Unholy IPad-Kindle Offspring Seeks Its Niche: Rich Jaroslovsky

It has a color screen, costs $499 and runs a smartphone operating system, yet isn’t an iPad. It has a digital-ink screen and downloads books, yet isn’t a Kindle.

It’s the Entourage Edge, their unholy offspring, which suggests the struggle between Apple Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. to dominate the e-reader market still leaves room for innovators.

Entourage Systems Inc. -- or enTourage, as it likes to call itself -- describes the Edge -- pardon me, the eDGe -- as a “dualbook.” The device, which is sold from the company’s Web store at www.entourageedge.com, is roughly the size of a netbook computer and opens like a book.

One side of the Edge is a 9.7-inch grayscale digital-ink screen, similar to the kind found on Amazon’s Kindle and Sony Corp.’s Reader line. On the other side is a 10.1-inch full-color liquid-crystal display capable of browsing the Web and running videos as well as displaying graphics from books and documents that are loaded on the grayscale side. The whole package weighs about three pounds (1.4 kilograms) -- as much as a netbook, and double the weight of an iPad -- and runs on Google Inc.’s Android software.

The Edge is aimed primarily at business, professional and academic users; while you can get a selection of current bestsellers from the Entourage e-bookstore, its claimed 2 million volumes lean heavily toward technical, trade and other specialized books, as well as volumes from Google Books.

Useful Features

Good ideas abound in the Edge. Connectivity, for one thing: It has two standard and one mini-USB ports and a slot for an SD memory card, making it easy to load your own documents onto it. The device also has a slot for a SIM wireless-phone chip -- Entourage says a wireless 3G version is in the offing -- and built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

The digital-paper side allows you to scrawl notes right on the document or book you’re viewing, using the included stylus. In addition, you can call up a blank, ruled screen of digital paper -- perfect for taking notes in a meeting or classroom. Your comments and annotations can be saved, uploaded or e-mailed straight from the Edge.

There’s also a front-facing Web camera, a built-in microphone and stereo speakers. The Edge even folds inside out, putting its screens on the outside -- sort of a digital Transformer toy.

Entourage claims a battery life of 16 hours; I found the length of time between charges varied depending mostly on how much I used the more energy-hungry color screen, but was consistently good for a full day’s use. And in any event, the battery is replaceable -- unlike those in the Kindle and iPad -- so you can always carry a spare.

Not Fully Baked

I wanted to like the Edge more than I actually did. Too much about it seemed to be not quite fully baked. That webcam, for instance? It didn’t work in my trial unit; Entourage is only now in the process of updating the software to enable it. The color touch screen didn’t feel taut, flexing slightly under the pressure of my finger, and the virtual keyboard required me to hit the keys just right, and with a lot of pressure, to register my strokes.

In addition, although the device runs Android, it doesn’t provide a way to obtain applications written for the operating system. Entourage says it’s working on its own app marketplace for the Edge, but it isn’t available yet.

Finally, there’s the weight issue. While three pounds isn’t all that unreasonable given everything that’s packed into it, the Edge doesn’t quite replace a computer. You can use DataViz Inc.’s included Documents-to-Go software and the virtual keyboard to tap out a short note or do a little work on a spreadsheet, but anything more will leave you wanting a separate physical keyboard -- more weight still -- or, more likely, a separate laptop or netbook. And lugging around a computer in addition to the Edge may be asking a lot.

Entourage deserves credit for putting a bunch of existing technologies together in an interesting way, creating something new and different in the process. Still, while the Edge points the way toward the future, it isn’t there quite yet.

(Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this column: Rich Jaroslovsky in New York at rjaroslovsky@bloomberg.net.

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