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CES 2010: The Skiff sets sail; largest and thinnest e-book reader yet

Consumer Reports News: January 07, 2010 06:06 PM

The Skiff Reader's display uses a flexible sheet of stainless-steel foil.
Photo: Skiff
The Skiff e-book reader was previewed today at CES, in both a black-and-white version set to launch later this year and a groundbreaking color version that likely won't appear until 2011.

The device, which will connect to Sprint's data network, is the thinnest e-book reader yet unveiled, at just over a quarter-inch thick, and also has the largest screen, at 11.5 inches; the biggest Kindle model, the DX, by comparison, has a 10.1-inch screen. Skiff also claims the device has a display that uses a thin, flexible sheet of stainless-steel foil that's more durable than "the glass foundation on most electronic screens."

Skiff also promises that its platform will also be available this year on other devices, including smart phones.

While the Skiff Store will offer books from a vendor as yet unannounced, a key emphasis for the device is periodical subscriptions. Two interesting aspects of those subs emerged at today's media preview:

Fpo_240x200
Skiff Reader
Photo: Skiff

Subsidized Skiffs. Skiff spokespeople said they expect to offer the device at subsidies in exchange for contractual commitment to a newspaper or other periodical subscriptions. That might take the sting out of a price that's likely to be sobering. While no pricing has not been announced, the Kindle DX costs $489, for example, and two other 10-plus-inch models announced here, the Plastic Logic Que and Samsung E101, are priced at $649 and $699, respectively.

Dynamic updating of newspapers. A Skiff spokesman promised that newspapers will be dynamically updated on the device, "perhaps several times a day." That's significant, in that a key deterrent to paying for papers from existing e-book readers like Nook and Kindle is that you receive only the morning print edition, which soon falls behind updated content on the paper's online site that's available for free on your computer or smart phone.

The brief demo of the color version of the Skiff—the first glimpse most of us have had of a color e-book screen—was promising, if not dazzling. Using a color e-book version of an issue of Esquire magazine, it revealed full-color pages, and included some interactivity, such as a spinning hexagonal content selector that allowed you to choose a story by clicking its first page as it spun by. The data demands of both color and such interactivity all but guarantee that this second-generation Skiff will connect only to Sprint's higher-speed 4G WiMax network; the first-generation device will access only the carrier's 3G network.

Reporters weren't able to use the Skiff at the preview, or even glimpse it for more than a few minutes after the event. I hope to schedule a hands-on look at the device over the coming days.

—Paul Reynolds


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