November 11, 2008

Flexible Mobile eReader: Hand-on with Polymer Vision READIUS at World Mobile Congress

Original Post from February 14th 2008.

Yesterday I finally got the chance to get some "hands-on" time with the Polymer Vision READIUS device at the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona.

I spoke to the Industrial Designer. He was open and honest and in no rush to get rid of me.

Overall, I was impressed.

It will be sold thru Mobile Data Network Operators (MDNOs).
Mid-2008 with first "OEM" Telefonica Italia Mobiles (TIM).
Polymer Vision expects 100k cumulative production volume by the end of 2008.
A Taiwanese maker is assembling it.
I poked him on the delays and if this time it was "for real". He said yes.
They had the booth full of packaging boxes for READIUS (empty off course) to underline the point it was about to ship.
I suggested display availability caused delays, he said no, caused mainly by:-
- had to switch platform from Linux to Windows CE due to lack of drivers for chipset
- TIM insisted on addition of DVB-H module which caused re-design.
Take that as you wish.

VERY light (115g = 4 ounces). No problem holding in one hand for a long time.
True one-handed operation no trouble, I love that.
Can switch around (rotate display image 180 deg) and use with other hand.
Mobile phone like when closed (115 x 57 x 21 mm)

User Interface
The 5 vertical "keys" are actually a touch strip with a ridge separatign into key aeras, and associated LED.
Works fine as buttons. Demo version didn't have sound, but will have in production and do a small click on press. A small click or buzz feedback (like Samsung are doing) would make even better than demo version.

Interestingly they work as a touch-pad/strip too, and a "flick" down it does the scrolling action while reading.
This wasn't obvious, and took a few attempts to learn when indicated. I think it could be improved, but as a general idea I think is good (needs great implementation) and a touch area gives more flexibility and richness in gestures.

There is a "back" button that is a real button to the left.

A contextual menu button above pops-up a small menu (using fast, "interactive" 1-bit display driving mdoe) that depends on content being viewed. I think that is intended to reduce the number of times you need to leave the media viewing experience.

Power button on top, that due to sleep mode and bi-stable display is almost not needed, maybe for "flight mode"?

UI themes are customizable through portal and PC. Not too flashy though, and so not too sure what can be changed.

No dedicated phone keys (call, hand-up) or keypad. You wouldn't know it also had a phone.

Flexible, 5" diagonal, eInk VizPlex.
Use 16 grey levels for pages/images (with black flash), plus 4 grey levels without a flash but said ghosting did build-up over time and you had to "clean" with a flash.
They also have a 1-bit mode that is faster, with no flash and use this for the "contextual menu" that pops up and is navigated tree-like, ike Windows Start menu. Also will be used in progress indicators (music etc), signal indicator (phone), etc.

Only played with newspaper reader. It shows a "page" with a newspaper like layout with a series of articles shown by headline in different places and fonts.
Use 4 touch keys as cursor keys to navigate around the articles (like PSP web browser). When on one you want to read you hit the 5th touch key to "go into" an article.
I thought the font rendering looked "regular" but didn't inpsect closely.
Then it's a one column web-page like article layout, with a scroll bar on right.
Move finger up and down touch strip to scroll page by page (not smooth scroll...).
When done hit "Back", "Back" etc....

I think with a slightly improved touch area and a few gestures and some work this could be vastly improved upon.

10days standby as a phone etc.
30 hours straight reading.
Goes to sleep when viewing page, so Windows CE must support that...
It's running an ARM11 at 400MHz

Media Delivery
3G mobile phone connection with HSDPA. Tri-band.

USB2.0 to PC, supporting ActiveSync (sync with outlook etc like your PDA) and USB mass storage device.
-> I wonder would they have ActiveSync if they hadn't moved to Windows CE?

Bluetooth 2.0 (bluetooth headset? Car? etc)

Has a Micro-SD slot for storage, cards available now upto 12GBytes and growing.

Supports: RSS Feeds, Phone calls, Podcasts (audio), eBooks, Music, Newspapers, eMail, Photos

He thought they would be connecting to webmail systems (wasn't sure), but was clear they didn't have Enterprise e-mail support yet.
Psuedo-push e-mail possible, where an SMS is sent to phone to request it to connect and download mail. This should be quite a flexible mechanism for all media types.
There is an optional DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting for Handhelds) module which was driven into the design by TIM (first OEM) that can be chosen by OEM or not. Can do scheduled turn-on and download of media using DVB-H (e.g. during the night). I'm not sure why TIM pushed for DVB-H as they don't seem to be using it for broadcasting of news to many subscribers with one broadcast....
He talked about buying books over DVB-H which I didn't really get.

They provide a portal and client PC software for configuring and maganging content subscriptions, delivery schedule, plus UI themes, ringtones etc. They will run their own or give to OEM for OEM to run their own version.

They show e-mails with meeting requests, but I didn't see:-
- Agenda / Calendar
- Task list
- To-Do lists etc
So not sure it's a full PDA replacement yet. Maybe not everyone uses all those features, but an agenda/calendar seems an omission to me.

My opinion on READIUS as a mobile phone replacement
The form factor closed is very like a phone, but I think it lacks:-
- a small secondary (eInk?) display so you know who's calling
- an external button to answer, when no headset connected.
- Mic and earpiece!
A headset is fine, when you're using it! Personally I wouldn't spend the day with this in my pocket AND the headset attached.
I think it needs to improve as a phone-without-a-headset to be a true replacement.

Not Included
- no camera.
- no web browser. Partly due to slow display, no keyboard or touch input for URLs. They are really positioning as an off-line (but connected) media consumption device.
- Agenda / Calendar
- Task list
- To-Do lists ?

Questions I still have

  • I assume it's got a vibration mechanism, but I didn't check
  • I'm not sure if it will be tied to OEM/Operator that sells it, or you can change the SIM and go to someone else....
  • not sure if display side switching will be done with accelerometer, or through a menu option
  • Will OEM/MDNO have a "full-in" plan including the service, a data plan with or without a limit, charge for certain media types? Etc

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