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Alex eReader now shipping

Spring Design's $399 intriguing Android-powered Alex eReader is officially shipping, but it faces brutal competition from the iPad.

A few weeks ago we wrote that Spring Design's Alex eReader was going to be available two weeks after Apple's iPad was released. Well, true to its word, Spring has officially started shipping the product, which comes in a black or white finish.

As we said in our earlier post, this is one of those products that probably would have gotten a lot more attention had it managed to come out before the iPad. However, as it stands, the $399 Android-powered device--which features both a 6-inch e-ink display and a 3.5-inch, 16-bit color touch-screen LCD--has been overshadowed by the iPad's April 3 arrival.

Spring Design's $399 Android-powered Alex eReader is now available. Spring Design

Long and narrow, the 11-ounce Alex has an interesting shape, measuring 4.7 inches wide, 8.9 inches high, and less than a half inch thick. You can download Google Books and it's compatible with other bookstores that support Adobe DRM (you can read e-books in EPUB, PDF, HTML, and TXT formats). The Alex has no tie-in with Barnes & Noble, though Spring's e-reader shares some similar traits to Barnes & Noble's dual-screen Nook (in fact, Spring actually sued Barnes & Noble for similarities it saw in the Nook).

The Alex's key selling points are its built-in Wi-Fi, and the ability to stream video and surf the Web (on its smaller color screen), and use certain Android applications. Also, Spring claims the Alex's e-ink display offers the fastest refresh rates on the market.

It comes with a 2GB removable memory card and the microSD expansion slot supports cards up to 32GB. Earphones, an AC/USB power connector, and a padded cover ship with the unit. Spring says it will soon begin offering multi-language versions of Alex for countries speaking Chinese, Spanish, Russian, Korean, and Hebrew. It says the Alex is the "first e-reader to offer international versions of the product through its local country partners connecting to local bookstores."

We should be getting a review unit soon and look forward to checking it out. At its price point of $399, it falls between the iPad and e-readers like the $259 Nook and Kindle. Whether there's a market there will depend on whether the Alex really delivers on its promise as a hybrid e-reader/Android device. Unfortunately, unless you plan to do most of your reading outside, where e-ink screens have a big advantage over LCD, the iPad is probably too tempting an alternative for only $100 more.