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Samsung's debut e-book reader arrives

The pint-sized SNE-50K will be sold only in South Korea at first, but the consumer electronics giant has plans and prototypes for worldwide rollouts.

Samsung SNE-50K
Samsung shows off its new e-book reader, the SNE-50K. Samsung Electronics

For its first e-book reader, Samsung Electronics has crumpled up and cast aside its catchy codename and gone downright bureaucratic.

Formerly known by the working label of Papyrus, the new SNE-50K reader will initially be sold only in South Korea, starting Wednesday. But the device may reach other markets across the world sometime next year, said a Samsung spokesperson.

Unlike larger readers such as Amazon's Kindle, the SNE-50K was designed by Samsung to be compact, sporting a 5-inch screen and weighing 6.5 ounces. The device will come with 512MB of memory and offer a resolution of 600x800 pixels.

Borrowing some features from a PDA, the SNE-50K will support handwriting recognition, so users can write and store memos, manage schedules, and view calendar appointments. The device will also let people read text files, PDFs, and Microsoft Office documents by converting those files into a viewable BMP graphic format.

The reader will sell for 339,000 Korean won, or about $270.

"The SNE-50K is expected to open a new chapter in the Korean electronic book market, gaining strength from the expansion of the global content market and recent enthusiasm for reading books on-the-go," said Jae-yeong Lew, vice president of Samsung's Visual Display Division.

Partnering with a bookseller
To ready the SNE-50K, Samsung has been collaborating with South Korea's Kyobo Bookstore Company. The two have worked together to design the reader's user interface and to market the product.

One of South Korea's largest bookstore chains, Kyobo currently sells only around 2,500 e-books, mostly South Korean titles. Samsung said that books not yet available for the SNE-50K can be requested online at Kyobo's Web site. Samsung is also talking to other book publishers about packaging their books for the new reader.

Kyobo predicts the Korean electronic book market will grow to 1.06 trillion won next year and 2.38 trillion won in 2012.

"We anticipate that the release of the SNE-50K will result in a sharp rise in the electronic book reading population in the B2C market," said Lee Han-u, Kyobo's online business director. "Accordingly, electronic book content sales will increase by approximately five-fold."

On its July 29 launch date, the SNE-50K will be available for sale online at Kyobo's Web site and at a few physical branches of the bookstore chain.

Samsung is working on a prototype of the device to sell in countries outside of South Korea. The company hopes to reveal the prototype in January at the next Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

Samsung enters a growing and crowded market of e-book readers, facing competition from Amazon, Sony, Fujitsu, and Plastic Logic, which will supply its reader to Barnes & Noble.