You Tell Us: An e-Book Reader That Folds Down to Wallet Size

PHOTO: Polymer Vision

You’re in the middle of a Tom Clancy novel, immersed in a world of espionage. Then you get a sudden urge to reread Moby Dick . Because you’re reading on an electronic device, with the push of a button you can make the spy novel’s text disappear from the screen and replace it with Melville’s masterpiece. That’s the beauty of e-book readers. Like the iPod, which lets audiophiles carry their entire music collections in a gadget smaller than a deck of cards, these devices let avid readers haul dozens of books in a single lightweight tablet the size of a small paperback.

But that’s still too big for some consumers, who’ve grown accustomed to electronic devices that can slip into a pocket. So goes the thinking behind the Readius e-reader from Polymer Vision in Eindhoven, Netherlands. The company, which has a number of patents related to superthin flexible electronics, has created a rollable display using that technology and low-power, image-stable reflective-display technology from E-Ink Corp. of Cambridge, Mass. The display can be read under various lighting conditions, including direct sunlight, from all viewing angles. The 120-millimeter screen bends like a trifold wallet, forming an easily stashable 115-by-57-by-21-mm block.

But let’s say you don’t have Moby Dick stored on the 8-gigabyte Micro SD memory card in Readius’s flash drive. You can download the book via the USB port that doubles as a connection point for recharging the internal battery pack, which stores enough energy for 30 hours of reading. Or you can grab the text wirelessly using any one of five cellular networks (including GSM and High-Speed Downlink Packet Access, or HSDPA, a 3G cellular protocol) with which the Readius is compatible. The same goes for other content that the Readius provides access to, such as e-mail; RSS feeds with text, pictures, and audio; photos in several formats; and music files.

The shape-shifting screen is much appreciated. But will its dull gray scale turn off potential buyers used to pint-size screens that are brilliantly backlit and bursting with thousands of bold colors? The pencil-lead coloring is a big reason why the device can go so long between charges, and it’s more than adequate for reading plain text, as has been demonstrated by Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader, whose display is also gray-scale. But is that enough of a reason to shortchange the Readius’s picture viewer, which is forced to render color images in charcoal? The Readius is expected to be introduced in parts of Europe early this year, but Polymer Vision has not released any details about when it will be available in the United States and the rest of the world.

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