Entourage Edge: Uneasy Marriage of E-Reader and Slate
At a Glance
Dual-screen portable may appeal to some students, but it's bulky.
The Entourage Edge looks like a bright red notebook PC until you flip it open to reveal its true, dual-screen colors. On one side is an oversize, touch-enabled E-Ink digital paper display, and on the other side, a bright touchscreen LCD from which you can runs apps, including e-mail and a browser via built-in Wi-Fi (or an optional broadband connection using the Edge's SIM card slot). With the addition of a built-in Webcam, mic, and audio player, it's a potentially powerful combination, but several shortcomings--most notably its 3-pound weight and high price ($499, price as of June 7, 2010)--will limit its appeal to mainstream users.
Entourage Systems envisions the Edge as a useful tool for, say, students who can read assignments in the reader screen while taking notes on the LCD side (or simply scribbling handwritten notes on the 9.7-inch E-Ink reader in Journal mode). The device is based on an embedded Linux operating system that incorporates the Android mobile phone OS, and Entourage says that it can run most Android apps, although currently they will appear in a tiny, mobile-phone-size window in the LCD--existing apps don't support larger displays.
By default, the 10.1-inch, 1024-by-600 LCD side of the Edge accepts text input on a pop-up software keyboard (alternatively, you could plug in a keyboard to one of the Edge's two USB ports). The software keyboard is large enough to type on, but for touch typists it's still no substitute for a hardware keyboard. However, if you prefer tapping to typing, Entourage thoughtfully provides a built-in plastic stylus. And lefties can rotate both screens 180 degrees so that the reading pane is on the right and the LCD is on the left.
The Journal application, which uses Wacom Penabled digitizer technology, turns the Edge into an electronic notepad with various options for paper and ink styles. I scribbled some handwritten notes on the Edge with the stylus and was impressed by its responsiveness: It was one of the best digital ink experiences I've had to date. You can save your handwritten pages for opening later with the journal app, or you can export them as PDFs. These document management tasks, while initiated within the Journal, are completed on the LCD side, and the back-and-forth between the two screens can be a little disconcerting.
That said, the Edge's E-Ink side works well as an e-book reader, its 8-grayscale display rivals the Kindle DX's in size, and I found page turns to be reasonable snappy. Acquiring books without a PC connection is easy using the Entourage store, accessible via the LCD. (You also use the LCD to manage your library.) The Edge supports PDF and ePub e-book formats, so you're not limited to using the Entourage bookstore; you can purchase commercial content using Adobe Digital Editions PC software and transfer it to the Entourage. If the Edge's 4GB of internal memory (3GB available to users) isn't enough to store all your media, you can pop in an SD Card in a slot on the side (next to the SIM slot) or use one of the device's two USB flash drives.
But the Edge is less satisfying as a slate/netbook substitute because you expect a device with such a roomy screen to act more like a PC than a big smartphone, which--with its built-in Webcam, speakers, mic, and headset jack--is basically what the Edge is. For example, Entourage bundles DataViz Documents to Go--a decent productivity suite for handhelds but obviously not as capable as a desktop suite.
Music sounded pretty good over my headset, but the Webcam produces images the size of those on a cell phone's display. You can use it to make Skype calls by downloading and installing a third-party universal chat/videoconference app called Fring, which was easy to do and worked well, but again, the small video images seemed incongruous on the large screen.
I ran into lots of other small but annoying issues. Like the iPad, the Edge doesn't support Flash. Browser navigation controls are awkwardly placed: You have to press the context-sensitive Menu button on the side of the LCD screen to access bookmarks or the forward and refresh buttons (or to manually enter a URL)--but the back button is a hardware button, which is confusing. In general, I had problems navigating through applications, since more often than not the aforementioned back button exited the application rather than returning it to a previous screen.
Many of the Edge's shortcomings recall those of the iPad, but the Edge lacks the iPad's compensating sexy portability. Three pounds--twice the weight of the iPad--is relatively heavy for a portable; and the Edge is also a solid inch thick when shut. The Edge's $499 price tag isn't unreasonable for the technology it bundles, but its bulk and usability issues may put off users who don't absolutely need an e-book reader and an LCD display in a single device.