Irex officially unveils new wireless e-book reader

One of the early e-book reader pioneers, Irex, has taken the wraps off its $399 DR800SG, which features an 8.1-inch screen and 3G wireless connectivity from Verizon. It will be marketed through a partnership with Best Buy.

Back in August we wrote about the impending arrival of a new, touch-screen, wireless-enabled e-reader from Irex, and now the company has officially unveiled the product, the DR800SG, which boasts a 8.1-inch screen and costs $399.

While Sprint provides the Amazon Kindle's wireless service, the Irex e-reader will use Verizon for its 3G wireless connectivity. As with the Kindle, the "free" wireless plan offers unlimited e-book and periodical downloads and is included in the price of the DR800SG.

Irex reps previously said that they would be pairing their new e-reader with a large e-book retailer, and not surprisingly, the DR800SG has a tie-in with Barnes & Noble's e-bookstore. For newspaper and other periodicals, Irex continues an already established partnership with NewspaperDirect, which serves up "1,140 newspapers from 87 countries in 41 languages in their original layout."

Just as importantly, Irex has brokered a deal with Best Buy to sell the DR800SG in Best Buy stores nationwide. According to the New Times, this week "Best Buy is training thousands of its employees in how to talk about and demonstrate devices like the Sony Reader and Irex, and adding a new area to its 1,048 stores to showcase the devices."

Here are the DR800SG's highlights:

  • 8.1-inch display (uses E-ink technology)
  • $399
  • 3G wireless connectivity (Verizon)
  • Touch screen with stylus navigation
  • 2GB built-in memory (1500 e-books)
  • Formats supported: Adobe PDF, EPUB, Newspaper Direct, Fictionwise, eReader, TXT
  • user-replaceable battery
  • leather cover included
  • Content available through Barnes & Noble's e-book store, Newspapers Direct, LibreDigital
  • While there's no note-taking capability at launch, Irex says it will add that feature via a free firmware upgrade in the near future
  • Available: End of October

One of the key things to note about the device is that it doesn't use the same touch screen as the Sony Reader PRS-600. That model is designed to be used with your finger as well as a stylus, but this touch screen only works with a stylus. The decision to go with this type of touch screen is due to the glare and contrast issues that have plagued Sony touch displays (an extra layer of glass has to be added to finger-based touch screens, which results in increased glare and reduced contrast).

Until now, Irex, a spinoff of Philips and one of the early e-reader pioneers (you remember the iLiad, right?), has mainly offered more business-oriented readers that are rather pricey and sold primarily to European customers.

At this point, it's unclear what the optimal display size will be for e-readers, but some people do want screens larger than 6 inches. However, a lot of people think the Kindle DX , which sports a 9.7-inch screen, is too large. So 8.1 inches may be the happy medium.

Sony, too, will soon begin selling a larger format e-reader, the 7-inch Reader Daily Edition (also $399), so things are heating up in the e-book reader space. In its write-up of the DR800SG, The New York Times cited market research firm iSuppli in saying that more than 5.2 million e-readers will be sold this year worldwide. Perhaps so, but the price of e-readers needs to come down significantly for these devices to move beyond niche status.

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