Richmond company offers up e-reader alternative

Sure, most people agree that the iPad is a beautiful piece of machinery. But not everyone is an Apple fan… and most of us don’t have $500 to drop on anything these days. That’s where Richmond-based Velocity Micro and their soon-to-be-released CruzReader hope to come in.

Sure, most people agree that the iPad is a beautiful piece of machinery. But not everyone is an Apple fan… and most of us don’t have $500 to drop on anything these days. That’s where Richmond-based Velocity Micro and their soon-to-be-released CruzReader hope to come in.

Set to hit shelves on September 8, the CruzReader (which operates on the Android 2.0 operating system) is being marketed as “The world’s first affordable” touchscreen e-reader. But don’t let that angle fool you — it does more than that.

“This device, even though we’re calling it an e-reader, it also plays video, browses the web, plays music,” said marketing manager Josh Covington, who was nice enough to let us stop by Velocity Micro’s Chesterfield County office and take this thing for a spin. “You can install games on it, you can install custom Android apps, so it’s essentially a $200 tablet.”

Believe it or not, the CruzReader only went into development in January of this year. Before that, Velocity Micro (who’s been around in some capacity since 1992 and currently offers a full range of PC products) tried their hand at netbooks.

“We kind of dipped our toes into the netbook market last year, so that was our first foray into the mainstream kind of product. Because the netbook market kind of took off and then just immediately nosedived. We were getting in when it was starting to nosedive, so we saw the nosedive coming and backed out a little bit and focused our attention on [the CruzReader],” said Covington. However, it could be that the CruzReader will pick up where netbooks left off.

“The netbook is more of a niche product. I’m not surprised that it didn’t keep taking off the way a lot of people thought it would. Just because, you know, you’ve got a 10 inch screen, you’ve got a tiny little keyboard. People bought them expecting them to be notebooks — expecting them to work like $800, $900 notebooks — and they just weren’t. So, this is more portable, it does everything that a netbook can, and a lot more.”

The RVANews office is primarily a Mac shop (and our publishers both own iPads), so naturally we were quite curious as to how the CruzReader stacked up to Apple’s newest darling — a response that Covington says Velocity Micro expects.

“Everybody likes the iPad, it’s a really cool product, but it’s $500. With this you’ve got 90 percent of the functionality, it’s not locked down like an iPad. If you’re kind of a geeky kind of person, you can hack it, you can make it what you want because of the Android OS, so that’s a really cool feature for a lot of people.”

As far as particulars, the CruzReader’s specs include:

  • Full color TFT display
  • 7-inch diagonal 800×600 screen
  • 256MB RAM, 256MB internal storage
  • Supports ePub, PDF, TXT, PDB, HTML reader files
  • MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV audio support
  • MPEG-4, H.264
  • JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP image support
  • 802.11 b/g wifi
  • 4GB Bundled micro SD card
  • Full size SD card slot

The CruzReader weighs in at about a pound (slightly less than the iPad) and measures just under 0.6 inches thick (slightly more than the iPad). Users can expect the battery to last around six hours if they’re watching videos, 10 to 12 hours for regular use (reading, browsing the web, etc.), and 24 hours if it’s on standby.

We had no trouble jumping in and figuring out how to use the CruzReader; the only stumbling block for us was its touchscreen. While the iPad sports a capacitive touchscreen, the CruzReader has a resistive touchscreen, requiring you to apply significantly more pressure and to actually “click” on icons to get things going — a nit-pick for some, but a quirk that could potentially be a point of frustration for those who are used to the more fluid nature of the iPad.

“It takes a little bit of getting used to, especially if you’re used to like an iPad or an iPod touch, but once you pick it up, it’s pretty easy,” said Covington.

As an e-reader, the CruzReader functions well and just requires a tap on the screen to turn the page. Users have access to over two million e-books through the included Borders e-book app, or they can go to the kobo library and download them there. E-books (along with music and videos) can also be easily transferred from your PC through a USB cable.

While the CruzReader won’t be available for purchase until next week, and are already taking pre-readers. Soon it will be available through Amazon (among other online retailers), Costco, and Best Buy.

“The majority of places where you can buy consumer electronics — we’ll be there in some capacity. Hopefully we’ll be everywhere come the holiday season.”” said Covington.

Over the coming months, Velocity Micro will release their $299 tablet (basically a 16×9 version of the Reader, but with a faster processor and more storage) as well as StoryPad, a $149 e-reader for kids that plays custom storybooks, along with video and music. Both are products that diversify Velocity Micro’s reach… even though they admittedly don’t really have a target market at this point.

“We don’t have a demographic really. I think it’s kind of hard to say because the space is so new,” said Covington.

New and getting more and more crowded.

When speaking about the CruzReader’s competition, Covington said, “It is Apple to an extent, I mean I don’t think you can release a tablet and not be compared to Apple — as much as we would try to avoid it, it’s going to happen. Definitely the Kindle, for the ereaders, there’s a couple of products similar to that — there’s one called Pandigital Novel which is kind of a similar product. And there are a couple more tablets, 7-inch tablets that are coming out — Samsung’s coming out with one. So those are the big competitors. Right now the whole space has just taken off. The cream is going to rise to the top so it’s kind of hard to say who that cream’s gonna be. Hopefully it’s us.”

Will the Cruz Reader cause Apple-lovers to “defect”? Probably not. It seem more likely that those loyal to the brand will hang tight until the iPad gets a tad less expensive. But for those not married to Apple and looking for a touchscreen alternative to the Kindle, it does present an interesting, affordable option. Plus, it’s local. What Richmonder doesn’t love that at least a little bit?

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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is editor of RVAFamily, mother to a mop-topped first grader, and always really excited to go to bed.

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