It felt like there were two technologies that loomed over the Consumer Electronics show this year: 3-D televisions and content, and e-readers. As I discussed in this week's podcast, a lot of the e-readers on the show floor seemed to be copycat devices. They looked a lot like the Amazon Kindle or Sony Reader, with a small tweak thrown in here or there. It's hard to get excited about a product that has the same features with a different brand name.
But after I got my hands on Plastic Logic's QUE, I instantly saw what all the hype was about. The reader is thin and slick, worlds away from the beige boxiness of the Kindle. And rather than sporting chintzy little keys and buttons, the entire surface of the QUE is a capacitive touch screen that seemed more responsive than any other I tried. Additionally, the software and graphics were top notch. Although it's priced way higher than bargain e-readers ($649 for the basic Wi-Fi model and $799 for a 3-G wireless model when they're available in April), I'm willing to bet there will be plenty of potential buyers. Plastic Logic has tailored the QUE to mobile professionals, which makes sense, because they're the ones who can actually afford it.
To get a feel for the QUE's features and see it in action for yourself, check out the video below.
What sets the QUE apart is right in the company's name: plastic. While the QUE uses the same E-Ink frontplane as most e-readers, Plastic Logic replaces the traditional glass backplane with one of thin, flexible plastic. When the company first started working on the device, they wanted to exploit the advantages of plastic by designing for a bendable screen. They even spent considerable R&D time figuring out how to house all the rigid components in a binding along the side. But when users got their hands on prototypes, they hated the flexibility- it was difficult to hold a floppy screen with one hand, and tricky to write on.
So Plastic Logic redesigned the reader to have a traditional tablet form-factor. The flexibility of the plastic still comes in handy, though; it allows the reader to be durable and super-thin at the same time. When I first picked up the QUE, it was so light that I worried about breaking it. This was unfounded. Plastic Logic claims it should survive normal drops and bumps as well as a typical cell phone. (When Spectrum toured the fabrication facility last year, one of Plastic Logic's vice president demonstrated that the screen could even take a punch.)
So far, it looks like Plastic Logic's unique technology (combined with an Apple-esque sense of design and usability) has placed it far ahead of the pack. I wouldn't be surprised if at next year's CES, the QUE becomes the new standard that other manufacturers try to rip-off.
(For the record, I shouldn't be so surprised that the QUE is so great. Back in 2007, Spectrum readers voted that Plastic Logic had a winning technology by a margin of 15-1. To pick winners and losers this year, check out our annual "You Tell Us.")
Joshua J. Romero is a software developer and journalist. A former IEEE Spectrum senior editor, he holds a bachelor’s degree in astronomy and physics from the University of Arizona and a master’s in journalism from New York University.