced the product on the show floor, complete with demos of the final version and full details on features, pricing, and availability.

As Plastic Logic has said all along, the Que is based on its proprietary plastic transistor technology (which allows for a large, lightweight, glass-free display), has a screen the size of an 8.5-by-11 inch piece of paper, uses a touchscreen interface, and is aimed at businessfolk who "need to read" rather than those who read for pleasure. It's signed content deals with business-oriented media brands such as the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and Fast Company (and PC World's parent company, IDG), it lets you drag and drop Microsoft Office documents and other business files from your PC to the e-reader, and it has extensive tools for annotating and organizing documents. It also lets you view your Exchange calendar and has a complementary BlackBerry app which lets you transfer files to the Que.

We learned three striking new things about the gadget today:

1) It has a much richer interface than current e-readers, with a home screen that shows your favorite files, your calendar, and other information, drop-down menus, and drag-and-drop features. It feels a little bit less like an electronic book, and a little more like a computing device that happens to be focused around reading.

(Still to be determined: How much the inherent sluggishness of E-Ink hobbles the interface. Judging from the demo, when you drag and drop a note on-screen, the Que doesn't even try to show it in motion between the two spots -- you drag your finger, and the note transports to the new location as if sent by Wonkavision.)

2) It takes advantage of its large, high-resolution screen to provide something it calles Que TruVue-slick formatting of publications that looks like a big improvement on the drab, text-only presentation on the Kindle and Nook. (We saw USA Today, which preserved a USA Today-like personality, much as its Web site does.

3) The Que is going to be expensive. A lower-end model has 4GB of storage for documents, Wi-Fi, USB, and Bluetooth, but no 3G connectivity; it's $649. The top-of-the-line one doubles the storage and adds AT&T 3G wireless; it's $799. That latter price is more than three times the price of the Kindle and Nook, and much more than Amazon's $489 large-screen Kindle DX, the closest thing the Que has to a direct competitor that's actually shipping. It's also as much as a lot of businesspeople pay for a laptop these days.

Plastic Logic is presumably anticipating that its target market of professionals will find Que compelling enough to pay far more for the device than anyone's charged for a more consumery e-reader to date. It'll be fascinating to see if its customer base thinks this device is worth that kind of dough,

Que looks like it has the potential to be the slickest and most versatile e-reading device to date, it's full of interesting technology and touches, and its emphasis on corporate use is smart; it's anything but a Kindle wannabe. The demo this morning devoted a lot of time to explaining why it's better than a folder full of printouts and a stack of business books, magazines, and newspapers. I think it's pretty self-evident that it can win that comparison, but Plastic Logic didn't devote much time to another question: Why is the Que better than another device that 100% of its target market owns, uses, and carries -- a laptop computer? I have a one-on-one briefing with a representative of the company later this week, and I plan to ask him or her exactly that.

The Que is shipping in April, and will be available in Barnes & Noble stores and at BN.com as well as from Plastic Logic. (Barnes & Noble is powering the device's e-book store.) The Que online store is now open for business.

For more up-to-the-minute blogs, stories, photos, and video from the nation's largest consumer electronics show, check out PC World's complete coverage of CES 2010.

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