Hands On

Seeing Double


It has a color screen, costs $499, and runs on a smartphone operating system. And it isn't an iPad. It has a digital-ink screen and downloads books. And it isn't a Kindle. It's the Edge, an e-reader that suggests the Apple (AAPL)-Amazon (AMZN) struggle for dominance in the marketplace still leaves room for innovation from other contenders.

Entourage Systems—or enTourage, as the McLean (Va.) startup likes to call itself—describes the Edge (pardon me, the eDGe) as a "dualbook," a tablet that opens and is held like a book. On one side is a 9.7-inch grayscale screen, the kind found on the Kindle and Sony (SNE) Reader. On the other is a 10.1-inch full-color, liquid-crystal display with a front-facing Web camera, microphone, and browser. The whole package weighs about three pounds—as much as a netbook and double the weight of an iPad—and runs on Google's (GOOG) Android smartphone software. The device is aimed primarily at a business and academic audience, and the Entourage e-bookstore's offerings lean heavily toward technical, trade, and professional books.

The Edge has two standard (and one mini) USB ports and a slot for a secure digital card, making it easy to load up with documents. It also has a slot for a SIM card—a wireless 3G version is in the offing—built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and stereo speakers. It even folds inside out like a digital Transformer, putting its screens on the outside.

You can take notes right on the digital-paper screen using the stylus or a virtual keyboard; the notes can be saved, uploaded to a server, or e-mailed straight from the Edge. Entourage claims 16 hours of battery life, but I found it varies depending on your use of the color screen. In any event, the battery is replaceable, so you can carry a spare.

I wanted to like the Edge more than I actually did. The Webcam didn't work in my trial unit (Entourage is only now in the process of updating the software that enables it); the color touchscreen flexed under the pressure of a finger, and the virtual keyboard required you to hit the keys just right. Although the device runs Android, it doesn't have access to Google's wealth of apps. Because the Edge isn't a plausible netbook replacement, some users might still need to lug a laptop along. That's asking a lot.

Entourage deserves credit for putting existing technologies together in an interesting way, creating something new and different in the process. But while it points the way toward the future, it isn't there quite yet.

PROTECTIVE MEASURES

Two stylish options from the growing business of guarding e-readers.

M-Edge, Platform Jacket (Leather)

Works with: iPad

Price: $49.99

Cole Haan, Hand-Woven Patent Leather Cover with Hinge

Works with: Kindle

Price: $119.99


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