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iRex delivers next-generation electronic book reader: Preview of the next Amazon Kindle?

iRex has announced a new line of digital readers that feature next-generation technology--but they're very expensive and geared more toward businesses than average consumers.

The iRex 1000 line: Kindle of the future? iRex

Gizmodo posted a blog post yesterday on iRex's new line of "digital readers" and took a few whacks at the company for over-promising and under-delivering.

You see, iRex, which developed the full-featured but pricey Iliad reader, recently ran a little online teaser ad that alerted the world that, "A new era in digital reading" was set to begin on September 22nd. Well, the blogger at Gizmodo wasn't impressed with what iRex is now offering up: a series of three 10.2-inch monochrome e-ink displays that start at $649 for a base "read-only" model (the iRex 1000) and go up to a high-end 1000W that features a touch screen along with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. That model, when it's released later this year or in early 2009, will set you back a whopping $849.

With those prices, I can totally see where Gizmodo is coming from--but there's a little more to the story. I met with iRex's CEO and founder, Hans Brons, today and he left the 1000S with us (it's a $749 touch-screen model that has no wireless connectivity). The larger size display is made for PDF and Word document viewing and it indeed features next-generation technology--most notably the display is significantly more responsive, and when you turn a page the refreshed e-ink appears on the screen twice as fast.

Brons, who once worked for Philips (iRex is a Philips' spin-off), was careful to present the new digital readers as more of a B2B play. He said the company was not marketing them as consumer devices like Sony does with its Reader and Amazon does with the Kindle. Yes, the 1000-series can read e-books, but it's geared more toward professionals and companies dealing with lots of PDF files and other digital documents.

The touch-screen interface allows you to mark up and draw on documents with a stylus, making the display look and feel even more like a pad of paper. The device itself is lighter than it appears--it doesn't weigh much more than a clipboard. And Brons says the $849 wireless version will have a full-fledged Web browser that's able to deal with moving Flash images by converting them into static still images. That would be an upgrade over the Web browser on the Kindle, but still less than ideal.

Obviously, if you look at iRex's new digital reader line from the standpoint of the average consumer, you're probably just going to shrug like the blogger from Gizmodo did. But here's the thing. Both Sony and Amazon use iRex's underlying technology at the core of their current devices and would have to license it for their next-generation devices--or so Brons says. In other words, what we're seeing here is a preview of what Sony and Amazon will eventually try to bring to the consumer level--at whatever screen size they choose. (CrunchGear's John Biggs reported that a larger Kindle was on the way in October, but after a New York Times story quelled rumors of a new Kindle arriving in 2008, CrunchGear conceded it might have been duped).

Brons also said that if Sony announces a new Reader at its upcoming event October 2, it won't be a true next-generation digital reader. It may have an external lighting accessory for reading in the dark (e-ink displays are not backlit) and maybe some other small modifications, but no speedier operation.

We'll see. For now anyway, the new iRex 1000 and 1000S are only available for sale on iRex's Web site. The new era in digital reading has begun--if you can afford it.