IREX is currently, right this very second, taking the wraps off its big new splash in the ebook space, the new DR 800SG. The 8.1-inch unit has wireless connectivity courtesy of Verizon in the US and Qualcomm's Gobi multi-mode 3G for switching it up in the rest of the world. There's also 2GB of built-in storage, memory card expansion and stylus input ("true finger touch" is coming in Q2 2010 to a future product, right now you can only use the stylus, and a color reader is in the works as well for 2011), and IREX claims to have the fastest page refreshes in the biz. Perhaps most notable is that the reader is Barnes & Noble's first big play in the space, with support for the B&N eBookstore -- though the whole thing is an "open platform" with support from content from Newspaper Direct and LibreDigital stores as well, and format support of PDF, EPUB, Newspaper Direct, Fictionwise, eReader and TXT. Quite the mouthful, and IREX promises to follow wherever the market leads when it comes to DRM. The $399 device includes a leather cover and stylus in the box, and will be available this October in "select" Best Buy stores and will hit Europe in the first half of 2010. No wireless contract is required.

IREX unveils DR 800SG wireless ebook reader with touchscreen

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IREX DR 800SG reader demo'd

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We got to play with the new reader briefly, and weren't quite sure how to feel. On one hand, it's another sexy, slim reader, with a pretty great and fast e-ink screen. On the other hand, the interface is totally minimal and a little nonsensical without the stylus. A bar on the left side gives you a "tactile" method of pushing right or left to turn the page, but it feels pretty janky. Notetaking isn't enabled currently, so you can't draw on the screen, making the stylus feel a bit of a burden, not a boon -- the closest you get to text input is tapping away at an onscreen keyboard. We're glad IREX avoided the visibility-hampering pitfalls of Sony's touchscreen ebook technology, but perhaps some more thought should've been put into the alternative. We didn't do any heavy downloading, but the reader takes a very long time to create a connection -- a good 20-30 seconds -- which might've been due to the concrete bunker we're hanging out in, or just a sign of a slow processor, we're not sure which. We love the "openness," and it's great to see so many format alternatives right out of the gate, but we're gonna need more time with the DR 800SG before we're sure it's worth the plunge.

IREX DR 800SG reader hands-on

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IREX unveils DR 800SG wireless ebook reader (updated with hands-on!)