We managed to grab a couple of hours face-time with Sriram Peruvemba, chief marketing officer of E Ink Holdings, the other day and ran through a couple of the new products percolating out on sale using the ubiquitous E Ink display technology. The last time we met he showed us some prototype stuff which was very interesting, and this occasion was just as exciting, since we got an exclusive first look at the brand new, hot off the shelf Plastic Logic eTextbook.
The Plastic Logic PL100 is the world’s first all plastic e-book reader, which means that it’s shatterproof, bombproof, impervious to malicious sticky substances and in short, perfect for the education market, which is currently where it’s headed. Up till now almost all e-book readers have been made using a TFT glass base with a thin E Ink display layered on top, which means that if you go postal with your Kindle, there’s going to be tears. More info and videos after the jump…
The new PL100 has no such worries. Because it’s all plastic and contains no glass, it’s tougher, thinner (7.65mm) and ultra lightweight at just 475 grams, which is almost half the weight of a first generation Apple iPad tablet. The 10.7 inch capacitive touchscreen also displays text and images beautifully, even in broad daylight.This is the future of eBook display technology, no question.
Plastic Logic, the developer of the ‘PlasticPaper’ replacement for the glass backplane, is currently marketing the device as part of a full educational e-library bundle in Russia (apparently there’s some Russian venture capital involved in the launch) so it’s not on sale in the shops as yet, unless you own a school or two. Despite that, the press release on the company’s site gives a price of 12,000 Russian Roubles, which is around $390.00, so maybe they’re thinking of selling it to schools in ones and twos as well.
In real life two things really stand out. First it’s incredibly thin, not much thicker than a wallet full of credit cards clamped together, which is astonishing for an 11 inch screen, and when you remember that it can hold around 2000 books on the 4GB internal memory it’s mind blowing.
The second thing is how crisp and clear the touchscreen is, even under the weird lighting in the hotel where the demo was. The text is as clear as on a printed book page, and the graphics are amazing, considering it’s all done with little micro-capsules (12 to a pixel). The resolution is 150 dpi, but E Ink is currently in a joint research development program with Epson of Japan which could see that rise to around 300 dpi, which apparently makes the screen even more readable than paper. Which is a little wow-full! Battery life is rated at around a week of typical student use (which we assume will decrease if they use the on-board WiFi a lot).
Why the education market? Well there’s a lot of students in the world, and they need a lot of books, and with US textbooks ranging in price from $80 to $200 each, it doesn’t take long for a device like this to pay off the initial investment if rented out as a ultra portable, continually updated school library for the rucksack. And just think of all those poor student backs they’re saving from damage! With these kinds of advantages it’s easy to see why E Ink is on track to sell around 25 million of its displays in 2011 (up from a mere 100,000 five years ago).
If there’s one caveat we would mention it’s the fact that the refresh time on the screen was a little on the sluggish side. Where you get a swift page turn on a Kindle, there was a noticeable blip on the PL100 while the Windows CE operating system processed the page turn request. We suspect it won’t bother students too much since they’re used to slow loading web pages (and we’re not sure whether it could have been down to early firmware software anyway).
Anyhow, for now we’ll leave you with a fun drop test that we did in front of a bemused room full of assorted hotel guests.
Plastic Logic 100 Specifications
Display Technology: Plastic Logic PlasticPaper
Display finish: Shatterproof polymer, anti-glare, anti-fingerprint, hard coat
Display size: 10.7″ (27cm) diagonal
Display Resolution: 1280 x 960 at 150ppi
Form Factor: Tablet style
Color and Finish: Front: Charcoal Grey with matte finish
Back: Black with soft touch finish for easy grip
External dimensions: 216 x 280 x 7.65mm
Interface: Full screen capacitive touch
Storage: 4GB internal
Battery Life: Over a week of average student reading
Operating System: WinCE
Applications (on device): Home and Content Organizer, Reading and Annotating, Search, Cross document navigation
Compliance: GOST-R, CE, RoHS, FCC, UL
Price: 12,000 Russian Roubles (c $390.00)