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Ask HN: Why are larger e-readers much more expensive than tablets?
68 points by bruceb on Nov 27, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 54 comments
Looking at larger e-readers (8-10inch) I am surprised how few options there are and the prices $300+. Yes the regular 6" Kindle is cheap but larger sizes are not.

I would rather read text books on an e-reader not a tablet.

The specs of most e-readers are low. Is the screen that costly? Is this the reason for them being that expensive? Or is it lack of demand?




I’m guessing, but I have to imagine production volume has something to do with it. Little e-reader screens for cheap devices like the 6” kindle are where the volume is.

In any case, I’m kind of bummed that the e-ink/ereader market has sort of settled on the current state of affairs.

What I’d really like to see is good e-ink laptops. First, because of battery life. I also think they could be great “focus machines.” A laptop you can use to write, code, read emails and maybe articles but without the full blown “multimedia PC experience” we were sold back in the early 90s.

A little “kindle PC” designed for writers as the canonical user could be a great contribution, and right up amazon’s alley. Way more interesting than the kindle-fire stuff. I guess content for kindle fire looks like a juicier market, but… no one is making e-ink laptops! We have plenty of app stores, music services and online video stores.

On the reader front, I was really hoping amazon would do more to change the business of publishing. When magazines or paperbacks became mass market, publishing changed. The type of stuff that got published changed. e-readers, a lot less.

Amazon seemed to be focused on making big publishers happy, and they were focused on keeping the industry’s structure intact. I wanted more of a shake-up.

Publishing could be more democratic. The writer-reader relationship could be more disintermediated. We could have more short stories by authors in their prime, maybe as trailers for novels. We could have more short/concise nonfiction, without the need to fill out a “whole book.” Some parts of journalism could have been changed. I know of no better platform for “micro payments” to writers than kindle's…. It feels like they left the job half done.

So, I’m with you on big readers. I’ll raise you one laptop and a small-to-medium publishing revolution.


I don’t think they’d sell well at all in laptops. I don’t think the tech is far enough. The ~1 FPS performance and occasionally needing to flash the entire screen to clear artifacts are really poor selling points for productive work.

Things like for example scrolling a document or moving a mouse pointer would be quite painful and streaky.


You can do a lot better 1 FPS that if you're willing to accept artifacting. I have a rooted nook touch with fast display mode enabled, and you can play games on it no problem.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rP2CVXzpK5s (not my video)


You’re probably right, but are these insurmountable hurdles, or just problems that exist because no one has solved them yet? Someone has to start making them, and they need to improve over a couple of generations. At first, the software would need to navigate around any issues they can’t solve. Surely there’re alternatives to scrolling and mouse pointers, at least as primary UI elements. I mean, is a good email client or word processor really impossible in e-ink?


These characteristics are also annoying, but not "product-killingly annoying", for e-readers. So if they're going to be fixed, I'd expect them to be fixed in the e-reader space first, and then applied to laptops. Putting out an e-ink laptop before the tech is ready would just be throwing money in a hole.

I just wouldn't expect what's going to be essentially a mid-'80s word processor (Xerox Memorywriter, not WordPerfect) style user experience, complete with the screen with the really low refresh rate, is something that would sell.


Why would the software be bad? The display is the only thing thats different in terms of hardware.

Besides that, circa 2000 hardware specs are embedded in £40 devices these days, even ereaders. Word processing has been fine for a long time. No need for bleeding edge performance, or even somewhat sharp.


So the only analogue I know of for a device that was designed for that kind of task, and used a display with those kinds of limitations, was word processing appliances like the Xerox Memorywriter.

And I also know that nobody actually liked working on those things; they just put up with them because because, at the time, an actual computer set up to do the same task could easily cost something upward of US$5,000 in today's dollars.


Idk how fair that comparison is... The specs will be way better than anything consumer grade in the 80s. These would also be general purpose PCs, in the same sense that a phone is. They'd just be built with certain use cases in mind, like phones.

I think your first point on ereaders being a sufficient platform for iteration and working out kinks is accurate though. Scrolling and mousing we can work around. Typing, no. If the refresh is not fast enough for a nice typing experience... there is no workaround for that.

I still hope someone will make this. I really want one.


Dasung has been trying to solve these problems with their Paperlike Pro for a few years now. They have the latency low enough to be usable, but the artifacting continues to be a problem. An even bigger issue is that e-ink has a patent on the technology, which limits how much R&D companies can do with it. After the patent runs out (this year!) we might see more innovation.


You can hack one together at https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/kindleberry-pi-the-second/ . It allows you to ssh into raspberry pi.


Many 3rd party ereaders run Android, I'm not sure if they can use bluetooth keyboard but assuming they do that is a good start.


That much latency would be annoying while typing.


White-to-black can be done quickly and without artifacts. Black-to-white and grey-to-grey can be done quickly, but produces artifacts.


Interesting. What does "quickly" mean in this context? Like 10ms or like 100ms?


I believe mass manufacturing drives down the prices. Book owners like to read something that is handheld ~6inches. Book readers won't buy large eink devices.

I don't think the eink screens are that costly. It may have something to do with the demand.

This is ridiculously expensive https://remarkable.com And the Sony Digital Paper is expensive too.

I would love to see more phone cases with eink screens.


The remarkable tablet would be amazing if there was a print driver to send the document directly to your device.


A typical B-format, medium sized paperback is 7.8 inches by 5.1. Hardbacks are often signicantly larger.

So I think to say that readers wouldn’t prefer larger screens to match typical paperback or hardback books is false, it is just expense that puts them off.


I see EUR 629 at https://remarkable.com/store/reMarkable-and-marker

Not cheap, but for that niche it seems a good iteration on the Kindle DX. I don't know how much better/faster the screen is, but the weight reduction looks good ... (226 dpi, 350 grams vs. 150 dpi, 535 grams)


It's mostly the screen. Manufacturing costs scale non-linearly with area due to defect rate.

I think they are really worth it, though. Now some 13 inch models even accept video input, so you can potentially use it as a terminal / PDF screen.


I wish they would make defective units available at a lower price. I don't mind some stuck pixels if it means I can get the reader half off.


I think you're being too optimistic about the discount to defect ratio.


What happens to a defective unit? Is it disassembled with the base components put back in the assembly line? Or is it just sent to the landfill? I suppose OP was assuming defective units are just trashed.


That's not the way the economics works. If they sell you a half price unit with a defect, they have potentially lost a sale at full price. So they don't.


"Now some 13 inch models even accept video input, so you can potentially use it as a terminal / PDF screen."

Do you have a link/suggestions for a device? I've been wanting an eink monitor for text tasks for years (I'm not a gamer).


You might look at the discussions of the Boox devices on the mobileread forums https://www.mobileread.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=220

I've not gone through them recently but there are some things that sounded like that when I was on there a few months ago.


It's probably also partially an economies of scale thing. Amazon used to sell a 10 inch version of the Kindle but discontinued it due to poor sales.


I bought the Kindle DX when I was in a masters program. I loved the screen. I did not love the PDF rendering speed. At times it could take several minutes to turn the page on a PDF.

Basically, any PDF that had vector-based statistical plots would bring the poor thing to its knees. I wished at the time that there were a large screen PDF reader with modest computational umpf.

Nowadays, it sounds like the Sony reader is great, but costly and the Remarkable reader wasn’t vaporware after all... but it’s similarly costly. $350 feels like the right price to pay for such a device. I have no idea if that price makes them worth manufacturing.


These days the Calibre project embeds a number of great conversion projects and adds its own valuable conversion contributions to turn PDFs to e-reader formats and still do a decent job of preserving layout (a ways to go to match Acrobat's conversion of PDF to MS-Word, but steadily getting there). Take a look at how it manages with your selection of PDFs, and see if they work better on your DX if you still have it hanging around.


Any links/examples to the 13-inch models, please?


Which models?


Is anyone else looking for an inexpensive, 13-inch, read-only e-ink tablet for reading pdfs? If this exists can someone point me in the right direction? I feel like I can't be the only one who's been looking for this.


Inexpensive? No. But you're basically describing Sony's DPT-RP1:

https://www.sony.com/electronics/digital-paper-notepads/dpt-...

https://www.theverge.com/circuitbreaker/2017/4/10/15242238/s...

It's $700. Also, it can take input from a stylus to annotate the documents on it. But otherwise it's what you want. I, too, wish there were cheaper options for this purpose - even if it was a thick, heavy monitor with a stand and built-in 120V power supply rather than a tablet (though I suppose the power characteristics of e-ink displays mean that the economics will typically prefer the tablet form-factor). Reading is just a lot more pleasant on an e-ink display.


Apparently the EULA oversteps. Gives sony the right to grab data from your pc when connected.


Onyx has models like this, but check the mobileread forums for discussions about them before buying because the site is pretty terrible in terms of amount of info (at least for me on mobile).

I also thought they were going to be jumping to Android 6, but the site still looks like all 4.x.

http://onyxboox.com/product#lineup-5

Looking at the linked online shop, 9.7" is ~$380 and 13.3 ~$800


Checked out the reMarkable? https://remarkable.com/


The price isn't really different: €629


Yes, e-ink is expensive.


I would love such a device too.


I don't really see the room for demand beyond 8 inches ever growing, largely because most bigger books are just far more complicated to transform to a digital format (e.g. textbooks with multiple sections on each page and tactically positioned images)

...but, Kobo in the last two years seem to have done pretty well with h2o and aura one models. I'd be very interested in seeing how the h2o in particular performs compared to their smaller models; 6.8 inches seems like a pretty ideal compromise between size and portability for me that 6 inches does not.


The reason for bigger screens is not e-book formats, but PDF. I've got tons of A4/letter-sized PDFs that I would love to read on A4-sized e-paper. But e-readers that size are unbelievably expensive.

Colour would be nice too, but I guess that's impossible.


>>Colour would be nice too, but I guess that's impossible.

Well, not possible yet[0]. In a few years the technology might be refined enough though. I also heard that the refresh rate is in the range of minutes for now, but let's hope that'll change soon :)

[0]http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20160524006209/en/Ink-...

Edit: added quote I was responding to


Limited market. Can't sell them to folks who want to read novels. Can't sell them to folks who want the full features of a tablet. Can't sell them to folks who want colour, such as comic readers.

They are really only useful for reference books, and mostly of interest in academia.


There's only a single manufacturer of e-ink panels and they haven't managed to get the prices down. High prices lead to low demand. The competitors in this market seem to have given up.


Not sure if there's something specific about e-paper technology that makes it expensive despite being seemingly primitive compared to a typical tablet. But it's worth pointing out that none of the most expensive e-readers are more expensive than the cheapest iPads ($400 for the iPad Mini with 128-GB and a 7.9 inch screen), which most definitely have sophisticated screens (Retina, multitouch).

I'm a longtime iPad user but I have one of the cheaper Amazon Fire tablets (whatever was the 7-inch model that sold for $30 for last year's Black Friday). I mean, it's a tablet, but it's not very fun to use compared to my iPad/iPhone because of how clunky the multitouch is (among other things). And the screen isn't high res -- under 200 ppi IIRC. Even the new Kindle Fire HD 10-inch model maxes out at just 224 ppi.

The ebook reader I currently own is the Kindle Voyage, which apparently has 300 ppi on a 6 inch screen at a cost of $199. The Kindle that I would recommend is the Paperwhite, which is just $90, while also having the same screen quality as the Voyage.

(I owned the Paperwhite before getting the Voyage. I don't have any complaints about the Voyage but I honestly could not tell you why it's any better than I remember the Paperwhite being).

So if PPI is a large factor in cost of screen, it turns out that the Kindle e-readers aren't that much out of whack compared to the Amazon Fire HD tablets. Yes, it's just black and white, but for most books, that's all you need. And it is very legible black-and-white. I have an iPad Pro but I do almost all of my e-reading on the Kindle.

If you're a student, one thing I might worry about is whether the Kindles and their small screen can handle all of the textbooks that you might use. For books where layout is important, the small Kindle can be kind of a pain. And some books (purchased on Amazon) will refuse to open on the Kindle, so I have to view them on my iPad. I imagine the 10-inch version of the Kindle Fire would handle full=size books, but that is me just guessing.

---

You probably have seen these links, but just in case:

https://thewirecutter.com/reviews/amazon-kindle-is-the-best-...

https://goodereader.com/blog/category/reviews


Small ereaders are much more affordable than the larger size the parent is looking for. A few examples at this size class are remarkable[1], sony dpt-rp1[2] and good ereader[3] and all cost at least 700 USD

[1] https://remarkable.com/store/reMarkable-and-marker

[2] https://www.sony.com/electronics/digital-paper-notepads/dpt-...

[3] https://goodereader.com/blog/product/good-e-reader-13-3-e-re...


Worth pointing out that all of those products feature writing functionality. And the non-Sony ones come from small startups that likely don't benefit from economies of scale.


I remember KindleDX since you can get A4 (or US Letter) w/o zooming in/out.

But... DX is phased out and has no replacement. Also most eReaders are slow - due display. There is no needs for something super-fast but there is needs to be energy efficient. And mine Kindle Touch (ver. 5 i think) battery lasts few weeks (between 2-3).


Bought a DX for reading PDFs, I would have loved my DX too, but they hadn’t and said they likely wouldn’t update the software to support the kindle document cloud, so I had to manually email all my PDFs to it, or move them via USB.

Ended up returning it.


Speaking of larger e-readers, does anyone have experience with the Remarkable product?

At some point, I'm going to have to replace my 1st gen Nook and would love to have a device that I can write on as well. So, the Remarkable product looks great despite the price tag. But, I'd want at least a 10-year life.


I'm sure economies of scale factor in - not just for components but for other costs as well, e.g. will engineering and tooling be split across 10k, 100k, 1m or more units?


Mostly lack of demand. But I would really want to get a big 10 inch ebook with smooth interface.


There's reMarkable (10.1"), which does a bit more than a traditional ebook reader and you can get it now, but it's bloody expensive (630 euros): https://remarkable.com/


You sort of have to love their advertising: "How is reMarkable different?

No tablet has less functionality than the reMarkable. "


Also why are all the android ereaders running Android 4?




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