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Be afraid, Amazon. Be very afraid Add to ...

If I were an Amazon or Sony executive, I'd be kind of nervous right now.

The Times of London is reporting that netbook pioneer Asus plans to launch an ebook reader by the end of the year. Unlike Amazon's Kindle or Sony's Reader, though, the Asus tablet is said to be full colour and feature dual screens on a hinged spine. They're also aiming to make it the cheapest e-reader on the market, with a price starting around $160 (U.S.). From the company that brought us the miniature, low-cost laptop, this is not idle talk.

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Asus's plan puts them on a path copletely apart from that of the Kindle and its ilk. They're positioning themselves to be part of the next generation of e-readers. As with Apple's much-rumoured tablet and Michael Arrington's CrunchPad, the device will likely feature an LCD instead of the e-ink display of Amazon and Sony. The major drawback of going with an LCD, as Frederic Lardinois of ReadWriteWeb points out, is a substantial decrease in battery life - and the fact that e-ink devices are just flat-out easier to read.

But that very trade-off allows Asus to offer more than just a one-trick e-reader. A traditional touchscreen brings with it multimedia, blogging, Twitter - everything that really makes the Web tick. And should Asus's reader also feature a robust virtual keyboard, as the Times is suggesting, the hinged device could be versatile enough to capture a lucrative position between the smart phone and the standard laptop. Nerds everywhere salivate at the mere suggestion of a portable computer that slick.

There are obviously a lot of unanswered questions (how big is this thing supposed to be, anyway?) but it's clear that as the e-reader market starts to heat up, Asus is positioning itself to be a major player.

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