Still one year out of consumer reach, the Plastic Logic reader is already being touted by some sources as the Kindle killer. At this week's Tools of Change for Publishing Conference in New York, I had a chance to see the reader prototype in action and get my hands on one, albeit briefly.
With a form factor equivalent to that of a legal-size pad of paper, though coming in at half the thickness and weighing under 16 ounces, it's easy to see the reader's instant appeal. Compatibility with document formats like Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDFs, in addition to newspapers, periodicals and books, means that users will no longer need to stuff carry-ons or briefcases full of papers when traveling. The reader has the capacity to store thousands of documents, all of which can be synced wirelessly or with wired access. Publishing partners already include fictionwise, the Financial Times, Ingram Digital and USA Today.
So how about the image quality? The reader utilizes an E Ink active matrix display, initially produced with a grayscale screen that adequately replicates the effect of reading newsprint (plans for both a flexible reader and color screen are in the works). Unlike typical glass silicon displays, the flexible plastic substrates used in the reader allow the device to be both thinner, lighter and rugged. These features, coupled with the ability to see the reader in broad daylight, makes for a strong case indeed.
The touch-screen interface uses simple gestural commands similar to those on Apple devices, allowing for toggling between pages, zooming in and out and bringing up the keyboard for annotations. A simple home button in the upper left corner brings users back to the main page. Check out a demonstration at the Consumer Electronics Show in the AP video below.
All in all, I was more than impressed with Plastic Logic's reader. Holding the device in my hands felt little different than holding a sturdy copy of The New Yorker. Although the device is somewhat finalized, a few contentious points remain with regard to the physical design.
As we all learned from generations of iPods, rounded corners are nice, but rounded edges are even nicer. The reader could benefit with a miniscule tweak of this detail while also changing the backside to a more tactile material. Additionally, the color palette chosen for the prototype is highly reminiscent of the beige CPU towers that took us decades to do away with—we still tend to judge books and magazines by their covers. While Plastic Logic may be alluding to the color of paper or newsprint, the device is devoid of the sensual appeal that Apple brought to its iPod line-up. Lastly, the company may want to consider untethering the device to its name. Unless they can team up with some real branding gurus, we're guessing a name like Plastic Logic will do little to inspire consumer lust.