Entourage Edge Review

  • MORE

$499
Editors' rating:
The Pros

Crisp electronic paper display with stylus support ; Built-in journal and voice recorder for note-taking ; Hinge allows for multiple positions ; Android OS tablet for Web, e-mail, and media ; Includes DocumentsToGo

The Cons

Heavy for a tablet / ereader ; Apps store not yet online ; Webcam not yet functional ; Store stocks fewer bestsellers than competition ; No 3G connectivity ; Narrow viewing angles

Verdict

This Android-powered eReader and Tablet combo works well, but it's not yet fully baked.

Are two screens better than one? Aimed primarily at students, the Entourage Edge is a $499 eReader-tablet combo with a 9.7-inch eInk screen on one side (like the Kindle 2) and a 10.1-inch color LCD on the other. The company calls it a dualbook, and it's hard not to be impressed by its sheer versatility. You can use this Android-powered device to download and read eBooks, take digital notes with the included stylus, and record lectures. And when class is dismissed--or before, your call--you can check your favorite sites, as well as play music and videos. While we appreciate this gadget's dual personalities, its design is a bit clunky, there's a dearth of available apps, and some features are not yet activated. Read on to find out if the Edge really doubles your pleasure.

article continued below

Design

The 8.3 x 10.8 x 1.0 inch Edge is about the size and weight of a 10-inch netbook, though a bit thinner and slightly longer. Neverless, the iPad is half as thin, though it has only one display. On the outside, the Edge looks a bit like a white Macbook until you examine it up close. The slick plastic chassis lacks ornamentation, leaving all the interesting stuff for the inside. Our review unit came in Glacier White with gray accents, and the Edge also comes in Midnight Blue, Piano Black, Ruby Red, and Ice Blue. All of the color options except Midnight Blue cost $40 extra.

Upon opening the Edge, the first thing we noticed is the hinge that allows for a complete 180-degree range of motion for both of the dualbook's displays. Users can fold them back to back and use just one display at a time, lay the device flat on a surface, or place either screen at any angle, including 45 degrees; the hinge is sturdy enough to keep each screen in place. To keep the tablet from sliding (and to protect the screens) both the outside chassis and inside edges have rubber grip strips or edges. We wish there was a latch to keep the two displays together when opened, though.

The problem is that 3-pound Edge feels heavy for a device that's meant to be held for long periods of time. Though comfortable to hold as a tablet in the crook of our arm, after about 45 minutes we felt serious strain. Holding the Edge more like a book helped, with the screens at a 90-degree angle, but the weight became noticeble before an hour was up. This may not be as big a deal for students who will likely do most of their work and reading while resting the Edge on a desk.

Along the outer edges of the electronic paper display (EPD) you'll find the Edge's ports. The slots for SD cards and SIM cards (with rubber covers) sit next to the mini USB PC connector port and the Wi-Fi switch along the top edge. Two USB ports, mic, headphone, and the power jack line the side along with the volume control and power button. The removable battery slides in at the bottom edge. The slot for the included stylus can be found on the LCD side.


Buttons for Menu, Home, and Back sit to the right of the 10.1-inch color LCD touchscreen and function just as they would on a phone or other Android tablet. There's also a button for rotating the screen in 90-degrees increments, giving users the ability to view content in portrait or Landscape mode. A (currently non-functioning) webcam sits above this display.


The buttons on the left edge of the EPD are mostly typical for an eReader: Zoom, Next Page, Last Page. The fourth button switches between the eBook or document and the Edge's Journal feature (more on this later). This display is also touch-enabled, but you'll need to use the stylus.

Heat

When we had the screens folded back to back we never felt any discomfort. However, after opening the dualbook to lay it flat, we noticed that the plastic on the back felt very warm. Our heat gun confirmed it: 106 to 110 degrees. While not getting quite this hot, whenever we placed the Edge in a bag with the screens closed, the chassis felt noticably warm.

The Edge's eReader screen measures 9.7 inches and has a resolution of 1200 x 825 with 8 shades of gray. The 10.1-inch color LCD has a resolution of 1024 x 600, the same as found on most netbooks.

The resistive LCD touchscreen responds to input from fingertips and the stylus (or a fingernail), and we found it to be responsive for the most part. Like most resistive displays, however, the Edge sometimes incorrectly interpreted scrolling for selecting. It didn't take long for us to figure out how best to work with the panel, but it's still inferior to a capacitive display.

The matte finish of the LCD is a great companion for the EPD because you won't have to put up with reflections. However, the LCD has narrow viewing angles, which made it hard to make out Web pages while the Edge was flat on a table. You'll definitely have to lean over the device.

Entourage designed the Edge so that both screens work in tandem. You browse your book collection and make selections in the Library on the color LCD, and when users choose a file, an arrow indicates if it will show up on the EPD. The device can handle PDFs and EPUB books with embedded media (such as video) and hyperlinks. When clicked, they load in the appropriate program on the LCD side. The EPD displays pictures in books fairly well in grayscale, but if users want to see the full color version, all they need to do is click the camera icon and then the image, and the Edge will load it in Android's picture viewer on the LCD (if available).

eReader Features

The Edge's 9.7-inch EPD puts it in the same class as the Kindle DX, though it can only handle 8 shades of gray while the DX boasts 16. The ample screen real estate means that users will be able to see a full page's worth of text and still have margins to work with. Users can set default font and margin sizes.

What makes the Edge particularly useful for students is the screen's Wacom Penabled touch capability. Using the included stylus, we were able to add handwritten notes and scribbles to writable EPUB and PDF files, highlight passages of text, and attach typed notes. Despite the inclued touch capability, the Edge's EPD looks sharper than Sony's touch-enabled Daily Edition.

Beyond highlighting and notes, users can also quickly access the device's Library, a list of recently opened books, info, a simple search function, and PDF reflow (where applicable) from the icons running along the top of the screen. Advanced page turning/finding functions are located at the bottom of the screen, along with the page number.

Page turn times were decent, but not as speedy as we'd like (see video below). On pages with notes, highlights or written notes in the margins, the time slowed to 4 seconds.

[flq:5d2fcc7976374781ba997a8936b9eefb]

Available Content

As it's a combination eReader and tablet, the Edge supports a wide variety of file formats. The only two that will load on the EPD are EPUB and PDF files, but the device itself can read and edit Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, plus text files. Aside from text formats, the Edge also supports MP3, WAV, 3GPP, MP4, AAC, OGG and M4A audio playback and 3GP and MP4 video playback. H.264 Adobe Flash Lite is not currently supported, but will be provided in an update within the next few months.

Like other eReader makers, Entourage has its own eBook storefront accessible both from the Web and from the device itself. There are currently over 200,000 titles in the store, which is on a par with the Sony eBook Store but less than half of what's available for the Amazon Kindle. Only about half of the titles on the NYTimes best sellers list are available, compared to Barnes & Noble (95 percent) and Amazon (98 percent). On the plus side, the Edge's EPUB support means that users will have access to books from a wider variety of vendors beyond Entourage's selections.

eBook prices range from around $6 to $30 for most titles, with New York Times best-sellers starting around $7. Users can access and download any of the more than 1 million Google Books titles from the device's storefront as well. Entourage doesn't offer periodicals in the same vein as the Kindle 2, Nook, or Reader Daily Edition.

Notes and Journal

The icons available along the top of the display change depending on the type of document, and if a user can write in it. If a book or document has write permissions, the highlighting, note, and pen icons appear. Highlighting works exactly as we expected. And though the display is grayscale, the highlights still stand out enough to be noticeable when scanning pages. Words or passages with notes attached are similarly highlighted, though the gray is a bit darker to differentiate notes from basic highlights.

Clicking the pencil and paper icon launches a second row of advanced handwriting functions. Choose line thickness and shade/color, draw shapes and lines, and erase mistakes. Users can export their marked-up pages to PDF and also save them to the file itself. The process isn't exactly the same as working with paper--small, cramped handwriting is likely to come out unreadable, as even the thinnest line size on the Edge can't match a fine-tip pen. Nevertheless, inputting notes on the Edge is much less cumbersome than on the Kindle DX, and we like that there's more real estate than the Sony Daily Edition. And if your handwriting comes out a bit messy, you can click the smoothing icon to give your scribbles a cleaner look.

The Edge also includes a Journal feature that can be used like a virtual pad of paper. It even includes a choice between wide-ruled lines, graph paper grids, or a blank canvas. Again, writing in this digital journal isn't the same experience as writing on paper, and we found ourselves printing our letters larger than normal so they'd be legible. The smoothing function is available here as well, and users can choose to let the Edge smooth the lines as they write. However, engaging this feature led to a noticeable lag. We preferred smoothing the lines once we'd filled a page. Journal entries can have multiple pages and users can save their entries as journal files (.esj) or export them to PDF.

We used the journal function for taking notes and making to-do lists, and overall we found the Edge an acceptable substitute for our paper notebook. However, handwritten margin notes inside books weren't as useful; even with the margin at maximum size, there wasn't enough room for extensive notes. The typed note function is more practical for longer thoughts, but users have to click the icon to see the text instead of scanning it as they scan pages. None of these issues are dealbreakers, but they require more effort than we'd prefer.

We like most of the Edge's cross-screen features but wish that there was a keyboard for the EPD screen so that we didn't need to use both displays when entering typed notes or naming files to save. We'd also like the ability to load Word docs on the EPD side instead of just the color LCD.

Android Tablet Features

Those familiar with Android will have no trouble navigating the tablet side of the Edge, which runs version 1.6 of the OS. On the color LCD is the familiar default interface found on phones and other tablets, with a few proprietary tweaks. A menu at the bottom provides quick links to the Entourage online store, the Library, the default browse and e-mail. The right-most icon--the Entourage logo--opens a menu showing all installed apps plus a list of recently viewed books and documents. Prominent icons for Help, Screen Lock, and Wi-Fi management sit at the bottom of this menu.

The combination of the Edge's Marvell Armada PXA168 processor (1.2 GHz but capped at 800 MHz by the software) and 512MB of RAM made for a fairly responsive and moderately fast tablet. Though Android can multitask, switching between multiple apps isn't as smooth on the Edge as it is on a Windows-based netbook. The OS also felt slightly slower than the Motorola Droid, but not nearly as frustratingly sluggish as the Camangi WebStation tablet.

The on-screen keyboard fills the width of the LCD in both portrait and landscape, and leaves enough space in landscape mode for users to see several lines of text as they type. Hunt-and-peck typers may have an easier time of it; when we tried typing quickly on the Edge, the keyboard recorded all of our taps but took a few seconds to catch up with us. When using DocumentsToGo, we found it easy to do minor edits using the on-screen keyboard, but would definitely opt for a physical keyboard if we wanted to engage in a lengthy writing session.

The Edge has 4GB of internal memory, 3GB of which is available to the user. The SD card slot will accept SDHC cards up to 32GB if you need extra memory for music, movies, or other media. As the focus of the tablet isn't multimedia, it doesn't play a wide range of video formats. Just 3GP and MP4 with Flash Lite (H.264) coming soon. The standard def videos included with the device played smoothly, though colors weren't as bright as we're used to with notebook screens.

Apps

The Edge comes with the default Android apps minus the ones Google reserves for phones. This means no access to the Android Market, although Entourage says there will be a portal for the company's own app marketplace in the future. Out of the box, users get the default WebKit browser, an E-mail app (which is compatible with POP and IMAP, including GMail), Alarm Clock, and Gallery. Entourage also includes a local backup utility, the game Frozen Bubbles, and DocumentsToGo.

The best included app is undeniably DocumentsToGo. The full version is included free with each device and allows users to view and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. DTG also allows for viewing PDF files, though these load on the EPD by default. This version of the app is the same one created for smart phones, but it scaled up nicely to the larger screen. Document formatting was preserved as well as can be expected, and we were even able to track changes in a Word doc.

We wished that the scribble functionality available on the EPD side in EPUB and PDFs was also available for documents, but hopefully that functionality will show up in later versions.

In addition to the mic port, the Edge also has an internal mic that can record sound up to 30 feet. Using the included Sound Recorder app, students can easily record and save lectures or interviews easily. We tested the app by recording two people sitting on opposite ends of a 10-foot conference room. The Edge picked up both voices and the speakers (incorporated into the hinge) played the audio back clearly and loudly at 100 percent volume.

Though there's not yet a vendor-provided app store, we were able to find and load some of our favorite apps on the Edge ourselves. (See this blog post on how to do it.) We were able to successfully install and use Facebook, Twidroid, Shazam, NewsRob and the Dolphin Browser with no problems. The apps scaled to the 10-inch screen without issue. A few other apps we tried installed and worked, but did not scale up: GDocs Notepad, Photoshop.com Mobile, and eBuddy. Instead of defaulting to the full screen, they stayed in very constrained boxes about the size of a typical smart phone window.

Though the Edge has a netbook-sized screen and resolution, the browsing experience is somewhat lacking due to the WebKit browser's inability to handle Flash. Otherwise, this dualbook had no problem downloading sites like NYTimes.com and Laptopmag.com. Once we turned the screen orientation, the pages fit the screen. In portrait, we were able to see the main text column, just as we would on a smart phone or tablet. The 802.11 b/g wireless radio delivered strong throughput, loading Laptopmag.com in 7 seconds, m.CNN.com in 4 seconds, and the graphics-heavy Tor.com in 14 seconds.

Though there's not yet a vendor-provided app store, we were able to find and load some of our favorite apps on the Edge ourselves. (See this blog post on how to do it.) We were able to successfully install and use Facebook, Twidroid, Shazam, NewsRob and the Dolphin Browser with no problems. The apps scaled to the 10-inch screen without issue. A few other apps we tried installed and worked, but did not scale up: GDocs Notepad, Photoshop.com Mobile, and eBuddy. Instead of defaulting to the full screen, they stayed in very constrained boxes about the size of a typical smart phone window.

Battery Life and Wireless

Entourage rates the battery life of the Edge when using the LCD screen at 6 hours and at 16+ hours when just utilizing the EPD. However, we found that the battery drained faster than we expected over the course of the day, tying us to an outlet more than we liked.

Though users can turn the LCD off by locking it or by closing the device, it never seemed to enter a true Sleep mode. The LCD turns on when "opened," and when closed the Edge was noticeably warm, indicating that it had been running the entire time. We charged the Edge to 100 percent then locked the screen and left the unit closed for approximately 12 hours. When we checked the battery, there was about 15 percent left, so the company's claims appear accurate. However, the Kindle DX promises 4 days with the wireless turned on, which was also borne out by our experience.

The user guide suggests turning the device completely off when not in use, but that defeats the purpose of an instant-on device. Plus, the 63 second boot time is a little off-putting. Regardless of how you use it, users will have to charge the Edge every night.

Missing Features and Promised Upgrades

A few of the Edge's hardware features weren't functional upon initial release, including Bluetooth connectivity and the Webcam. Future software upgrades will include an app store, Flash Player Lite, and Android 2.0. Entourage promised to push updates automatically that will activate the hardware within the next few weeks and other updates by June of this year. Another important missing feature is 3G wireless. With this edition of the Edge, you need to be within Wi-Fi range to download content from its book store wirelessly. Entourage says that a future model will be sold with 3G built-in.

Verdict

The Entourage Edge is an innovative product, and in practice the eReader/tablet combination works better than we expected. We like the flexibility and expandability of Android coupled with a large, touch-enabled eReader screen. However, the fact that the Edge straddles the line between an eReader and mobile Internet device is also its biggest challenge. This dual-book is not the best tool for robust productivity, and it's overkill for consumers mainly interested in surfing the Web, or simply reading eBooks. Still, at $499 the Edge is less expensive than the business-centric Plastic Logic Que, which starts at $649. And it's only $10 more than the 9.7-inch Kindle DX. Entourage's device may be bulkier than both, but it also has more features and flexibility. We like the Edge overall, but it may be best to hold off until the initial spate of updates are complete and the app store is ready.

[flq:299b6033fdc247618c887d9ed14dd709]

Recommended by Outbrain
Ask a Question
Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
Operating System Android 1.6
Compatability PC
Compatability Mac
Electronic Paper Display Size 9.7
Electronic Paper Display Resolution 1200 x 825
Secondary Display Size 10.1 inches
Secondary Display Resolution 1024 x 600
Touchscreen EPD: Wacom Penabled (stylus only); LCD: resistive
Internal Memory 4GB
3G
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g
Memory Card Slots SD Card
Headphone Jack 3.5mm
Microphone Internal
Microphone External Jack
eBook Formats PDF
eBook Formats EPUB
Document Formats TXT
Document Formats RTF
Document Formats PPT
Document Formats DOC
Document Formats XLS
Audio Formats MP4
Audio Formats MP3
Audio Formats M4A/AAC (DRM-free)
Audio Formats AAC Unprotected
Audio Formats 3GPP
Audio Formats WAV
Audio Formats OGG
Image Formats PNG
Image Formats JPEG
Image Formats GIF
Image Formats BMP
Rated Battery Life 16+ hours utilizing the e-reader screen / up to 6 hours running the LCD screen
Size 10.8 x 8.3 x 1.0 inches
Weight 3 pounds
Warranty/Support One-Year Limited Warranty
Company Website http://www.entourageedge.com