A Brief Hands On With Printless Plans’ 21″ eReader

zephyr 2When Printless Plans announced the Zephyr last November I was pretty sure I would never see it. Today I was proven wrong.

I caught up with Jonathan Meyers and Jared Lyles of Printless Plans today at Display Week 2014, and while they couldn’t answer my questions about price or release date they did have a prototype for me to play with.

It is huge.

The Zephyr’s 21″ screen made from 4 of PlasticLogic’s 10.7″ screens, giving it a resolution of 1920 x 2540. It’s about the size of a 15″ laptop laid flat, and like a laptop the Zephyr can fold in half. This makes it easier to store and carry around, but it also introduces a few problems.

For example, the Zephyr has the problem of having a touchscreen extend to the hinge. Few devices have this issue, and so far as I know none are using the solution that Printless Plans chose. Rather than put a touchscreen on top of the 4 screen panels, the Zephyr has a pressure sensitive touchpanel mounted behind the screen. That touchpanel was developed by Tactonic Technologies, one of PP’s suppliers (for the prototype, at least).

Tactonic is working on tech that would enable manufacturers to make any surface touch sensitive. No screen is required, and the surface doesn’t even have to be flat or smooth. I did not catch the name of products where it is already being used, but Tactonic is selling development kits on their website. The demo videos are pretty cool:

That demo has little to to with the Zephyr, but since it was new (and nifty) to me I thought it was worth sharing.

TBH, the Zephyr was less impressive than the related demo. I only got to play with a nonworking prototype, so I can’t say anything about how well it runs. But I did get to hold it – until my arms started cramping. Like a laptop, this I definitely not a device to be snuggled in your arms.

But as you can see in the gallery, it was never intended to be held. The unit I saw was a early and rough prototype, hence the visible screens, rough seams, and stained metal shell. It was big and heavy, but the next unit will be thinner and lighter.

For reference, I took a couple photos with my 7″ Kindle Fire HD sitting in the middle of the Zephyr. In retrospect I wish I had thought to pull out my laptop; they were roughly the same size (I think my laptop is actually smaller).

The Zephyr is being developed as a paperless blueprint solution. The target market is the construction industry, where Printless Plans sees an opportunity to replace Panasonic Toughbooks with a more efficient and sunlight-friendly alternative.

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