updated 07:30 pm EST, Sat January 8, 2011
Hands-on with Hanvon color E Ink reader
While at CES on Saturday, we had the opportunity to see Hanvon's E920 color E Ink reader first hand to see how well it worked in practice. The screen is, as promised, much more interesting to use than on just about any other e-paper reader. Colors are muted due to the nature of the technology, but it still stands out very clearly and is extremely sharp: at 1600x1200, the 9.7-inch display isn't quite Retina Display accurate but is noticeably more "pixel-free" than a Kindle.
The display is very slow to refresh, however. A grayscale E Ink screen usually takes about a second to refresh, but you can sometimes wait two or three seconds before it moves on to the next page. It's likely the added complexity of color in a still young technology creating the influence, but it could make for some frustration for those read quickly.
The interface itself is easy to use and very focused on reading. Apart from books, there's support for viewing a dictionary, browsing photos, playing simple games or even creating notes on the touchscreen with an included stylus. It rather smartly uses an optional pop-up menu system and a single menu bar to keep the interface out of the way of reading or drawing. The touchscreen was very usable with fingers, but the stylus was merely adequate: the E Ink currently means significant lag between writing and result, and when the pen is out you can't touch.
The E920 is still a very interesting and capable reader, and we look forward to it shipping. It will reach its home country of China first; US plans haven't been mentioned so far.
We also looked at Hanvon's recently shipping tablets, the TouchPad B10 and B16. Of the two, we definitely preferred the B10. While slightly thicker and heavier, its use of a 1.3GHz Pentium ULV chip and newer graphics gave it the full Windows 7 Aero Glass effect and overall better performance. Its multi-touch display was much more intuitive. While the keyboard is still well behind that of the iPad or PlayBook in sheer intuitiveness, it's thankfully maximized and comfortable enough that you can speed type with practice. There was also a clever optical trackpad that let you mouse around, which was immediately handy for those parts of Windows 7 that weren't touch-native.
The B16 is more clearly designed for the Chinese market; the 1.6GHz and 1.86GHz Atoms help keep the cost down, but it's designed to be used exclusively with a stylus. The pen bundled with the slate is effective enough but can be confusing when you try to left- or right-click with its included buttons. Notably, although it's a touchscreen device, the pen is proximity based: you can hover over an area and click to interact.
Both TouchPads are relatively thin and have 120GB and 250GB of storage for the B16 and B10 respectively. We didn't get battery life, but both are likely to only last a few hours given Intel's relative lack of optimization in pre-Oak Trail processors.
Only the B10 is avaiable in the US and does carry a premium for the touchscreen at $900.
TouchPad B10 (top) and B16 (below)