Entertainment Technology Explained

Don’t Buy an Ereader: 5 Upcoming Technologies to Kill the Kindle

Kannon Yamada Updated 06-04-2020

Color ereader screens, like E Ink’s Advanced Color e-Paper (ACeP), Tianma’s color LCD, and ClearInk, may revolutionize ereaders in 2020 and 2021. I took a first-hand look at these technologies and analyze their potential to reach consumer ereaders, like the Amazon Kindle, in 2020 and 2021.

Advertisement

In short: if you’re looking for a color ereader, late 2020 is the earliest one might arrive. But why the wait?

1. ClearInk’s Color Ereaders in 2020?

New ereader screen technologies don’t come out very often. Most new products are incremental refinements that release on a three-year cycle.

Revolutionary technological leaps are rare. So rare that when they do reach devices, it’s a big deal. Sri Peruvemba, Head of Marketing at ClearInk Displays, believes 2020 (at the earliest) might be the year.

ClearInk first announced its technology in 2016 but has since picked up partners such as Lenovo and display manufacturing giant Tianma. Unlike the majority of e-paper displays, ClearInk manages to do a few things that its competitors cannot: cost-efficient color video.

ClearInk Does Color and Video for Less Money

E Ink’s Triton was the last color e-paper technology to hit ereaders but it never stood a chance of reaching Amazon’s Kindle. The Triton panel cost a fortune and suffered from a weak contrast ratio, high cost, and slow refresh rates. In other words, it didn’t look good and couldn’t play video. That’s why it didn’t last long.

ClearInk, on the other hand displays color at around 4,096 colors, or High Color. Which means it’s less vibrant compared to LCD and OLED panels. Its video refresh rate of 33Hz (equivalent to broadcast television or YouTube) allows full-motion video. Here’s an example I shot at Display Week 2019:

The video and high clarity of ClearInk comes down to the type of ink it uses. Both ClearInk and E Ink create images using electrophoresis, however, there’s a big difference between the two. E Ink uses two pigments. The additional overhead of dealing with two pigments causes slower refresh speeds and choppy video.

ClearInk differs in that it uses a single, smaller-sized pigment to create black and whites. The ink used in ClearInk, co-developed with Merck, are sharper and clearer compared to E Ink panels. 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 [a] 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, higher resolution, and even color video, when combined with a color 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.

Problems: Ghosting, Color Accuracy, and Waveforms

ClearInk isn’t a perfect technology. On the downside, it suffers from issues with image retention, or ghosting, where portions of the display do not refresh. You can see a small amount of ghosting here:

clearink comes in color

ClearInk’s engineering team explained that the retention was an early prototype issue rather than an issue with the technology.

Additionally, ClearInk panels have the same color accuracy as the Triton 2, which, while enough for textbooks and comics, isn’t enough for enterprise-class purposes.

And finally, like E Ink, ClearInk panels require special software and hardware in order to create and draw images on its screen. In other words, the hardware-level infrastructure and software techniques used in LCD technology are not fully compatible with ClearInk panels. ClearInk screens cannot just be dropped into a computer without writing special software.

However, Peruvemba mentioned that they are working on panels that are drop-in solutions for LCD screens. Meaning, if they pull it off, manufacturers could simply swap out an LCD for a ClearInk panel without any added costs.

2. E Ink’s Color E-Paper ACeP in 2021?

advanced color e-paper displays from e ink

E Ink Holdings Inc. announced its Advanced Color ePaper Display (ACeP) for 2021 in 2016. While ACeP offers the best range of color out of all the color ereader screens on the market, it comes with a few shortcomings that have slowed its entry into the ereader market. First, its refresh rate is extremely slow.

But its color saturation is phenomenal for a reflective panel.

Unlike E Ink and other technologies that use one or two colored oils, black or white, ACeP uses four different colors. The added complexity is what causes the slower refresh speeds.

Unlike smartphones and tablets, ereaders heavily rely on their system-on-a-chip 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 ereader.

Second, it’s likely to be extremely expensive. The digital signage products which use ACeP panels are enormously expensive. If that’s an indication of what a consumer ereader would cost, then it may remain unaffordable well past 2021. However, if any color reflective screen ever makes its way into a Kindle, it’ll likely be ACeP.

3. Color Filter Arrays for Ereaders?

Another kind of e-paper technology is the color-filter array (CFA). A CFA places a thin layer of colored liquid crystal filters over another panel, usually an electrophoretic panel, like E Ink. The multiple layers together create a full color display, although with diminished resolution compared to a standard E Ink panel.

Today’s best CFA panels have a color depth of somewhere around 4,000 colors, or High Color, and their resolution would be significantly less than Carta (as the CFA film overlaid on the Carta film will reduce its resolution).

However, CFAs are cheap to manufacture and easy to add to black-and-white reflective screens. On top of that, E Ink’s implementation of a CFA uses plastic instead of glass, making it lighter and more durable, which is perfect for an educational tablet.

If any color e-paper makes its way into a Kindle, it’s likely to be CFA-based.

4. Tianma’s Reflective Color LCD

Tianma's Electronic Bag e-paper color display

Tianma Micro-Electronics is one of the world’s largest display manufacturers. One of their newer products is a reflective color LCD, known by its project name as Electrical Bag (almost certainly a mistranslation). Like most e-paper technologies, it doesn’t require a backlight, but is compatible with the front-lights used in most ereaders.

The panel is aimed at the educational market. The panel comes in a 10.5-inch form factor, a common size in the educational market.

Unlike E Ink, reflective LCDs can display full color and video. But the trade off is a limited color range and weak contrast ratio.

For example, Electrical Bag has a 12:1 contrast ratio and a PPI of 191. It also can only do 11% of the NTSC color range, which is about half of its competitors. However, the price is low, and they can be dropped into almost any device with little effort.

An engineer quoted a price similar to emissive LCD for a 10.5-inch panel. For the educational market, which caters to children, it’s an ideal product for reducing eyestrain.

Tianma claimed that, if any manufacturer were interested, the Electrical Bag would be available in 2020.

5. Hisense Color Ereader Phone

Hisense is a manufacturer of televisions and display panels. In Asia, it also makes smartphones and other consumer electronics. Hisense manufactured a black-and-white E Ink phone known as the Hisense A5, which cost $220 from AliExpress. This time they’re coming out with the very first smartphone with a color E Ink panel.

There’s no official word on the specific type of panel but it appears to use a CFA layer along with E Ink’s Carta technology. The dead giveaway that it uses E Ink is the slow refresh rate and ghosting, or afterimage, left behind by unrefreshed E Ink capsules. As with most E Ink products, the phone is expected to offer excellent battery life of around four days.

On the downside, like most E Ink based panels, the phone cannot display video and suffers from limited color depth, ghosting, and relatively low screen resolution.

Kindle Color in 2020 or 2021?

The big weakness of the Amazon Kindle is that it lacks color; it’s unlikely that Amazon will release a color version in 2020. Which means if you want a color ereader, the only options will use CFA panels.

In the first quarter of 2020, only two color ereaders have been announced: an unnamed Android-based device from iFlytek. Unfortunately, iFlytek is currently under sanctions from the US government for human rights’ abuses.

The iReader C6 may reach the United States through JD.com, according to a report from The Good Ereader. It will come with an undetermined version of Android, 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. Availability begins March 26.

While Amazon hasn’t shown interest in color e-paper since 2018, e-paper color screens may give their competitors at Kobo and Barnes & Noble a competitive edge in the education market. Both companies have shown interest in color E Ink, potentially to compete against Amazon’s educational ereaders, aimed at children Amazon Launches a New Kindle for Kids Amazon has launched a new Kindle for kids. Called Kindle Kids Edition, the new package is perfect for children who love to read. Read More .

Explore more about: Buying Tips, Ebooks, eReader.

Whatsapp Pinterest

Enjoyed this article? Stay informed by joining our newsletter!

Enter your Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Esteban
    April 7, 2020 at 2:08 am

    Written by a non-reader of course. Color on an e-reader, used to read books, is utterly irrelevant.

    If you read, don't listen to this nonsense and get an e-reader.

    • kannon
      April 7, 2020 at 2:19 am

      Thanks for the comment. For the most part, color ereaders are aimed at the educational market as many text books are written using illustrations and photos. Additionally, comic books, magazines, and other similar texts include heavy amounts of drawings, photos, and other eye candy that I think we could all enjoy. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by what the future holds.

  2. Marcel
    March 2, 2019 at 9:30 pm

    Lol... this article is a huge advert for Clearink, and yet they still haven't anything to show beyond ridiculously bad looking, dull displays with horrible video playing performance. I guess the writer of this article got paid by Clearink...

    • Kannon Y
      March 3, 2019 at 3:11 am

      The issue is that the article hasn't been updated. ClearInk got 25 million in funding from Lenovo. Lenovo is also making their panels. Just recently they added another manufacturing partner. They projected that an educational tablet would be available in China in 2018/2019. I don't know if that came to pass but the manufacturers who did come to the table are real. Lenovo and the other LCD manufacturer both issued press releases on the manufacturing partnership.

  3. Damien
    December 11, 2018 at 6:54 am

    2018 is about come and gone and it seems like its still just plain E ink displays for us end users

    • Kannon Y
      December 12, 2018 at 12:06 am

      ClearInk has some new reference models coming out. My guess is that they'll be displayed at CES in a few weeks. Also their first product should be reaching the Chinese educational market soon, if there haven't been any manufacturing delays.

  4. Miles
    February 27, 2018 at 3:31 pm

    This was a cool article. I've sort of fallen down the rabbit hole on this whole E-reader thing since I saw that the new Oasis would be water resistant. I'm currently serving in a gov organization in a developing country for two years and I brought a kindle fire, which is not water resistant and has been left behind in my house a lot more than I would have liked due to this reason. Regardless, I love it. But it kills my eyes and the battery is terrible. I've started to budget what I will pay for my next E-reader and when I saw the new Oasis I thought that my problems had been solved!!! Water resistant and paper white! I did not know however, that paper white excluded color. I'm a newbie. Well, being a huge fan of comics, I don't really want to read them in black and white, I also love audible but alas the Oasis does not have a headphone jack and doesn't allow you to listen and read at the same time. All of these things are a bit frustrating....

    However, after reading this article, I have been given a bit of hope that future E-readers will have all the functionality that I desire. Thanks!!

  5. Now what?
    February 12, 2018 at 12:40 am

    So... 2018 here! I see ton of cheap clearink displays around me! Just bought my clearink ereader for 40 bucks yesterday! Oh no wait... i'm form 3018... sorry for you guys!
    Jokes aside...buy an ereader Now! If u wait this tech longer you'll die illiterate lol

  6. sk
    January 13, 2018 at 3:05 pm

    Thank you for this article. I am searching for a tablet that I can read at night and then be able to sleep. Is there anything out there since you wrote this article? Failing that is there anything on the near horizon?

    • Kannon Y
      January 14, 2018 at 11:52 pm

      Unfortunately, tablets with non-emissive (glowing) screens can only be found with e-ink screens, which aren't really ideal for a full tablet experience. As you imply, a reflective screen like CLEARink wouldn't fry our eyes before bedtime. Unfortunately, outside of the education market, it doesn't look like we'll have anything with CLEARink in the short term.

  7. Kian
    January 4, 2018 at 6:12 am

    I don't usually comment on articles anywhere but I have to say that you did a wonderful job on this article. I don't understand why there are so many rude and idiotic comments on here when you obviously worked hard on compiling all of this together. I am holding out for color paper displays so I can finally get back into comics and lower my time on the computer/tv. ClearInk may just be the ticket. Although we've heard this countless times before, I think this may be a success because of COST COST COST because old LCD factories can mass produce with little change in the manufacturing process at the plants. Please keep us updated on this stuff as it was invaluable for me and probably many other people.

    • Kannon Yamada
      January 9, 2018 at 3:56 am

      Hi Kian, thanks for the kind words!

      I should explain where some of these negative comments are coming from (we call it "blackhat SEO").

      Niche sites that cater to a very narrow special interest make most of their money through Amazon affiliate link sales. When someone publishes an article that damages their bottom line and challenges their authority, it can have severe financial repercussions for them. Because 2017 was one of the worst years in ereader innovation, I'm guessing that their sales were below par. And when someone like me comes around and warns people off buying, it's even worse for them.

      More or less, I don't blame them. But the point stands: 2017 was not a good year to buy ereaders.

      I'll try to publish more content in the next few months. Unfortunately, ereaders do not attract enough attention for us to publish very much on it. But as soon as we can get away from emissive technologies, the better off we all are.

      And like you I love comic books. Color reflective technology is going to change everything (hopefully).

      • JQ Public
        April 5, 2018 at 8:05 am

        The portion of your article on technology is interesting, but clearly, your forecasting abilities is terrible. Yet you persisted once again even in your reply on predicting outcomes. Know your limitations and stop guessing on timelines.

        • Kannon Yamada
          April 5, 2018 at 2:35 pm

          Thanks for the comment! I didn't forecast anything and only published an interview. Even so, those sources were right.

          The i.mx7 processor did come out and the latest news on the ClearInk display is that they entered production. Their manufacturing partner is making e-readers for school. 2017 was a bad year to buy an e-reader.

      • peter
        August 19, 2019 at 9:33 pm

        I should explain where these negative comments are clearly coming from and that would be your pathetic advertorial. It is closer to 2020 than 2019 now with your much vaunted crap still in the ether. My advice to people, I have been using kindles now for well over a decade, is stick to the tried and trusted until the overhyped alternatives prove themselves... in this case prove they can even hit the shelves after many years of promises

  8. 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.

      • Phillip
        January 8, 2018 at 12:15 am

        I was going to bring up EPUB, i love that program for converting books to usable formats

      • Phillip
        January 8, 2018 at 12:19 am

        I may have mistyped in my last comment, I intended to say Calibre and not whatever i might have said

  9. 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.

    • Emu
      January 7, 2018 at 10:00 am

      A e-reader is just a customised tablet designed to read books on. Why would you want to bring two devices that have overlapping purposes when you could just bring the e-reader to consume books and other media on? We might even get to go back to the days of tiny feature phones that last all week on a single charge paired up with a e-reader device that can manage all the smart phone related crap.

  10. 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?

  11. 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.

    • Marcin
      November 23, 2017 at 11:03 am

      Exactly. Kindle accepts mobi.
      If you have an epub you have to convert it into mobi and send to your Kindle cloud e-mail address. Then you can synchronize your device. You can convert on the web online and for free. The other solution is to get the best ebook manager you can get for free (and not only for free): Calibre. You can convert your books into other formats and transfer to your device, regardless if its Kindle, Nook or whatever.

  12. 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...".

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.