Archive for the 'Hardware Review' Category

Asus Eee Color E-Reader

Wired’s Gadget Lab has a story today about new specs that are trickling out about the upcoming release of Asus’ color e-reader. It’s an unbelievable set of technical specifications with an even more unbelievable price tag. According to rumors, the Eee E-Reader will have two color touchscreens and will be about the size of a hardcover book. In addition, it will have a webcam and microphone for accessing Skype. According to the source of the leak, all this will go for approximately $165! I ain’t holding my breath on that one… Even at a higher price the device looks to be a fantastic offering. I might have to retire my aging Sony PRS-500. 2010 is going to be good year to buy an e-reader.

Just One Word: Plastic

There have been a couple of tech news reports in the last week that focus on new plastic technologies, especially for eBook/Reader applications.

An article in the IEEE Spectrum, “Inside the Plastic Electronics Revolution“, outlines the work that Plastic Logic has done in developing plastic-based electronics. These cheap and low-power polymer-based transistors are perfect for applications like eBook reader devices and interactive signage.

Arizona State University has recently shown prototypes for flexible active matrix displays. The technology was funded by military grant programs and early devices will be used there first. The representative from ASU’s Flexible Display Center believes consumer applications may be available as soon as 18 months. According to the press release, the “electrophoretic” screens are lightweight and consume only a fraction of the power of a typical LCD.

Very cool stuff just over the horizon.

The TechCrunch CrunchPad Prototype B

Michael Arrington over at TechCrunch just demoed the second prototype of their custom touchscreen tablet. After reading the article and checking out the videos of the prototype I found myself using Will Smith’s words in Independence Day, “I gotta get me one of these!” The tablet runs Ubuntu and the user interface is essentially a browser OS (it runs a custom version of Webkit). I love that you get a full 1024×768 resolution display, which is well-suited to web browsing. You can access all of your favorite sites including the Google suite of tools, Wikipedia, Hulu.com, and YouTube. The designers think they could produce this thing for about $300. Sign me up! I hope they move forward with production.

Check out the details and demo videos at Tech Crunch.

Sony PRS-700 eReader

Sony just announced the latest version of the Portable Reader System, the PRS-700. Hop on over to Gearlog for a quick show and tell.

The new version is $400 and includes some nice features. Sony has added a touchscreen for page turns, including turning multiple pages quickly by swiping and holding. A welcome addition is a set of side LED lights for reading in the dark. Sony also announced changes to the online bookstore, which currently truly sucks. I doubt any changes could make it worse.

For complete specs, pics, and complete specifications checkout Sony’s site.

[Edit]

TeleRead has some additional information from the announcement press conference. One thing Paul Biba mentions in the TeleRead post is that this new version is a great deal faster than previous versions and faster than any current competitor. This is apparently due to Sony’s expertise in writing custom drivers and designing the display processor. A faster eReader. Now I really want one of these….

Digital Projection, Spatial Augmented Reality, and Shape Grammar – SIGGRAPH 2008

It’s been an inspiring conference so far. The classes I’ve attended have been excellent. On Monday I attended the half-day course on projectors and spatial augmented reality for (I think) the 4th year running. Ramesh Raskar and Oliver Bimber were fantastic as usual. They were joined this year by Aditi Majumber who spoke about large-format displays and Hendrik Lensch who spoke on computational illumination for 3D scene modeling. One of the things I really get excited about in this class is what Raskar calls RFIG. In essence, this entails adding a photosensor to an RFID tag and then projecting structured light from a handheld projector on the photosensor in order to acquire a relative position for the tagged item. With the unique identifier and the relative position, we can query a database and then project useful information about the identified items directly on the items themselves using our handheld projector. All this is made possible by very small and relatively inexpensive handheld computers with wireless network access and attached projectors. You can check out their work, including the full-text of their book, Spatial Augmented Reality, on the supporting website: SpatialAR.com. Great stuff.
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eBooks: Promise and Reality

Just uploaded a recording of a presentation I did yesterday on eBooks. Here’s the description:

eBooks: Promise and Reality

eBooks have been around for several years and every couple of years the technology is hyped as being ready for mass consumption. We’ll take a look at the current eBook landscape. I’ll demo several hardware solutions, including the Sony PRS-500 Reader System and alternative devices like cell phones and the PlayStation Portable. I’ll demonstrate how to use BookDesigner to convert among formats and other software tools. We’ll talk about sources for eBooks like the Gutenberg Project. We’ll also take a look at newly announced technology, including Amazon’s Kindle eBook reader, Adobe’s new Digital Editions format, and color eInk devices that were shown at SIGGRAPH this summer.

View the Presentation

(Adobe Presenter Flash format)

Amazon Releases the Kindle eBook Reader

The much anticipated Amazon Kindle is finally here. I have to say I was a bit skeptical about the device from early images and leaks of information on the web on various gadget sites. Looking at the videos of the Kindle in action, I think the form factor is better than I expected. And given that EVDO network access for the device is free, $400 does not seem as much as it did when I was thinking about monthly fees initially. But for $400 I’d still take an ASUS Eee PC any day.

There are two serious flaws with the Kindle that I think will really hurt the industry as a whole. First, the eBook format that is natively supported is a proprietary format based on mobiPocket. By not using a format that is readable on other hardware, they will be stifling growth of the market as a whole. Secondly, it looks like the only way to get your own files onto the device is by emailing them to an address provided for you from Amazon at a cost of $.10 per email. The jury is still out on whether you will be able to use the SD card and a PC to transfer files to avoid this fee. As a very astute observer in the discussion of the device on Amazon’s site points out, the device seems less an eBook reader and more a microtransaction system for Amazon sales.

The eBook market is still in its early growth stages, and unfortunately, I think the end result of Amazon’s choices may well stunt that growth significantly. We shall see.

Using the Samsung Sync for eBook Reading

I received an interesting comment on my post about getting video onto my Samsung Sync mobile phone this morning. In the comment, Matt asks if I’ve ever tried to use the Sync to read eBooks. I hadn’t. But being an eBook user and fan, I took it as a challenge. Matt had already tried copying a text file over using Bluetooth and opened it using the Picsel file viewer. The results are unsatisfactory – clunky zoom and the need to pan all over the place to read because the text does not wrap. I suspect the text is being treated as if it is an image and this makes it impossible for the software to understand the document’s text flow. Matt had been on the right track after this initial attempt. He says he tried to open the browser and could not find any way to use the file:// protocol to call up the file in the web browser.

Here’s how I solved these problems and was able to read text comfortably on the Sync:

I took a Word document (it could have been any text format) and saved the file from Word as HTML Filtered. The “Filtered” option in Word 2007 strips out all the nasty Microsoft specific code that might not render properly in the Sync’s browser. I then copied the file to my MicroSD card and popped it into the phone. I navigated to the file using the “My Stuff” file browser and opened the file. Because it was an HTML file it opened directly in the phone’s browser. This result had two consequences that were an improvement over the Picsel file viewer. First, the text was sized properly for reading on the small screen, and second, the text properly flowed vertically and wrapped nicely so that no side-to-side scrolling was necessary. In addition, the browser allows you to resize the text on the page; there are three text size settings: normal, smaller, and larger. I found the normal sized text to be very much readable on my phone, and scrolling down for more text was not too bad.

Thanks again to Matt for asking this interesting question. I still find it really cool that we have these fantastic computers that we carry around everywhere with us and that fit in the palm of our hands. I feel like I’m in a Star Trek episode sometimes when I think about the ubiquity of this kind of technology.

The LucidTouch’s Novel Approach to Multi-touch Interfaces

Just read a nice article on New Scientist about work by Microsoft and Mitsubishi on a novel approach to handling the occlusion problem and the “fat finger” problem of current multi-touch interfaces. There’s also a video of a prototype of the LucidTouch device.

The current prototype device uses a camera on a boom focused on the hands on the back of the device. An overlay shadow is superimposed over the image showing the location of the hands without occluding the display. Active finger touch points are shown and a very intuitive method for showing the hand-off of selected items between fingers is also used. It’s a nice glimpse of what’s ahead in the multi-touch arena.

Gigapan – Multibillion Pixel Panoramas with Off-the-shelf Cameras

Check out the very cool tech from Carnegie Mellon University, NASA’s Ames Research Center, and CharmedLabs. Here’s the press release. The technology includes an inexpensive robotic device that snaps pictures and software for stitching them together and uploading to a community-driven website. In cooperation with Google, a new Gigapan layer is being added to Google Earth to allow fly-throughs of Gigapan-captured environments. Take a look at the Gigapan site and try out some of the shared environments. Very cool.

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