Asus E-Reader DR-950 review: first look at CeBIT

3 Mar 2010

Sitting in plastic display holders in a corner of Asus’ huge stand here at CeBIT in Hannover, are two unassuming little eBook readers. From a distance they look just as generic as most of the other models on the market. Get closer though, and things start to look more interesting. Turn one on and it gets better still.

First, there’s the screen size. With a 9in e-ink display and relatively narrow bezel, it feels a lot more like a portable screen than a portable computer, unlike the Amazon Kindle. Once you switch it on you can immediately see it’s not just big – it’s high resolution too, at 1,024 x 768. That’s the highest resolution we’ve seen, with the rest of the competition at 800 x 600.

It wasn’t just me who was impressed. Our eBook expert Stuart Turton, who’s with me in Germany, couldn’t suppress a grin when he first tried to navigate his way around the interface.

Initially unable to work out how to move through the menus with the keys, Stuart instinctively prodded at the screen instead. And, to his amazement, it worked. This is a touchscreen that doesn’t look like a touchscreen – it doesn’t have the drastically reduced contrast and isn’t nearly as prone to the off-putting glare of the Sony Reader Touch. Asus seems to have made the touch-sensitive layer almost invisible, so you don’t lose the all-important paper-like appearance of the e-ink screen.

Dig around in the interface and it’s clear that Asus isn’t going down the minimalist feature route. It looks like and behaves like a proper eBook reader, but there’s a stack of extra applications in there, including a web browser.

Tap that browser icon and, after a pretty lengthy wait, up it pops. Text is entered via a handwriting-recognition system, where you draw individual letters into a box, or you can pop up an onscreen keyboard. That’s as far as we got with the browser – it’s listed as a beta app in the menu system and we couldn’t make it actually load a page.

Elsewhere there’s a music player app, and in the eBook application itself you can select text with a swipe of the finger, copy it and then paste it into the text editor app. Currently it’s too slow to be very useful as a study tool, but the Asus rep we spoke to was at pains to point out that the firmware is still being developed.

And we hope that it does get some more polishing before release, since the speed of operation is currently the E Reader’s only downfall. Page turns take around three seconds, and tapping on an icon results in a long wait before anything happens.

The E Reader will be an open platform, able to read all the common formats including ePub and PDF, which is encouraging.

Despite the extra apps, battery life is still officially only being quoted in terms of page turns – currently 10,000. We’re told that Asus is “still fiddling” with batteries in order to squeeze the most out of it while using the other apps.

This is a very impressive eBook reader debut for Asus. The build quality is more than adequate, the screen is great and the extra features look usable rather than bolted on for no reason.

It’s not going to be the cheapest of eReaders, but it’s not outrageous either at a projected £250 inc VAT for the version with 11g wireless.

Asus says it’s looking into the possibilities for a 3G version with integrated SIM too.

Launch in the UK is set for the end of May. We can’t wait.

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