Exclusive: First Photos Of Barnes & Noble's eReader

Barnes and Noble's late to eBooks. But the company's new gadget—first seen here—should address the weaknesses of all other readers with multiple screens, each playing to tech strengths. A source from within reveals the first photos and details.

The Barnes and Nobles eReader project, set to be revealed next week, has been under development for years, with several devices of varying size and capability in the pipeline. First rumours said it would have a colour e-ink screen. Then people said it didn't. They were both kind of right: The layout will feature a black and white e-ink screen like the Kindle has — and a multitouch display like an iPhone underneath other. Pow!

More details and photos of the Barnes and Noble E-Ink/LCD reader here:

The first screen is a 6-inch e-ink display with an 800x600 pixel resolution. That's standard for eBooks, with this screen having similar refresh and contrast as the second generation Kindle's. The second display, however, is as wide as the e-ink display but is a multitouch LCD that is meant to be used as the sole interface for browsing swiftly through coloured book covers (like Apple's coverflow, but books instead of Album art) and buying "rather than forcing e-ink do things it was not made for". It is 480x144 pixels in size and has a resolution of 150dpi.

The choice of two different screens (and techs) on one device serves to overcome the shortcomings in e-ink, which lacks of richness and interactivity; and LCD's eye strain and battery drain. (The LCD will remain inactive while books are being read.) Contrast this with the Kindle which uses the e-ink display to emulate a slow menu system and requires a physical keyboard for searching. Likewise, Sony's e-ink readers with touchscreen layers have reduced visibility. The B&N reader has none of these issues. [editor's note: In theory.]

The interface has a few buttons. According to photos below, there are two sets of next/previous page buttons, as the Kindle has. But there are also buttons for search, home, "BN" which it is safe to assume is for accessing the store, and a back button. There's also an icon for a person, with a dot under it, which is for user profile, important for the device's social networking hooks. The reader is expected to have book lending features between friends and publishing of excerpts on Facebook and Twitter, but that may be cut before launch.

The carrier attached to the reception bars at the top of those photos might be Verizon or Sprint, but Barnes & Noble, wise to Amazon's international plans ahead of the public (corporate espionage!) may have gone with a carrier more capable of bringing their books internationally, more naturally, meaning a GSM carrier. I'm unsure.

Pricing is yet unknown, but no matter what, it was planned to be sold at less than the price of a Kindle, with the majority of revenue made up through book sales.

What's interesting is that B&N will sell the books it also publishes (yes, remember, they are also a publisher and not just a shop) at a deep discount compared to print editions. And the device will have some sort of access to all books scanned by the Google Books project; probably books that are out of print.

The name of the gadget, which I cannot reveal and may have changed anyhow, is freaking terrible. I hope they change it before it ships.