One of the hottest trends at CES so far (or at least the pre-show events I’ve attended this week) is eBook readers. It seems like everybody’s got a handheld device for reading eBooks. Most of them are high contrast black and white jobs with long-lasting batteries and highly viewable displays that are rather slow to refresh or “turn” the page. And then there’s the tech demos that Fujitsu and Mirasol are showing off.

I got a chance to check out Fujitsu’s FLEPia color e-Paper device last night. It features a high contrast 768 x 1024 pixel screen that can display up to 260,000 colors. The colors did look a little flat to me, since the FLEPia has no backlight and instead relies on ambient lighting. (It does look better in person than in my photos though, thanks to bad lighting and a less-than-perfect camera/photographer combo). But it’s definitely more colorful than any other dedicated eBook reader I’ve seen to date. And that lack of a backlight helps keep power consumption low. Fujitsu says the FLEPia can run for up to 40 hours on a charge.

Rather than run a dedicated eBook-centric OS, the FLEPia runs Windows CE 5.0. That means it can handle a number of eBook Reader applications designed for Windows Mobile. The unit I saw was running some Japanese eBook software which I didn’t recognize. The touchscreen device also has a web browser and can open Office documents.

The FLEPia has an Xscale processor, a USB port, SD card slot, 802.11b/g/ WiFI, and Bluetooth. The device will initially launch in Japan. There’s no word on how much it will cost.

One problem that the FLEPia shares with most other ePaper devices is a slow screen refresh rate. While most eBook readers go momentarily dark before showing a new screen, the FLEPia has a sort of wipe-effect that replaces the old screen with a new one. It takes about 1.2 seconds, and while I find it a bit disconcerting, it’s actually easier on the eye than the way that eBook readers like the Amazon Kindle or B&N Nook redraw the screen.

But the slow refresh rate still means that while there’s a web browser, you’re not going to want to use it with dynamic web content, and video is pretty much out of the question. But video is no problem for Mirasol’s color ePaper solution.

The folks at Engadget caught up with Mirasol for a demo of the company’s technology. Right now Mirasol is showing a 5.7 inch XGA screen, but 9 and 10 inch screens are also possible. That means we could see Mirasol screens in upcoming tablets, netbooks, or large eBook readers.

Engadget reports that it’s possible a next-generation Amazon Kindle could ship with a Mirasol screen this Fall. You can find a video and more photos of the Mirasol prototype at Engadget.

Here are a few more photos of the Fujitsu FLEPia in action:

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4 replies on “The color eBook readers of CES (so far)”

  1. My understanding is Cholesteric LCD (ChLCD), which I’ve read FLEPia uses, can update fast enough to do video, the problem is that updating that fast uses substantially more power than the usual twisted-nematic LCDs. Perhaps Fujitsu was trying to keep power consumption very low.

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