Google Breaks Into E-Reader Market

Google has lent its name to a new e-reader device that is the first with the search giant’s bookstore built-in. But the main selling point of the Story is the HD screen resolution.

Manufacturers iRiver tout the device as having 63.8% more pixels than “other e-readers.” That stat bears out if you compare its 768 x 1024 display to the 600 x 800 of the latest Kindle. The company puts those numbers in other ways, calling it the first XGA e-reader of its size (a reference to the computer graphics/monitor standard) and of course using the HD label, which is mathematically correct though what consensus there is on a high definition display generally refers to video rather than still displays.

The real question is whether this makes any practical difference to the reader. While it may well appear crisper in a head-to-head comparison, it’s not as if there has been widespread condemnation of devices such as the Kindle for being too low-res and blurry.

The Story HD is 7.3 ounces with a billed battery life of six weeks, both of which are improvements over the Kindle, though again not points where there’s an obvious shortfall from Amazon. It’s priced as $139.99, ten bucks more than the equivalent Amazon model.

The integration with Google Books is also a little underwhelming on closer examination. Titles from the store can already be read on devices such as the Sony Reader and the Barnes & Noble Nook, albeit only via a PC download and connection. And the store certainly isn’t proving as dominant in its field as many Google services.

To be fair, the idea of being able to buy books and download free titles directly from the portable device is a major selling point of the Kindle. That said, the Story HD is Wi-Fi only (connecting automatically to the Easy WiFi network), so those who truly want access anywhere and everywhere are out of luck.

As far as this device goes, it appears to be in a similar situation as the iPad in the tablet market: to beat the Kindle’s brand awareness you either have to be significantly cheaper or significantly better, and it’s unclear if either the store integration or the high-res display meets that criteria.

But it’s certainly worth watching to see if Google reaches similar partnerships with other manufacturers, or even decides to produce its own machines. After all, there must surely be a market for a Google e-Reader that also has the Chrome browser, even if it could only cope with basic e-mail and plain text web browsing.

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