Technology Explained

4 Reasons to Avoid Buying an E-Reader This Christmas

Kannon Yamada 08-12-2015

Between e-readers and tablets What's the Difference Between E-Readers and Tablets? E-readers and tablets are not the same thing. Here's what you need to know about their differences. Read More , e-readers provide a much better reading experience. In fact, depending on your preferences, you may even like e-readers more than physical books. Simply put, e-readers are pretty awesome.


But that doesn’t mean they make good gifts. Here are four reasons why you shouldn’t buy one in 2015.

1. Big Updates Are Coming in 2016

Two important pieces of technology go into an e-reader: the electronic ink screen and the system-on-a-chip, which provides the device’s screen clarity, refresh rate, processing power, wireless capabilities, battery endurance, and more.

Neither of these technologies have been improved at all since 2013, and they haven’t received any major improvements since 2011. However, both might get a major update in 2016!

System-on-a-Chip Technologies

The i.MX5, released in 2010, was the world’s first processor and chipset purpose-designed for electronic ink display management. The package allowed e-readers to have month-long battery lives, faster page turns, and fewer jarring page refreshes. Freescale followed up with the marginally improved i.MX6 design in 2011, but since then, nothing.

But all of that changes in 2016 when Freescale’s newly announced i.MX7 begins entering products. I don’t want to overhype the importance of Freescale’s new design, but it’s orders of magnitude more power efficient than the previous generation of e-reader processors. For one thing, it’s built on the 28nm production process (almost half of the 40nm used in the older i.MX6), and smaller is better.


The i.MX7 also introduces a new kind of design called Heterogeneous Multicore Processing Architecture (HMPA), which allows two processor architectures to operate simultaneously. Unlike older processors, the i.MX7 uses two processing cores: one core has a Cortex A7 architecture while the other has a more power-efficient Cortex M4 architecture.

imx7 architecture

In the world of ARM processors, there are fast and slow cores. The faster cores tend to offer performance at the expense of power efficiency while the slower cores do the opposite.

HMPA enables each core to handle tasks suited to its processing needs. In the i.MX7, the Cortex A7 handles tasks requiring performance while the Cortex M4 handles slower tasks, such as turning pages. This is nice because the Cortex M4 offers the best pound-for-pound power consumption around.


Judging from the processor specs alone, the i.MX7 represents the single biggest leap in performance and battery life in e-reader history. But because it won’t enter products until 2016, there’s a huge technology gap between current and upcoming devices.

Display Technologies

Similar to e-reader processors, e-paper displays haven’t changed 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 much since 2013. One of the first displays was E Ink’s Vizplex, which arrived in 2007 and became the de facto standard for e-paper devices. Three years later, E Ink released the Pearl, which similarly came to dominate digital readers.

As the technology matured, E Ink further diversified its product portfolio with the flexible Mobius, followed by the faster and higher-contrast Carta in 2013 (which is found in the awesome Kindle Paperwhite Kindle Paperwhite Review & Giveaway The Kindle Paperwhite is Amazon's current flagship reader, and one that we've been wanting to review and give away for quite some time. If you already own a Kindle or a different eReader, you may... Read More ). As of late 2015, Pearl and Carta displays control the market.



It’s worth noting that E Ink incrementally updates each of its three lines, with each subsequent production receiving higher pixels-per-inch — but in the two years since its last major release, E Ink has yet to announce a new product line.

It appears that E Ink introduces a new line of screens approximately every three years. Vizplex was announced in 2007, Pearl released in 2010, and Mobius and Carta arrived in 2013. If their product release cycle is based on a three-year production schedule, something new is coming in 2016.

2. E-Readers Are Pretty Much the Same

There are lots of good e-readers out there, but they’re mostly clones of one another. E-readers all employ a formulaic design, and as such, they all use identical internal components and screens.

The Kindle Voyage, Kobo Glo HD (a good alternative to the Kindle Kobo Aura HD eReader Review and Giveaway Despite Amazon's dominance of the eReader market, some competitors manage to keep their heads above water, and one of these strugglers is Kobo. With an impressive line of five different eReaders, its own bookstore, and... Read More ), Nook Glowlight Plus, and Kindle Paperwhite 3 all use the same components: a Carta screen and an i.MX6 processor. The value proposition just isn’t there. Why pay hundreds of dollars for a black-and-white display that can only read books?


However, some emergent technologies would enable full color e-readers. One of these technologies is called Electrowetting, a technology invented by Liquavista, a subsidiary of Amazon.

As you can see, Electrowetting combines the power efficiency of electronic ink with the performance of an LCD screen.

It’s not the only innovation, though. Other technologies include Qualcomm’s Mirasol and the open-license Pixel Qi transflective display. Unfortunately, none of these technologies will appear this holiday season. The earliest you might see any of these is 2017.

Another technology that hobbles the current generation of e-readers is its touchscreen. Right now the industry is split between capacitive touchscreens and infrared touchscreens.

Capacitive touchscreens lay a thin layer of conductive material over the screen to gray out text. Infrared screens overcome this limitation by positioning light emitting components around the reader’s bezel, which increases a device’s thickness.

But a new technology called Cambrios ClearOhm solves this by using a transparent touchscreen layer:

If ClearOhm proves viable, future models of e-reader could combine the clarity of infrared screens with the thinness of capacitive technology — but no e-reader will use this technology in 2015.

3. The Holiday Season Is Most Expensive

E-readers – even more than other devices – cost a premium during the holidays. During most of the year, up until Black Friday, there are constant price-drops and promotions. For example, in February 2015, the normally $199 Kindle Voyage sold for a bargain-basement price of $59.

Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and Kobo all heavily discount their e-readers during the summer (and sometimes the fall) to make room for new products. If you purchase during the holidays, the price will almost always be at full retail value.

4. Modern E-Readers Are All Closed

At present, no major manufacturer offers unrestricted access to the Android operating system.

A few small companies do offer Android e-readers with half-baked firmware, such as the Onyx Boox series. Users can also hack a Nook Simple Touch Hack Your Nook Simple Touch Into a Super E-Reader in Three Easy Steps A hack can turn a rooted Nook into a full-fledged, game-playing tablet. Read More to get full access to Android, meaning users can install any app they want. (They can even play games.) But nothing like this is available for big name products.

An open operating system would allow users to read any of their files regardless of format, whether ePUB, MOBI, PDF, or whatever else, provided that they also have an appropriate reading app available in the Google Play Store.

When Should You Buy an E-Reader?

Even though e-readers offer a fantastic means of reading books, 2015 is the worst year to buy one due to the gap in technology. There also isn’t a lot of variety in today’s market because all e-readers use similar — if not identical — components. On top of that, buying during the holiday season means getting gouged.

We recommend that you wait a few more months to see what kinds of new products are released by major manufacturers in 2016. However, if you absolutely need one right now, then check out our guide to picking the perfect e-reader Amazon's New Tablets and E-Readers: Everything You Need to Know Read More .

Are you going to buy one or are you going to wait until next year? What kind of features are you looking for in an e-reader? Drop a comment below and share with us!

Related topics: Buying Tips, Ebooks, eReader.

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  1. Logic
    May 21, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    ereaders are NOT clones. Take a Kindle for instance. You cannot read epub files with it. THAT is HUGE. Millions of free books are thus more difficult to access. BTW, do you have any clue why Amazon would add epub reading to their readers? Seems really stupid from a mktg point of view.

    • Kannon Yamada
      May 30, 2016 at 12:43 am

      That is really big. I've been using Calibre to convert ePUBs to PDF when loading books onto the Kindle. But it would be nice if I didn't have to take an extra step.

      But their hardware is identical to one another (with some very minor differences).

  2. Phenix
    March 14, 2016 at 7:15 am

    Any news on when we can expect new e-readers to hit the market (Q2 Q3 or Q4)? If at all in 2016? What do you think?

    • Kannon Yamada
      March 14, 2016 at 8:45 am

      Yes, there's some really good news, but no specific product announcements yet. If forced to guess, Q3 is the most likely candidate since most manufacturers announce products in the summer for sale in the Fall or later summer. We shouldn't hear anything until the major tech conferences are held. But according to the, there's been a few developments that have occurred since my article published.

      * E-Ink announced a new (but unnamed) series of e-ink panel that will arrive later this year. We'll know more after the summer.

      * The imx7 has been in production for a little while now and will almost certainly make its way into products by the end of the year.

      * Amazon's Liquidvista tech has quietly entered production. I do not know if it will be paired with the imx7 because the imx7 has been designed specifically for e-paper displays. Liquidvista does function similarly to e-ink, but there might be issues pairing it with the imx7. Even so, there's a good chance we might see both technologies in the same package.

      More or less, expect something really great around Q3. The news should break in Q2 or thereabouts.

  3. S O
    February 22, 2016 at 7:48 pm

    You have a minor mistake here, capacitative displays do not add a film that is particularly noticeable, every smart phone uses them. What you are thinking of is likely resistive touch displays, which requires more layers of material but are pressure sensitive rather than capacitance sensitive.

    As an e-reader user I am most interested in stylus input, resolution and fast refresh as opposed to color or actual device speed. Stylus support is needed for notes or sketching, and can make a single purpose device such an e-reader much more valuable to a wider audience. Resolution is important, as you mentioned the displays haven't improved for 3 years and 1024x768 or lower isn't great.

    To date, Sony offers the insanely over priced DPTS-1 and there are literally no other stylus input devices I know of, until sometime this year (2016) when Noteslate may release it's new device (currently in pre-order), and perhaps Onyx Boox' 13.3" model (no eta).

  4. James
    February 11, 2016 at 12:50 pm

    Have any ereaders been announced with this new technology?

    • Kannon Yamada
      February 11, 2016 at 3:40 pm

      Not yet. Two really, really big things just happened though. Like the biggest thing to happen since eink first hit e-readers.

      Amazon quietly put their Liquidvista displays into production. By the end of the year we might see imx.7 + full color video e-reader Kindle Fires from Amazon.

      Michael of the has mentioned that the imx.7 is currently being tested by all the major ereader companies. We should see products available by the late summer, early fall of this year. We might see teasers of those products by the early summer.

      • Soren
        February 24, 2016 at 7:22 am

        That is great news! Are the android based companies among the 'major companies' that you mentioned? The reason I'm asking is this.

        I started out with a Sony SP2 in 2010 and simply loved it. The same whith my later Nooks. They worked smoothly! Then I started buying books from different arcologies (Google Books, Amazon and others) which was quite a bother with all the formatting and putting files on SD cards when ever I wanted to read a book.
        So I bought af T62 from Onyx, naively thinking that it would solve all my problems with different book formats with both wifi and screenlight included. It was not the perfect solution with a dodgy Google Play app installed and frequent unrequested reboots but it kinda worked undtil I dropped it on the floor one time to many times.
        I liked the cross-platform idea though so I bought an InkBook from Onyx. And to tell the truth it has its own problems. Long upstart time, and unstable apps that takes ages to load. My hope is that the progress you are expecting will solve some of these issues. Could that be the case?

        • Kannon Yamada
          March 14, 2016 at 9:01 am

          Sorry for the late response!

          To the extent of my knowledge on the subject, only Barnes and Noble e-readers can be hacked to expose full Andr,oid. And, unfortunately, I do not know whether or not they will continue to allow their e-readers to be modified in such a way. The other manufacturers will certainly introduce the imx7, but likely after the major product releases. So definitely 2017 and possibly the tail end of 2016. But they're a lot less predictable than the big guys, so I can't say with any certainty.

          The Onyx T62 (I think that it's actually a Boyue model that was rebranded as an Onyx model) is a really cost effective e-reader with full Android. I'm sorry that it broke on you! I'm currently using an Onyx i86, and it's great but horribly overpriced. It's stable, although its stability depends a lot on the kind of apps on the device.

          Have you tried the Google Play Books app? I hate the forced screen animations, but it's really great since you can upload your own ebooks and have your reading positioned sync'd across all devices. It even permits offline reading.

          Anyway, my advice to you: Wait until the summer before buying and check some of the major product releases. If Barnes and Noble has a hackable e-reader, that might solve most of your problems. Unfortunately, Onyx e-readers will probably always have at least some stability issues. I like their products, but they've got to improve their firmware. Android 4.0 is just not good enough.

  5. Maryon Jeane
    December 9, 2015 at 5:32 pm

    It really depends on the reader (i.e. the recipient of the e-reader gift). If they're coming from physical books to e-readers then anything is going to seem fairly magical (provided they are willing to change over of course...). Last year I received a Kindle Voyage for my birthday (which is just before Christmas) because my trusty and elegant clip-on light had given up the ghost and was no longer made and I couldn't get on with any of the other offerings so I needed a backlit reader. I gave my previous Kindle (a version 4) to a friend - who chose to stay linked to my account and so has the benefit of all my books - and this was her first e-reader. She was dubious about the change at first, but now absolutely loves it and her reading time has gone up very significantly. As she reads in her house (although actually even that's changing now) with light set up for reading in her favourite places, the lack of screen lighting is not a problem for her. Horses for courses.

    As for my Voyager, it's nearly just right for me. The screen lighting is excellent and allows me to read everywhere without any problem at all. I keep the wi-fi on all the time and the battery last nearly a week (less about fifteen hours) - and I read a lot. The only thing I don't like about the Voyager (and which would lead me to change/upgrade) is the page turn. I like to use a page turn on the frame of the e-reader rather than touching the screen, which is an awkward movement disturbing the reader's reading position, and the Voyager's page turn which is on the front of the device rather than on the edge, is more difficult to press one-handed than was its predecessor's. It's also too easy to turn pages when picking up or otherwise handling the Voyager when it's on.

    Other than that, I am not particularly interested in any of the coming advances in technology. Most of the books I read don't have pictures at all, and those that do tend to have old photographs which aren't in colour anyway so colour isn't of interest. I find the speed of page turn actually quicker than with a physical book, so my mental dialogue as I read isn't interrupted at all (I keep the page refresh option on). The text is far clearer than with most modern books (many of which are spectacularly poor in print quality) and, if my eyes are tired, I simply make the text temporarily a touch larger (can't do that with a print book!). I love being able to fine-tune the light level and I often use this feature - and I can't see how that could be bettered. I do have the automatic light adjustment on all the time, but I live in an old cottage with all sorts of poor lighting conditions in various nooks (no pun intended), so manual adjustment is often needed as well.

    Even with our appalling broadband I'm able to browse and download books wherever I am in the cottage (OK, yes we have boosters), and I've got the 3G version of the Voyager so whenever I'm out or visiting someone I am never without a book. That, actually, is all I ask of the world come to think of it!

    • Kannon Yamada
      December 13, 2015 at 4:31 pm

      Hi Maryon, thank you for the wonderful comment!

      You make an excellent point about how "good enough" technology is probably enough for most people -- I would argue that it's good enough because those individuals haven't yet seen the state-of-the-art in e-reader technology. Eventually e-readers will get to the point where they consume so little energy that they do not require recharging at all, similar to solar powered calculators. Maybe that's not something everyone really needs, but if you had to choose between the two, most people would prefer the e-reader that never needs recharging.

      Even the reading experience of e-readerd will improve with further technological advancements. Perhaps you might not be interested in reading books with pictures, but what about newspaper subscriptions? An Android powered e-reader is capable of running RSS and other news applications -- it's like having an all-in-one reading device capable of not just reading literature, but also news. I like to think of Android e-readers as being a kind of all-in-one device for all reading habits. It greatly simplifies my life.

      By the way, excellent choice in the Voyage! It's a brilliant e-reader.

    • Mihir Patkar
      December 15, 2015 at 5:47 pm

      Maryon, stop writing comments that make other commenters look like they're slacking off. #NeverStopMaryon

      • Maryon Jeane
        December 15, 2015 at 6:18 pm

        :-) (How am I going to get through doors now, Mihir, with a head grown so large?!?)

  6. kNight
    December 9, 2015 at 9:13 am

    If you want and need an e-reader, go buy one now. New tech will always emerge the next day. State your requirements and filter the range of existing devices. In my case I didn't want a closed eco system so I chose an Android based reader. And as high resolution as possible (since I read many pdf files).

    • Kannon Yamada
      December 9, 2015 at 6:07 pm

      Hey, thanks for the comment.

      That's certainly true -- new technology always comes out -- but in the e-reader space, they develop new technology every 5 years for the chip and every 3 years for the screen. For the only time I'm aware of, 2016 might bring at least two new technologies into being in the same devices. So you if buy something in 2015 you're buying tech that's more or less the same as what was available in 2013 and not much different from what was available in 2010. Buying an e-reader in 2016 will lead to overall better value for the user and a longer device lifecycle.

    • Kannon Yamada
      December 9, 2015 at 6:09 pm

      Oh, can I ask what e-reader you went with? It sounds like an Onyx build. Perhaps the i86+?