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Thinking of buying an e-reader? Hit the brakes. Two near-future technologies make today’s products obsolete in 2018. And they’re a big deal.

Why Today’s E-Readers Won’t Hold Up in 2018

Technology changes. Unlike smartphones, e-reader technological progress occurs at a glacial pace. Incremental refinements to e-paper screens The Best Four E-Paper Displays Coming To Your Smartphone and Tablet The Best Four E-Paper Displays Coming To Your Smartphone and Tablet Looking for months of reading time from your smartphone or tablet? E-paper display technology may soon satisfy your needs. Read More — known as E Ink What Is E-Ink? How It Works & Why Every Ebook Fan Needs It What Is E-Ink? How It Works & Why Every Ebook Fan Needs It If you read ebooks and haven't switched to E-Ink yet, then you're seriously missing out. Here's everything you need to know about why E-Ink rocks for ebook lovers. Read More — release every three years. Updates to the guts of the device (the processor) occur even less frequently.

kindle oasis nook simple touch comparison

That means major technological innovation occurs so rarely that when it does reach devices, it’s a very big deal. And two major inventions to e-readers will release sometime between 2017 and 2018.

Of the two innovations, the biggest is a new e-paper display: CLEARink. CLEARink comes in two versions. The first, CLEARink “video,” releases at the tail end of 2017. The second, CLEARink “bistable,” may release in 2018 and targets digital signage, e-readers, and more.

CLEARink Blots Out E Ink

New screen technologies rarely enter the market. The two biggest reasons, among all of these concerns, are cost and appearance. If a display costs more to manufacture than competitors, it needs to look great. If it doesn’t look amazing, then consumers won’t buy it.

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What makes CLEARink a contender in many different markets: it’s both cheaper to produce and looks better than its e-paper competitors. The technology brims with so much promise that it won Best of Show at Display Week 2017.

Sri Peruvemba, Head of Marketing at CLEARink Displays, answered several questions regarding CLEARink Display’s electrophoretic technology. Here are just a few reasons why CLEARink seems destined to become a mover and shaker in the e-reader space.

CLEARink Looks Better Than E Ink

The CLEARink technology looks like E Ink, but with some big differences. While both share an underlying technology (electrophoresis), the secret behind CLEARink lies in a new type of ink, co-developed with Merck, and a reflective panel. Here’s how it compares to LCD, OLED, and e-paper:

lcd oled e-paper clearink comparison
Image Credit: CLEARink Displays

The new ink and reflective panel make images that are sharper and clearer compared to E Ink displays. According to CLEARink Displays CEO Frank Christiaens, CLEARink’s whites offer twice the “reflectance” (or whiteness) of E Ink, which almost equals ink on paper. Part of its competitive edge lies in its simplicity. Instead of using two kinds of inks (or pigments), CLEARink employs just one. According to Peruvemba:

“E Ink uses a two particle system to generate black and white. To generate white, E Ink uses a white particle to reflect light. Whereas CLEARink only uses one particle — black — to generate black state. To generate white, CLEARink uses a TIR (Total Internal Reflection) film on the front surface.”

The end result: higher contrast, lower power consumption, and even color video, when combined with an LCD layer.

While CLEARink’s video variant consumes more energy than E Ink, its power consumption relative to LCD comes in around 80 to 90 percent less. In addition, it can display motion video with a refresh rate of around 33 Hz — a little choppy, but good enough.

But there’s more. A lot more.

It Comes in Color

Unlike E-Ink, CLEARink can overlay an LCD color layer in order to create images with 4,096 levels of color (that’s known as high color). That means it can do a lot more than just read books. It can also render the screen animations and icons of an operating system.

clearink color technology
Image Credit: CLEARink Displays

Beyond Reading E-Books: Preventing Insomnia and Eye Damage

Some of you might wonder why an e-reader should display color and video. After all, you really only want to read on it — not watch videos. One reason is health-related.

It seems that glowing screens can cause insomnia and eye damage. While you can install blue-filter apps Get a Good Night's Sleep by Filtering Your Phone's Blue Light Get a Good Night's Sleep by Filtering Your Phone's Blue Light Your phone's screen is keeping you awake. Don't let it. These apps will help you rest well. Read More on LCD panels, they don’t block 100% of blue light. The only 100% effective filter is to use a reflective (non-emissive) technology, like an E Ink or similar e-paper display. For example, a technology like CLEARink emits zero ultraviolet and blue light.

On top of that, a display technology capable of rendering color and video can also run the Android operating system. Here’s an example of just a few indispensable Android apps:

  • Google Play Books: Google Books allows you to upload your own digital books and sync your reading position across any device.
  • FeedMe RSS Reader: If you read RSS (and you should, it’s an amazing platform for consuming news),
  • Firefox Mobile: Firefox is one of the best mobile browsers around. Not only is it extensible (you can add crazy extensions to Firefox), it can also open tabs in the background).

Aside from reading web pages, news, and RSS feeds What Is RSS and How Can It Improve Your Life? What Is RSS and How Can It Improve Your Life? Read More , CLEARink might be able to reduce the cost of your devices.

Why CLEARink Costs Less Than E Ink and LCD

CLEARink fits into the already enormous LCD manufacturing process. On top of that, it requires fewer materials in order to produce it.

Think of it this way: LCD screens and E Ink screens consist of a number of sandwiched layers. LCD requires a polarizing layer, a reflecting layer, three color layers, and more. E Ink also requires several layers. CLEARink simplifies the production process down to three layers. In theory, it would cost less to manufacture than even LCD (which is already the cheapest screen for manufacturers to produce).

CLEARink Comes in Larger Sizes Than E Ink

While E Ink panels — after years of development — only recently began releasing in sizes larger than six inches, CLEARink’s manufacturing process works at any size. While 17-inch laptops may fall outside of its purview, it wouldn’t surprise me to see larger reading devices available some time in the near future.

There’s No Competition

As of 2017, no other e-paper display offers full motion video and color. However, in 2016, E Ink Holdings Inc. announced its Advanced Color ePaper Display (ACeP). Unfortunately, ACeP’s sluggish refresh speed made it a poor candidate for use in an e-reader. ACeP’s only application, until at least 2018, will be in digital signage.

Another color e-paper display seemed ideal for use in a tablet: Amazon’s Liquavista. Unfortunately, despite some false signs of hope, Liquavista screens failed to enter any of Amazon’s e-reader or tablet product lines.

Unlike smartphones and tablets, e-readers heavily rely on their system-on-a-chip Jargon Buster: The Guide to Understanding Mobile Processors Jargon Buster: The Guide to Understanding Mobile Processors In this guide, we'll cut through the jargon to explain what you need to know about smartphone processors. Read More (SoC) for page refreshes. The screen technology alone is only half the equation for building a better e-reader.

The i.MX 7 Makes E-Paper Screens a Lot Faster

Two issues with E Ink are jarring screen transitions and an inability to render video. At its worst, E Ink looks as demonstrated in the following video:

In short, it lacks the fluidity of the Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) found in almost all televisions and some smartphones.

However, here’s a little-known secret: E Ink technology can display video. The problem is that it cannot fluidly display animated images without something called a waveform.

A waveform [PDF] is the code that governs how hardware draws images on an E Ink display. Due to a technical limitation of the current generation of hardware, a separate waveform must be written for each application.

For example, watching video would require a separate waveform from reading a book. The additional programming overhead required of a waveform greatly slows down the development and release of e-readers. Fortunately, the company responsible for e-reader processors (Freescale) came up with a novel solution.

The Freescale i.MX 7 System on a Chip

Writing the underlying software of a waveform requires an absurd amount of expertise and skill — and that’s where the Freescale i.MX 7 comes into the spotlight. The i.MX 7 no longer requires individual waveforms for each application. Instead, the i.MX 7 employs hardware features to efficiently draw images. This means lower power consumption and lightning fast screen refreshes.

freescale imx.7 system on a chip diagram
Image Credit: NXP.com

Despite some serious delays, the i.MX 7 appears to have finally received a home in Dasung’s Paperlike Pro E Ink monitor, which sells for around $800. As you can see from the video below, both screen animation and text fluidly move at a speed approaching an LCD panel:

I’m not entirely certain that the Paperlike Pro uses the i.MX 7 processor, but given its LCD-like refresh speed, there doesn’t appear to be any other explanation.

Absolutely Need an E-Reader? What Should You Buy?

If you absolutely must purchase an e-reader immediately, I recommend a stop-gap solution — something inexpensive to tide you over until CLEARink or the i.MX 7 releases. One option comes to mind: the Kindle Paperwhite 2.

Kindle Paperwhite, 6" High Resolution Display (212 ppi) with Built-in Light, Wi-Fi - Includes Special Offers (Previous Generation - 6th) Kindle Paperwhite, 6" High Resolution Display (212 ppi) with Built-in Light, Wi-Fi - Includes Special Offers (Previous Generation - 6th) 6" High-Resolution Display (212 ppi) Buy Now At Amazon

The Kindle Paperwhite 2 offers pretty much identical hardware to the latest version, at a killer price of around $60. It’s also available on used marketplaces, such as eBay, for even less. On the downside, it suffers from an inability to read .EPUB files (which means you have to convert EPUB or MOBI into PDF Go4Convert: Online File Conversion To PDF & EPUB Go4Convert: Online File Conversion To PDF & EPUB Read More ). In my opinion, not being able to natively read .EPUB files is a deal-breaker. However, if you’re looking for a stop-gap solution, it’s an adequate device.

Image Credit: NikolaJankovic via Shutterstock.com

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  1. Phil N
    August 17, 2017 at 1:43 pm

    This was interesting to me because I have a Kindle touch, the model right before Paperwhite, and Yesterday I borrowed a library book and the book said it was incompatible with my Kindle. So I was just looking at what it would cost to upgrade.

    • Kannon Yamada
      August 17, 2017 at 7:48 pm

      Hi Phil, there may be a few ways around this. Some apps, like Libby (formerly known as Overdrive) let you borrow ebooks direct from your own public library. Other apps, like Calibre, let you reformat the EPUB (or ebook file) so that it works on other reading platforms.

  2. Antonio
    August 16, 2017 at 6:35 am

    E-readers are segregated environments where to live an immersive experience of reading. Thanks for the clearinks. Firefox, movies and fireworks are useless in these devices instead. Review is zooming out of the scope of what a reader is. People that want smartphone and tablets features use those devices, not e-readers.

  3. Nate Hoffelder
    July 29, 2017 at 5:18 pm

    The Paperlike Pro does not have a Freescale CPU, you ignorant fool. It is a display, not a computing device.

    And yes, I have one on my desk right now.
    https://the-digital-reader.com/2017/07/25/dasung-paperlike-pro-arrived/

    • Kannon Yamada
      July 30, 2017 at 5:05 pm

      Nate, I have never seen you post invective like this before. I very much appreciate your work and this comment is a little out of character for you. Please re-read the section where I mention that it MAY have the i.MX 7.

      I've read every single one of your posts and you have yet to publish the guts of the Paperlike 2. Have you verified that it uses another SoC?

  4. Erin Burns
    July 28, 2017 at 7:32 pm

    Just a note, the Kindle does much better with converting .epub to .mobi for use than PDF.

  5. BeedleTheBard
    July 28, 2017 at 11:41 am

    This article tells you not to buy an E-reader, but ends up marketing one.

    • Kannon Yamada
      July 28, 2017 at 5:00 pm

      Thanks for the comment. The last time I wrote about this subject, people said that they were perfectly happy with the Kindle so why wait? I just wanted people to know that the Paperwhite 2 is about equal to the 3. Seriously, there isn't much of a difference between the two and the 2 sells for like $60.

    • Phil N
      August 17, 2017 at 1:45 pm

      Well, it said don't buy one, then said "If you absolutely need one...".

  6. Pugwash
    July 28, 2017 at 7:06 am

    I bought a new ereader this year. Why would I wait for something that plays video or does colour when I only want to read books on it?

    • Jim
      July 28, 2017 at 1:52 pm

      I agree. I was waiting for the article to answer this question.

      It sounds like CLEARink uses (slightly) more power than eInk, refreshes faster, and costs less. The first is a negative. The second is nice but my Kindle Voyage refreshes fast enough for me, certainly faster than turning a page. And while the reduced cost sounds like a benefit, something tells me it's a benefit that Amazon is going to enjoy, not the consumer.

      • Kannon Yamada
        July 28, 2017 at 5:04 pm

        Hi Jim, thank you for the critique, you're right.

        I updated the article to better answer this question. More or less, a non-emissive screen doesn't produce the blue and UV light that causes insomnia and eye damage (by emissive displays). It also opens the door to the much larger app ecosystem of Android.

        Android includes a much more robust and useful app suite compared to a Kindle. That means it allows users to spend even more time without staring into a backlight.

  7. Bruce Robb
    July 28, 2017 at 1:23 am

    Okay. Absolutely MUST HAVE one? What's wrong with the Kindle app? Or is the issue the lack of a smartphone or tablet?

    • Kannon Yamada
      July 31, 2017 at 2:04 am

      Thanks for the comment! The issue with Amazon's tablets (not to be confused with e-readers) is that they emit a lot of light which can cause eye-strain and insomnia. Interestingly, the Kindle app itself could be installed on any Android device, including those with E Ink screens. So you don't really need a Kindle in order to get all of your books in one place. However, I recommend the Google Play Books app over other Android-based e-book markets.

  8. nighthawk1986
    July 27, 2017 at 9:52 pm

    I'm not waiting 5 years for them to get their shit together on a technology that might not even come to be. I'll go out and get a kindle.

    • Kannon Y
      July 27, 2017 at 11:28 pm

      The technology is coming out. But unfortunately, it'll first show up in an educational tablet. We might be able to get our hands on that tablet though toward the end of the year.

    • Bob Constans
      August 2, 2017 at 12:25 am

      ... and we'll see how long it takes to become affordable - I'm already unhappy having to spend over $100 Cdn for a new Reader. BTW I think the Kobo is better value for the same price.

      • Kannon Yamada
        August 2, 2017 at 2:21 am

        I like the Kobo, too. They're more willing to try innovative designs than their competitors.

      • K.I. Matthews
        August 6, 2017 at 12:54 pm

        I'm using my second Kobo, an Aura One. My first was a Mini but I wanted a backlit reader for nighttime reading. Both are outstanding units. ( My wife is on her third Aura, but she keeps dropping them (a lot) so... ) The newest Aura has some improvements like a better, more robust on/off switch and a face bezel which cuts down on accidental commands. The Aura can be had on sale for less than $100 and I'd recommend it to anyone. I seriously don't need the waterproof version. Tablets have too much reflection for daylight reading and too many distractions available to make for a smooth reading experience.
        A Kobo with Calibre software will get you just about any ebook format you'd want and you're not tied to Amazon.