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More e-Readers, Vendors Expected

With e-reader sales expected to double in 2010 after a breakout 2009, at least five suppliers will launch their first models here at International CES, where a shift to wireless and mixed-use models will become apparent.

E-reader sales in 2010 are expected to double to more than 6 million units in U.S. sales to consumers, enticing such new entrants to the category as iRiver, Entourage, Audiovox (RCA), Plastic Logic and e-magazine store Skiff (a Hearst spin-off).

Almost two dozen suppliers at CES will show e-readers as well as related products and services. For most of last year, the main suppliers were Amazon and Sony.

“This category is still in its inception, and as more and more use cases develop for e-books, it will continue to grow,” said Audiovox Electronics president Tom Malone.

Here at the show, dealers will find models breaking up into three classes: wireless, non-connected and mixed-use. The latter includes a combination netbook/e-reader from Entourage.

Here’s what to expect at CES:

Astak: The company will show at least one Wi-Fi reader — the Spirite — with 6-inch E Ink screen, built-in MP3 player, and EPUB and PDF compatibility. The Spirite is also compatible with up to 20 non-DRM formats and will likely ship early in the second quarter.

Astak’s Touche adds a touchscreen and will offer either 3G or Wi-Fi access, said Astak. A third basic non-connected version, the Strike, will also be displayed. The three 6-inch units could range in price from $229 to $299, but pricing is subject to change, said Astak.

Interead: The Cool-er is expected to get a wireless upgrade. New Cool-er e-readers will use Wi-Fi and AT&T 3G service and are expected to ship mid-year.

Entourage: One of the first e-reader/netbook combination devices is the $490 Edge. It comes with two screens and folds like a book with a 9.7-inch E Ink screen on one side and a 10.1-inch color touchscreen on the other to support a netbook.

Shipping in February, the Edge runs on the Android smartphone OS and offers Wi-Fi access. A 3G option might become available.

Both screens are dynamically linked, so users can create links on a book page to movies, charts and other content for display on the netbook side.

iRiver: The portable-device maker will debut its first U.S. e-reader — the non-wireless Story with 6-inch E Ink display and a slim form factor. It will be available in the first quarter with voice recorder, MP3 player, and a personal organizer with a scheduler and memo pad. The unit features 2GB of internal memory and an SD card capacity of 16GB. It can store more than 13,000 books and is compatible with EPUB, PDF and Microsoft Office document files. Battery life is 100 hours. Pricing wasn’t available.

Plastic Logic: The Que is attracting attention because its plastic screen helps make the paper-sized unit lighter than a typical magazine and only one-third of an inch thick. The unit also claims the largest e-reader screen at 10.7 inches. Labeled a “proReader,” it’s suited to professionals who need access to documents and periodicals on the go. It offers 3G AT&T wireless and Wi-Fi for book downloads, and it’s expected to reach stores early in 2010. Barnes & Noble is backing the device with its e-bookstore and will sell the Que in its stores.

RCA: The brand, marketed by Audiovox, enters the e-reader market for the first time with two 6-inch models, both with E Ink screens and capacity to store about 1,400 books in 2GB of memory.

The EB1060 side-loads books from a PC and will ship this spring, while the step-up EBW1060 can download books over-the-air via Wi-Fi and will ship in Q2. Both devices will support EPUB and PDF at prices to be announced.