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E-Ink, Largely Limited to E-Readers, Appears in a Chinese Smartphone (technologyreview.com)
38 points by ardahal 1605 days ago | hide | past | web | 33 comments | favorite

The first cellphone with a primary e-ink display AFAIK was, as the article mentions briefly, the Motorola F3: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motorola_Fone Unfortunately, it was a segmented display, which IMO limited its appeal & practicality. It was also 2006 e-ink tech, which had poorer contrast, slower refresh rate, and lower grayscale level counts than that of today. Additionally, it wasn't "available through Motorola's normal retail channels" in the US.

Really curious to see if this prototype becomes available; I'd like to see it have a chance to succeed. The better contrast levels and refresh rates have made e-ink more viable as a phone display. Unfortunately, e-ink seems to be more expensive than the color LCDs in cheap, low-end candybar cellphones, and the refresh rate and lack of color is not widely appealing. If you're after awesome battery life, it's probably easier to just get one of those and carry a spare battery or buy some sort of battery-pack case.

I purchased the Motorola F3 and still have it. Battery life is terrific. If you're used to smartphones it's a downer, but for a cheap functional mobile it's great. It is hard to find replacement batteries though, and the phone does not have US or Canadian network settings. For Europe and Asia it's great. Is color that big a deal? I'd rather have an E-Ink smartphone with great battery life than color. Or at least offer E-Ink on some models.

I also have one (that I used in the US btw). The screen was great, easily readable outdoors, the phone was great, super simple, super light. And the battery great.

The dealbreaker was the sms UI: it was absolutely horrible because of the super limited amount of characters on screen at a given time (from memory, it was around 7 or so), it was impossible to text and receive texts in a coherent way.

But for the rest, I loved it.

There was an F3 produced for the Mexican market, which you could find on Ebay back in the day. I purchased one and used it on the Rogers network in Canada for years. I loved it and its two week battery life.

On a similar note, I've been waiting to see an Android tablet, without an anemic cpu, use a high contrast, fast refresh e-ink screen. The Kindle is great, but I find myself mostly emailing articles to it from services like Instapaper/Readability/Pocket and RSS/Google Reader and Flipboard/Google Currents. It would be great if there were a powerful enough e-ink tablet to access dynamic web content directly.

I find I use my tablet and cellphone mostly for reading (articles, books, texts, emails), and the e-ink screen is much more pleasurable for me. Also, I love having a laptop, cell phone, and tablet, but I hate having to charge 3 devices at the end of every day.

I think the problem would be that e-ink would require special UIs that have no moving part, don't rely on scrolling, don't rely on colour, etc.

I think "mobile web" has taught us that. Increasingly we are finding that our toaster can run firefox and our heating system can run word but Firefox and the websites it displays weren't meant to run on a toaster.

Yes, I agree. "e-ink" optimized apps would probably have to happen for this device. (Pagination instead of scrolling, buttons instead of swiping...) However, these days some displays are getting 30fps (I don't know about latency), so at least animations might be possible. I don't know about the hardware limitations, but it seems hard to imagine the responsiveness of e-ink won't improve enough.

I'd love an e-ink android tablet too. Reading on an LCD tablet is painful especially if you are already staring at a computer all day. I almost decided to buy the Nook Glow because I've seen it installed with android 2.1 but it seems most apps are incompatible, so I went with Kindle Paperwhite which does web articles pretty fine with it's Send to Kindle feature.

Btw there's a chrome extension of Send to Kindle so you don't have to email articles. Also if you like reading Hacker News on the kindle browser check out http://bit.ly/hnkindle :)

Yes, I use that and also have Instapaper/Readability regularly mail me articles. It's helpful but these are still hacks. 1) It's horribly painful to organize the articles, especially when spanning multiple pages 2) I have to know about the article ahead of time to send to the kindle, rather than discover on the device itself 3) I can't "Mark as Read" on the device itself right after reading 4) For Instapaper/Readability, only the latest ~20 articles are shown. Also, the API Amazon provided used to frequently break.

I actually stopped using Pocket (phone/tablet) and just use Send to Kindle for everything. It doesn't bother me too much that I can't archive/mark as read articles, I just delete them from my kindle once I'm done. Also I just order the articles by most recent and just use search if I need to find a specific article. I wanted to avoid relying on hacks so I guess this setup will be stable for a while.

It's actually amusing that since back then I've used ipod touch, android phone, android tablet, and now the kindle, for specifically reading articles from the web.

When I was in college I was actually printing web articles in batch during weekends, I just paste the plain text to MS word arranged in 3 columns in uniform font so it looks like a newspaper. Those were fun times since everything was so new to me :) that's way before all the instapaper/pocket came out.

I would really like an e-ink monitor for reading articles and programming.

The WIMP UI really doesn't mesh with an e-Ink display, which is why you'll never see this on consumer desktops. Touch displays have changed everything though & people are more willing to experiment these days, so perhaps something could be done.

I'd love to try one out for programming. Text interfaces (emacs / vim) and a large e-ink display could be a perfect match.

I still want an LCD monitor too, but I have a 17 inch monitor for general stuff and a 22" (I think) widescreen monitor vertical for programming. It's the vertical one I'd like to replace.

You won't be able to scroll properly in an e-ink display. Either you will code page by page or it will refresh every time you try to scroll

Vim running on an e-ink display: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdmX52SCpG0


BTW, don't use "test" as the name for your throwaways. test(1) is a thing.

  $man -k test
  test (1)             - check file types and compare values

Isn't e-ink one of the main reasons the Pebble [1] got $10M in funding?

There's a lot of conjecture in this article - it mentions it "may" be able to make a shatterless e-ink device, or e-ink "could be" made more responsive. Not promising.

In addition what does this gain? Apple pretty much set the standard with glass multitouch displays years ago, and I have yet to see a popular plastic touchscreen phone display recently (scratching and smears are two big problems).

It will be interesting to see what the prototype can offer (as I await my Pebble as well).

[1] http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/597507018/pebble-e-paper...

Technically the Pebble doesn't use e-ink, which is why they call it "e-paper". It's actually a type of passive LCD which uses 1-bit of memory located along-side each and every pixel in order to keep track of state, which vastly reduces the power requirements. Unlike e-ink memory lcds still require power to maintain an image, but the amount is very small (similar to an ordinary lcd watch, for example) so battery life is still quite excellent.

This is the display the Pebble uses: http://www.sharpmemorylcd.com/1-26-inch-memory-lcd.html

Was this cheaper than real e-ink or what?

Do you know if this is what is done for the displays on jump drives as well or are those true e-ink?

I don't know about cheaper, but certainly more available. You can just buy these memory lcd displays commercially. I think it probably takes a lot more work to procure actual e-ink displays. I believe the jump drives you're talking about do use e-ink, since they are completely unpowered when disconnected and don't contain batteries.

No, that was a big confusion about it. It's actually transflective LCD. Nothing to do with e-ink.

I have been waiting for a good Pixel Qi device (in any form factor, really, although a 13" ultrabook or 7" tablet or 4" phone is ideal) to emerge for several years, as it seems a good compromise between utility and readability, although E-Ink appears much better to my eye.

As we've seen with the GS3, though, what people really want are bright and oversaturated displays for occasional media use, rather than the 99%-of-use task of monochrome reading and browsing.

> I have been waiting for a good Pixel Qi device to emerge for several years.

Same here. Though an eink display would be almost as nice and seems much easier to get ahold of. But we might not have to wait much longer... Quoting Mary Lou,

> We will be announcing at least a half-dozen new devices with our screens in them in the next sevreal (sic) weeks.


Hopefully the new products will cost less than a grand.

What is vim like on an e-ink display? Especially the "animation" of cursor movement, text entry, text editing and scrolling

On current consumer devies, performance would be acceptable (30 fps, decent input lag) as long as you used only black and white. Grayscale takes significantly longer to display, though future devices may fix that.

I think that if you have a good grasp of the commands in an editor such as vim, having "real-time" feedback isn't as important as with other UI paradigms (as long as it's not too slow, you do need a few fps). Though I'm not sure. It will take some getting used to. The nice thing about E-ink is that looking a the screen is very relaxed, as it doesn't emit light. I'd love to buy an E-ink monitor to try out, when they are available and affordable enough.

I would love to see what apps would be produced if e-ink devices became an important platform. I really think about 80% or the apps I use could be remade for e-ink without losing much functionality.

Forced simplicity is always interesting. Kind of a "didn't have the time to write a short letter" principle.

Instead of competing head-on with Apple, Google and Microsoft in the "mobile touch" market, a much smaller player late to the market, like Ubuntu or Mozilla, should probably have tried to differentiate its OS in some strategic and major way or just stayed out of the market. (Note that even if being open-source were enough of a differentiator, which I doubt, one of the established OSes is already mostly open-source.)

Working well with e-ink would have been a good point of differentiation in the mobile market given e-ink's advantage in energy efficiency.

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I think there were 2 big "opportunities" to create OSs. IE times when the hardware existed & the demand existed: netbooks & "mobile." The latter wasn't really an opportunity because the company that built the hardware & generated the demand also made the software. Still it was enough of a gap that android snuck in.

Ubuntu & Mozilla had a wide open chance with Netbooks for a couple of years. There was demand. Manufacturers were keen. Vista was bombing. Users would have excepted an OS that didn't run everything as long as it had some lite browser, lite office app, Skype, media player and a few other bits and pieces optimized for the little display. You could have gotten away with not having MS office or Apple itunes, especially on the first generation Eee.

Both of those opportunities existed because of the millions of apps also know as websites that they could run before any developer even knew they existed. I don't think there will ever be an "in" that big.

e-ink phones?.. Maybe. Battery life would definitely be a selling point. Some people need phones that last longer. But it's predefined as a niche market. It wouldn't be very good on the web (try using a browser on an e-ink to see what I mean. It's cute, but that's it.) so it would need custom apps. Without apps I would love to see music players and email clients for e-ink, it'd be super futuristic. But, to get developers you need scale and excitement. Would a niche player be able to get that?

A dual mode display would be nice too. Something that could switch to e-ink mode when reading articles or when it is on standby. That way we don't have to wait for e-ink displays to have fast enough refresh rates.

However, the super-thin capacitive touch e-ink display makes it incredibly light—apparently less than 100 grams

That's a big win. If the cost is low enough I think this has a lot of potential.

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