Verizon, Best Buy Back New Entry In E-Reader Fight: iRex

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Watch out, Amazon and Sony: A new e-reader from iRex Technologies has the backing of Verizon, Best Buy and Barnes & Noble and promises to further crowd an already-exploding e-reader marketplace. IRex confirmed as much Wednesday, building on previous iRex announcements that had mentioned some of the e-reader's specs and the partnership with Barnes & Noble.

A spin-off of Royal Phiips Electronics, iRex has made e-reading devices before under a brand called Iliad. But its new 8.1-inch touch-screen reader, the iRex DR800SG, vaults it back into the e-reading conversation and makes it a new rival to Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader and the market's other leading lights.

Best Buy, which also sells the Sony Readers, confirmed Wednesday it will sell the iRex reader in Best Buy stores starting in November, and Verizon Wireless is the iRex reader's telco of choice for wireless delivery of books. For content, iRex's reader will link to Barnes & Noble's two-month-old eBookstore.

Among other features, the iRex, which will sell for $399, has a 3G Gobi radio from Qualcomm that enables users to download content from outside the U.S. -- important, in that iRex is a Dutch company whose previous Iliad readers are already somewhat known in Europe.

Among other formats, iRex supports Adobe PDF and ePub, the open-source e-book standard adopted by every major e-reader with the exception of Amazon's Kindle.

At first glance, the iRex reader doesn't seem to have a singular "wow" factor so much as an impressive array of features and friends in high places, from Best Buy on the retail end to Barnes & Noble on the content side. The price, at $399, puts it at the middle to high end of available e-readers.

iRex is definitely following a trend previously seen by Sony and Plastic Logic to position e-reading devices as true alternatives to Amazon's market-dominating Kindle, pointing out features like the touch screen that the Kindle, at least in its present form, doesn't have.

Amazon, Sony and Plastic Logic have emerged in front of the e-reader pack since Amazon's debut of the second Kindle, back in February, finally gave the e-reading market a limelight that had proven previously elusive. (See our side-by-side analysis of the three companies' devices here.)

Research firm iSuppli said that slightly more than 1 million e-readers were sold worldwide in 2008, and that it expects 5.2 million will be sold in 2009, with more than half of that business coming in North America.

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