Skiff e-reader hands-on: watch out Amazon

Ready for your Kindle alternative? Skiff might be it. Might. We had a chance to sit down with the team to go hands-on with the 11.5-inch e-Reader. As a device, the near final prototype was big pushing an impressive 1,600 x 1,200 resolution -- enough to stuff an entire page of the New York Times up front including advertisements and still maintain readability. Mind you, it's not an exact reproduction, content has been modified to account for advertisements which, for better or worse, are part of the Skiff publishing model. Fortunately, we found it impossible to differentiate between the locally served ads and those you're already accustomed to seeing inside your favorite newspaper. But as far as competition goes, Skiff isn't hedging its bets on a single device -- this is a publishing platform. As such, Skiff showed us a total of four different devices accessing its content: a color e-reader prototype as well as Skiff apps running on a Palm Pre, Viliv MID, and of course the Linux-based black and white e-reader launching sometime this year. They even promised an iPhone app as you'd expect with synchronization across all your devices (at least as many as the DRM will allow). Skiff tells us that an Android device is also in the works.

Unfortunately, as a Kindle competitor, Skiff was not willing to discuss the extent of their content partners nor the number of publications (blogs, magazines, newspapers, and book categories are listed on the store) that will be available at launch. Nevertheless, the Skiff Store, we've been assured, will be full with plenty of subscription content and even a few apps like Sudoku and crossword puzzles. A la carte access to content will be available as well.

Multimedia is also a differentiator with content augmented by full motion video available in the Skiff apps (seen running on the Viliv). In fact, the app immediately reminded us of those iSlab contentdemos seen floating around the intertubes. Even the black and white e-reader was capable of playing back audio embedded in an issue of Esquire. Skiff was not willing to discuss their plans for text to speech with us today, however, we did learn that you can print documents to the Skiff over the network as a quick and easy way to move content to the device.

The navigation buttons on the Skiff e-reader are not yet final and Skiff is still tweaking the touchpanel. Nevertheless, a small round dimple flanked by a pair of buttons and side-mounted "big wheel" coupled with the touchscreen interface were up to the task. The UI looked reasonable for skimming through large publications such as the Sunday edition of the New York Times and offers a search mechanism that works device wide or within the content you're viewing. Finger swipes applied to the resistive touchscreen worked as expected: swiping a finger left or right results in page turns while swipes up or down will increase or reduce font size, respectively.

The launch will be US only at this point although international content will be available. Unfortunately, Skiff wouldn't allow any pictures or videos, we'll get those when we can.