Chocolate or vanilla? Red or white wine? Kindle or iPad? For those who can’t make up their minds, there’s always a combo option: choco-vanilla swirl, Rosé and — now — the Entourage eDGe, an e-reader that doubles as a tablet.
This quirky device contains two screens that fold together like a book, letting you read a Malcolm Gladwell book on the black-and-white E Ink screen while you update your Facebook status on the adjacent color LCD display.
You’d think this mash-up would be fabulous. It’s not. Despite our initial enthusiasm, after testing the eDGe we found it to be a Frankenstein-ish monster that’s hobbled by a slow processor, some puzzling design choices and touchscreen technology that seems like it was cooked up during the Clinton administration.
At three pounds, the eDGe is five times as heavy as a Kindle and nearly twice the heft of the upcoming iPad. It’s comparable in weight to the average netbook, but since you almost always have to cradle the eDGe in your arms, it gets irritating to tote it around for more than an hour.
A hinge allows the eDGe’s screens to pivot around into several different configurations: tablet, notebook-like clamshell or, with the hinge in a vertical position, book. It’s fun and adds versatility. Unfortunately, the eDGe lacks an accelerometer, so you need to manually click a button whenever you change orientations.
What really hobbles the eDGe is its processor: a Marvell Armada PXA168 1.2 GHz. (Software limitations further cripple the chip by limiting it to just 800 MHz). Performance feels sluggish. Just booting up the machine can take up to 30 seconds. Web browsing or opening up documents is not zippy and for those who are used to increasingly powerful smartphones, this slowness can be rather annoying.
Screen input is another frustrating area. On the E Ink side, you can make handwritten notes and annotations (or write in the included “Digital Diary”) using the provided stylus. On the LCD side, resistive touchscreen technology means you can use the stylus or your finger. But the eDGe’s display requires hard pressure, long fingernails or the stylus to make it work. That’s particularly a problem when it comes to the device’s virtual keyboard, which you need to use frequently.
To its credit, the E Ink screen is beautiful in its simplicity and readability, even in bright sunlight. At 9.7 inches, it’s also much larger than the 6-inch screen found on most e-readers.
Entourage has an online bookstore that has a much smaller selection than Amazon but it’s neatly designed and easy to use. The eDGe supports ePub and PDF file formats, and you can load your own documents.
On the LCD side, the eDGe has an Android user interface that’s almost identical to that seen in most smartphones. Though there’s no access to the Android Market for apps, Entourage says it will let developers create apps just for the device. The 10.1-inch screen is decent.
The browser, while not blazingly fast, is functional enough to check e-mail, surf the internet and even watch some online video. It does support Adobe Flash Lite but we had trouble loading many YouTube videos — though it wasn’t clear if that’s the fault of the device or the Wi-Fi connectivity.
The lack of a 3G wireless data option and the surprising omission of an Ethernet port means the eDGe can only get internet connectivity via Wi-Fi. But the company says a 3G model could be available in the future.
Entourage also promises a firmware update that, they say, will fix the eDGe’s poor battery life: just about two hours of active use in our tests, and a mere eight hours on standby.
If there’s a reason for being decisive (even though choco-vanilla swirl is ever so delish) the eDGe offers one. The 50:50 option of the eDGe leaves you wishing you hadn’t compromised.
Our advice: Make up your mind, and get either a Kindle or an iPad.