LCD eBook readers
Jack of all trades, master of none. LCD eBook readers will be a hot topic in 2012, but early products like the Kobo Vox show the pitfalls facing the sector.
Designed to be tablets but at a fraction of the cost and eBook readers but with vastly more functionality, LCD eBook readers are hugely appealing and seem like fine Christmas presents. The problem however lies in the name itself: LCD. Compared to e-ink screens, designed specifically to be kind of the eyes, LCD panels and their active display technology is far more wearing for most users when reading and reflects badly in sunlight. This is compounded by the cheap price tags of LCD eBook readers which see lower quality panels fitted, rendering them poor at their primary purpose.
In addition to their screens, price means weaker internal hardware which also makes LCD eBook readers second rate tablets with slow performance. Worse still, heavy customisation to optimise their (typically) Android cores for reading means the official Android Market has not been approved for any LCD eBook reader to date, curtailing their functionality and limiting users to proprietary app stores with small selections and inflated pricing.
Lastly, driving a nail in the coffin of these first generation devices is battery life. Again LCD is at the heart of it, with the technology using far more power than e-ink screens which can last months at a time. Instead LCD eBook reader battery life is measured in hours rather than days, hardly ideal for a holiday and once more cost cutting robs them of increased capacity batteries which would alleviate this problem.
Happily there is a shining light in the shape of the Amazon Kindle Fire which has a reasonable screen, improved hardware and a well stocked eBook library and app store. The Fire was still on the end of lukewarm reviews Stateside however and the fact it isn't released in the UK until after Christmas only further emphasised the need to wait. We have high hopes for future generations of LCD eBook readers, but until radical changes in power consumption, performance and the fundamental nature of LCD screens come to market there remains a lot of life left in e-ink.