e-Reader News

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Jan
28

Txtr goes Bankrupt

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Txtr is based in Berlin Germany and has been in the e-reader and e-book business for quite sometime. Sadly, their entire business model is not viable and they have officially gone bankrupt.

Txtr originally burst onto the  international scene in 2008 with plans to capitalize on the e-reader boom.  Production and design issues led to their first device never being released. The company flipped gears in 2009 and started doing development for online digital publishers and traditional book sellers. In 2010 and 2011 they quickly became one of the largest companies outside North America developing whitelabel e-book ecosystems. The company’s portfolio includes clients such as Vol Retail and Weltbilde, who is the largest EU book retailer.

Txtr got a much needed injection of funds in 2011 when 3M wanted to get involved in the digital library space.   The 3M relationship with Txtr goes beyond the obvious financial benefits of being a partner with a large multinational conglomerate, whose presence is felt in many different technology sectors.  When Txtr secured the initial funding from 3M they had toured the company’s headquarters in Minnesota and were blown away by how the research and development aspects of the company was handled.

Txtr and 3M worked together very early on developing the 3M Cloud Library App and  e-reader solution for libraries to loan out to their patrons. The relationship between these two companies really helped 3M quickly become a major player in the industry, giving Overdrive and Baker & Taylor a run for their money. Two years ago 3M suspended their relationship with Txtr and started doing all of their app development in-house.

In early 2013 Txtr bet the farm on the Beagle, a low cost e-reader that was designed to pair via Bluetooth to  your smartphone and send content directly to your device. The intention behind this product was to forge a relationship with Telecom companies and offer the Beagle for free, as part of an incentive program to sell more smartphones and give users a reason to upgrade.  Txtr could not secure any meaningful partners and tried to sell it themselves. Users did not embrace this five inch reader and this was one of the final nails in the coffin for them.

The founders of Txtr formed a new e-book start-up called Blloon that is being marketed via a series of apps in the United Kingdom. Customers purchase credits to read a certain amount of pages in a book, rather than buy the book themselves.  Blloon has a number of publishing partners such as HMH, Open Road Media, Allen & Unwin, Diversion Books, Lonely Planet, Profile, RosettaBooks, Faber Factory, Guardian Books, and Workman Publishing.

Selling e-books directly to customers and developing whitelabel solutions for other companies is not a viable way to stay in business anymore. Not only has Txtr gone bankrupt but UK supermarket chain Tesco has just announced they are also shuttering their online bookstore.

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Draft2Digital has announced that self-publishers who use their service have a new distribution channel. The US company has ironed out a new agreement with Tolino, a German based online bookstore.

The Tolino Alliance was formed in 2013 and their mandate was to combat Amazon in Germany. This marked the first occasion that  Thalia, Weltbild, Hugendubel, Club Bertelsmann, Deutsche Telekom all banded together to forge a series of e-reading devices and launch an online bookstore. Not only are books and readers sold all over Germany but recently they expanded to Belgium via Standaard Boekhandel.

It has been said that Tolino controls  42% of the German e-Book market, which is the third largest English-language e-Book market in the world.  Draft2Digital currently has a catalog of 40,000+ books, which makes it a minor player in self-publishing.

Many American authors are pleased at the new distribution channel. In order to enroll your books there is a big red button that will add your titles to Tolino all at once, which makes things easier than doing it one by one.

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Tesco has announced their intentions to close their digital e-Book platform at the end of February. The supermarket chain had been in covert negotiations with Waterstones, but the two sides could not agree on a purchase price.

A spokesperson for Tesco said: “We have taken the decision to close our e-book service blinkbox Books. We’ve learnt a lot since launching the service and whilst we saw encouraging levels of take up, we believe that we can do more for our customers by focusing on our core business. The service will close by the end of February.” The spokesperson added: “Our focus now is on the colleagues affected and our customers.”

Tesco had been operating their online bookstore since March 2014. They tried to promote their new business unit to their established base of shoppers, leveraging their loyalty cards to get discounts. Not only could customers buy e-books on their website, which included a book blog, but also via their dedicated Android app. This app was available via Google Play, but also came pre-loaded on the Hudl line of budget tablets.

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Many people skip a generation before buying the latest and greatest Apple product. The S line of smartphones tends to get lost in the shuffle between major updates in technology. With the advent of the iPhone 6 Plus, the question is, is it good for e-reading? Today, we look at the iPhone 5 and 6 Plus and put them side by side showing the exact same content. This should give you an indication on how both devices handle manga, comics and e-Books. If reading is important to you and you tend to be invested in the whole Apple ecosystem, you don’t want to miss this!


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Energy Sistem, a Spanish tech brand that has recently launched its new range of e-Readers. The Energy Reader Slim, Energy Reader Screenlight and Energy Reader PRO all have wildly different specs and the pricing structure makes them all tremendously affordable.

Likely the best model this company has just released is the Energy Reader PRO. It features a six inch e-Ink Pearl HD display with a resolution of 1024×758 pixels. It has a touchscreen, which makes it easy to click and navigate around the UI or just simply flip the pages in your favorite e-Book. It also incorporates a front-lit screens, you may elect to read in the dark and customize the different levels of illumination. Underneath the hood is a ARM Cortex A9 1.0Ghz dual core processor and 8 GB of internal memory. It also has the option to expand the memory up to 64GB with a SD/SDHC card. This model costs 119 Euro

The mid level model is called the Energy Slim, which has a 6 inch screen with a resolution of 800×600.  It also has a front-lit display, to allow you to read in the dark, but does not have a touchscreen. Instead, it has a D-Pad and manual navigation buttons to flip pages.  This e-reader will run you 84 Euros. The entry e-reader is named the Energy Slim, it doesn’t have a front light or a touchscreen display, and is aimed primarily at people new to e-readers or are on a budget, the cost on this unit is 69 Euros.

I like the fact that all three models have support for EPUB, PDF and MOBI, this means it will play nice with the vast majority of books you will download or buy from the internet. In order to get you reading right away, there is 1,500 titles that come bundled on all three models, in different languages.

In the near future will be reviewing all of these readers, so if any of them look especially compelling to you, we will be doing a comprehensive hands on review, unboxings and comparisons.

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The Kindle Keyboard is close to five years old and Amazon is still supporting it. The Seattle based company has just issued a new firmware update that seeks to resolve a security issue with the internet browser.

The vulnerability with the internet browser stems from accessing online content utilizing the 3G connection. Modern websites often have heavier security credentials when it comes to accessing email or using the login forms. The Kindle Keyboard had used an antiquated version of security, which resulted in this e-reader getting locked out and not being able to connect to certain sites.

The very small update that is currently available resolves this issue, the exact version number is 3.4.1. If you are having problems connecting to the internet I would recommend you download the firmware update manually. It can sometimes takes months for updates to hit all devices, because Amazon does it in a staggered release, so millions of people aren’t doing it all at once.

The Kindle Keyboard was the last Amazon branded e-reader that used 3G to access the internet, all subsequent models use WIFI.

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Pixel Qi first first established in 2008 by Mary Lou Jepson and her husband John Ryan took over the reigns as CEO in November 2012. Mary left the company in March of 2013 to become Head of Display Division at Google X. John followed her in September to become the Director Program Management at Google X. With a non-existent executive team and no display prospects for the future, for all sense and purposes, Pixel Qi is out of business.

The company designs liquid crystal displays (LCDs) that can be largely manufactured using the existing manufacturing infrastructure for conventional LCDs. The advantage of Pixel Qi displays over conventional LCDs is mainly that they can be set to operate under transflective mode and reflective mode, improving eye-comfort, power usage, and visibility under bright ambient light.

Pixel QI had some moderate success in the early years and shipped out 2.2 million devices using their technology. The Nation Ink Adam, Innoversal Lattic, Clover Systems Sunbook, Hydra-T3 and their biggest client ZTE released a single tablet using a Pixel QI Screen.

In 2012 3M invested heavily in the future of Pixel Qi and used their financial clout to influence the direction of the company away from consumer electronics to focusing on big business, military and government.

John Ryan, Former CEO of Pixel QI told me in early 2012 that “one of the first ways they will deploy their Pixel Qi technology is within the military and give soldiers a new way to receive mission data. If you look at your average paratrooper or ranger they are constantly receiving revised mission parameters and in harsh conditions like a dessert. Being in very bright environments or in the complete darkness is what the essence of Pixel QI is all about. Most military operations worldwide still employ maps and written communications, to receive updates to their mission parameters requires many steps and circumstances can change at any time. The plan is for soldiers to have heavily versatile tablets that last for weeks and are wired into mission control to receive new updates on the fly.”

Did Pixel QI have any success with the military and was the 3M prompting to enter an untested market the right call? In hindsight Pixel QI never announced any formal contracts with the military, and the entire concept was apparently dead in the water.

The final nail in the coffin for Pixel QI was the loss of their existing fab, where all of the manufacturing was done. Floyd and Harris, an IT company in Budapest, outlined the last major setback in early June of 2013.

“We have been using Pixel Qi displays extensively in our UAV ground control stations and generic field service PCs with much success, so today’s news hit us hard about Pixel Qi having to move its manufacturing base from their current subcontractor. Both one of our clients and the European Pixel Qi distributor has called us with the news, so I believe it must be true. Such moves may have very serious implications for the supply chain and the general availability of the only low power sunlight visible solution available for our systems.” The company went on to say, “From what I heard so far, Chunghwa Picture Tubes (CPT) cannot offer their services to Pixel Qi anymore. Most of my sources tell me that the production quantities are still too low for them, but I couldn’t substantiate this from primary sources. There were already some issues trying to get at least a single piece of the new 1280×800 type screen from them, but I was able to buy one eventually from the other EU distributor, Densitron. One contact at the time said that the first marketable production run of these new panels will only start in September, but again, there was no first hand information about this.”

Within three months of the final loss to their manufacturing capabilities John Ryan, CEO fled to Google.

Currently nobody knows the exact status of Pixel QI. The executive team all fled, the main phone number for their headquarters in California is out of service, as is their satellite office in Texas. None of the email address I have gained over the the last five years are working anymore. This includes their entire executive team, IT department and press office. It was a fun ride Pixel QI, you will be missed.

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E-readers have been continuing to become the preferred method of reading digital books since the original Kindle was released in 2007. The industry has had their high and low-points and right is more is more or less consolidated between Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Kobo.  Some people love their devices and prefer to keep them in safe, working order with a case. There are two kinds of cases readily available, the traditional or faux leather and some people buy custom cases.

Custom cases are very much like tattoos, they really extenuate your personality. There are a number of online retailers that sell one of a kind cases online. Decalgirl is primarily known for quirky artistic designs, where artists all over the world submit their original works and the website grafts them to a case. Traditional purists who are a big fan of  leather work often select Oberon Designs, this US company only supports the Kindle reader, but makes a number of wicked original work for most tablets.

When you think of a protective case for your device, you often think of either a pouch or more traditional protective shell that makes your e-reader open up like a book. These days, things have gotten more interesting and there are a number of options to choose from.

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Clip case – is a classic one piece snap-on case that is primarily designed to keep your phone safe from bumps, scratches and day to day wear. These are traditionally not made for e-readers or tablets. It’s made from impact-resistant polycarbonate and printed with rich, vibrant, high-gloss graphics from edge-to-edge. All ports for connectors and controls are fully accessible, and it’s thin enough to work with most docks and accessories.

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Hybrid case –  this protective, two-piece case sports an impact resistant hard shell and a form-fitting TPU inner liner that protects against impacts and those “accidental” drops. The glossy outer shell is printed with rich, vibrant, high-gloss graphics from edge-to-edge that will safeguard your phone against scratches and also makes it easy to slide in and out of your pocket.  Hybrid Cases are sometimes refereed to as the “Best of Both Worlds”, meaning they provide the most protection while remaining as svelte as possible.

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Bumper Case – provides heavy duty double-layer protection for the most demanding users. Its rugged two-piece design consists of a tough, shatter-resistant polycarbonate outer shell wrapped around thick impact-absorbing silicone. Know your e-reader is protected from drops — even on pavement or concrete. The inner silicone liner features hinged dust plugs for the headphone jack and charging ports while the glossy outer shell is scratch resistant.

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Skins – e-Reader skins are fun and decorative ways to add style to your device, while also offering a small amount of protection. They are not the same as cases, which are usually more focused on function and less on style. The skins attach directly to the surface and are easily peeled off for maximum flexibility.  You can achieve a more unique look than most cases can manage.

E-Bay or Amazon are normally the online destinations to find sometime less fashionable and artistic and more, cheap and often devoid of all personality. These are your traditional leather case that comes in a myriad of colors, but is most often black.

Are cases necessary for your e-reader? It depends on who you talk to and what your day to day situation entails. If you are a harsh klutz that is always walking into walls, stumbling on a sidewalk crack or bumping into people on public transit, a case is likely ideal. Seriously though, a lot of people I know that ride the subway or bus on a daily basis use a case, because it helps protect their device against unexpected drops. E-Readers though are fairly durable and when is the last time you actually saw a picture online of a broken Kindle screen? I thought so.  Now iPhone cracked screens?  Oh BOY!

Personally I never use cases for my tablet, smartphone or e-readers. I use my Blackberry or iPhone on a daily basis, and sure I have dropped it on occasion but I have never cracked or damaged it. E-Readers tend to get thrown in my bag when I am going to the beach, to a cafe or on vacation. I tend never to give them a second thought. Maybe because I am young and single and don’t bulk at buying a new one if it ends up breaking on it.

Do you use a custom or more traditional case for your e-reader?  Is your e-reader or tablet quite naked? Do you have a cool case you want to share?

Categories : e-reader, e-Reader News
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Jan
09

Inkcase Plus Hands on Review

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The Inkcase Plus is a portable secondary e-ink touchscreen extension of  your Android smartphone. It was designed to connect via Bluetooth and run a series of dedicated apps that allow you to view pictures, read e-Books or use as a sports tracker.

The InkCase Plus features a  3.5 inch 360 X 600 resolution Mobius e-ink display. It comes with its own battery, which should last about a month with regular use. Unlike the Yotaphone which has the e-ink screen physically apart of the hardware, this one is separate.  There is a dedicated case that Oaxis sells that fits the e-ink screen inside, giving you the functionality of an Android phone on the right and Inkcase Plus on the left.

There are 4 main apps that are available to download from the Google Play store that adds new functionality to the device. There is a connectivity app which basically establishes the Bluetooth connection and lists the number of apps that were specifically created for it. There is also a photo and sports app, which allow you to send over content to your Inkcase. The sports app is a bit of a letdown because the timer is staggered to refresh every 5-10 seconds and basically is just sending over a series of screenshots.

The best app that was made for the Inkcase Plus is the EpiReader  app. It allows you to take advantage of the manual page turn keys and turns it into a dedicated e-reader. All you have to do is download EPUB or PDF documents to  your phone and import them into the EpiReader app. You can then access a menu function to transmit the entire book to your portable and read to  your hearts content.

You can think of the Inkcase Plus as a dumb terminal, when you are reading there is no options to increase the size of the font, change the font-type or augment the linespacing. Instead,  you have to do this on your phone, within the app itself. After making the adjustments it is sent over to the Inkcase live, so you can read books with the font size of your choice. To find the ideal reading setup it does take a bit of time to find your sweet spot.

There are a few other options the Incase Plus allows you to employ. Anytime you get a notification on your phone, such as a phone call, text message, Whatsapp ping or an incoming Skype message, you see it all on the portable. It is possible to disable these notifications, but you have to do it one by one.

I think this device is really solid. You can think of it  as a super low-cost e-reader where you can read books and avoid all the notifications that constantly barrage you on the phone.  The screen isn’t the largest in the world, but users coming from a Blackberry background or a flipphone will feel right at home.  You can buy the Incase Plus with the official case for your Android phone for $105.


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Netronix has debuted a new 13.3 inch e-reader at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. This device features a resolution of 1440×1600 and its powered by a Freescale i.MX6 Solo Lite CPU processor. It is running an older version of Android right now, but they promised it will be upgraded to Kitkat within a few weeks.

This 13.3 inch e-reader has a capacitive touchscreen display and is meant to be interested with via the active digitizer stylus. All of this combined allows for pin-point precision in taking notes, making highlights and annotations. Users can read tradition e-books but also have more flexibility in controlling their PDF editing experience.

Netronix is claiming that they are looking for OEM partners to license the hardware and they will also provide the SDK for the pen application suite. This includes different sized thickness to line drawing and the entire editing package. I heard that the wholesale cost will be $600 and the company will be ready to mass produce them in three months, after they redesign a new housing for it.

Visually, this prototype bears a striking resemblence to the Sony Digital Paper. It has the same flexible housing and looks to employ e Ink Mobius e-paper. The software is completely different though and the overall price should be significantly more affordable.


Categories : CES, e-reader, e-Reader News
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Barnes and Noble has just announced that their holiday sales for e-readers, tablets and e-Books did not meet expectations. Customers expressed trepidation about the booksellers new line of Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Nook  devices and did not purchase them in droves like B&N had hoped.

The NOOK segment (including digital content, devices and accessories), had sales of $56 million for the nine-week holiday period, decreasing 55.4% as compared to a year ago.  Device and accessories sales were $28.5 million, a decrease of 67.9% from a year ago.  Digital content sales were $27.4 million, a decline of 25.0% compared to a year ago.

Print books once again were the savior of Barnes and Noble, even though digital did not live up to expectations. The Retail segment, which consists of the Barnes & Noble bookstores had sales of $1.1 billion, increasing 0.2% over the prior year.  Sales benefited from the continued stabilization of physical book sales and growth in the educational toys and games and gift departments.

I for one am very disappointed that Nook e-Books and e-reader sales continue to tank for the company. It is very hard to compete against the Kindle Voyage and Kobo H20 which sold in record numbers all December long. It also helped that many industry news and review websites gushed over these two devices and did not really hype any of B&N consumer electronics.

I would recommend if Barnes and Noble released a new e-reader in 2015 they should push it out at the end of October, in order to take advantage of all the positive press going into the holiday season. The last e-reader they issued, the Nook Glowlight came out at the beginning of 2014 and lost momentum towards the end of the year.

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Onyx doesn’t make it easy to get your hands on their latest e-readers since they are only primarily available in Europe. The company operates their own store and shipping to North America can be quite expensive and normally has a long delay, due to customs. In order to get their new flagship e-reader into customers hands Onyx Boox has just begun to offer the Afterglow 2 for sale via Amazon.

The Onyx Afterglow 2 came out in early December and features a six inch capacitive touchscreen with e-Ink Pearl HD and a resolution of 1024×758. You will be able to read in the dark via the front-lit display, which is the same sort of tech you see in the Kindle Voyage and Kobo Aura H2O.

This e-reader has a few things really going for it that makes it standout in a crowded marketplace. I really like the dual core 1.2 GHZ processor which should keep things really speedy, most other digital book readers all have single cores. It also has a stock version of Google Android 4.2 and users can install any app they want via Google Play.

The Afterglow 2 enables you to listen to e-books whenever you need to multi-task. IVONA text-to-speech system with its advanced technologies reads texts less like a robot, and more like a human. You get two voices: English and Polish. This device is also capable of reading a fair number of e-Book formats, including PDF, EPUB, MOBI, DOC, TXT, DJVU, HTML, RTF, and FB2.

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Dai Nippon Printing has released their first e-reader called the Honto Pocket. It has been available in Japan for the last few weeks and the company intends on making a number of e-book anthologies available to purchase by the end of January and will be opening up an online bookstore in February.

The Honto Pocket basically has no place in the modern world, it is a throwback to how e-readers were made as cheaply as possible five years ago. This little device has a five inch screen with a resolution of 800 X 600. It does not have a touchscreen, so you will have to navigate around with the D-Pad. It does not have wireless internet access and many bloggers in Japan are saying once books are loaded on it, there is no way to actually delete them. Oh, best of all, it has two AA batteries to power it.

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This e-reader is available at many different bookstores in Japan.  There are a few e-Books that come loaded on it, but the publisher is trying to get people to buy a few anthologies.  You can buy 100 titles by Agatha Christie for ¥74,800 or 43 books featuring detective Hercule Poirot for ¥ 32,800.

In a few months the company will be launching an online bookstore, where you can purchase content to your computer and then plug the e-reader into it to sync over all of the e-books you buy. Not very intuitive.

I would not recommend this e-reader to anyone. You can buy plenty of great devices in Japan such as the Sony, Kindle or Kobo e-readers. They all have WIFI and allow you buy books right on them. The Honto Pocket is certainly budget friendly, but so was the Extaco Jetbook Mini, and that didn’t sell well.

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