Hands-on with the Readius

As an e-book/newspaper/RSS reader, the Readius is an excellent proposition. As a mobile phone, it still needs a bit of work.

John Chan
3 min read
Crave Asia

Polymer Vision is a company spun off from Philips. Its claim to fame is the Readius, an e-book reader which is also a mobile phone. Though it has been around for more than a year, there's renewed interest in it because it will finally be shipping in 2008. We tracked down the company's booth at the GSMA Mobile World Congress to learn more about this device.

Polymer Vision's Readius cell phone

The primary purpose of the Readius is to act as an e-book reader. Even though the display resolution is pedestrian at 320x240 pixels, the fact that it can be rolled up allows it to be much larger than regular mobile phone displays. The 5-inch gray scale display uses power only when it is drawing an image, which means once your page is loaded, your battery won't be sapped as you are reading what's on the screen. We found the display to be very sharp and easy on the eyes, just like real paper with no uncomfortable glare that LCDs can sometimes give.

The main menu is divided into six rows on the screen, each one selectable using the touch-sensitive buttons found on the unit's body. The main categories are RSS feeds, e-books, messages and emails--all text-heavy items. The row of touch-sensitive buttons also acts as navigation control. Depending on whether you slide your finger upward or downward, you can move between pages. From what we observed, there is no smooth scrolling, so you can't read a page like you do on a computer text window where you can pull a navigation bar on the right. We also found that the pages take a while to refresh, which could explain why it's more efficient for whole pages to load at one time instead of allowing smooth scrolling.

As a mobile phone, the Readius may not be able to meet everyone's expectations. While it does have the latest connectivity features like HSDPA and Bluetooth, the form factor of this handset makes it a little hard to use. For example, you can't really have a decent voice conversation with the Readius without using a headset. You can synch your contacts into the device, but if you want to punch in numbers, you'll need to use a virtual keypad.

Another thing: What could potentially be a deal-breaker is that you can't conveniently reply to emails and text messages because there is no easy way to enter text. This could, we reckon, be solved by using a separate Bluetooth QWERTY thumbpad. But that's one more thing to carry, a proposition that won't go down well for many. A representative from Polymer Vision also told us the company is developing speech-to-text software for text input, but this was not available for a test run at MWC.

The Readius has a battery that is not user-replaceable. A microSD slot is onboard for memory expansion. As of now, Telecom Italia is the only operator that has a publicly announced deal to carry this handset later in the year. We understand that Polymer Vision is in talks with some companies in Asia. These are in countries with established 3G networks, although the representative could not be more specific as discussions are still ongoing.

As an e-book/newspaper/RSS reader, the Readius is an excellent proposition, thanks to its compact form factor and ability to sync with feed providers over the air using its cellular capabilities. As a mobile phone, we think it still needs a bit of work. The unit we saw was far from final, and Polymer Vision still has half a year to make changes before shipping. Hopefully, we will see a much improved version when it gets into the hands of consumers later this year.

(Source: Crave Asia)