This Could Finally Be the Year of E Ink, Seriously

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Picture this: a screen that doesn’t give you eye fatigue after staring at it for a long period of time, lasts for weeks on a single charge, and offers glorious full color.

Picture this no longer—this is reality. E Ink is finally in color, and 2020 could finally be E Ink’s year to shine. E Ink devices with color displays, like the Hisense A5C and the PocketBook Color, are beginning to hit the market, opening up the use cases for these devices. Imagine reading a comic book or manga on a full-color ereader. Pretty wicked, right?

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E Ink was introduced in the late ‘90s, so this is isn’t exactly new technology blowing bloggers’ minds. But it is pretty damn cool, even today.

E Ink consists of basically the same type of liquid that comes in a pen. But instead of depositing the ink on paper like humans have done for hundreds of years, E Ink comes in tiny capsules the diameter of a single human hair. Within these capsules, pigments—commonly black and white—are bonded with a positive or negative charge. To make something visible on an E Ink display, an electrical field charge is sent to the bottom of the display, repelling and attracting the ink within millions of capsules until an image is produced.

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Colored E Ink displayGif: E Ink

So what’s the fuss over a decades-old technology? Look, eye strain isn’t getting any better. In 2019, American consumers’ average screen time on a mobile devices was almost 3 hours and 45 minutes per day. That doesn’t even include time spent watching TV—another 3 hours and 43 minutes per day. That’s a wild amount of time to spend staring at a screen, especially one that beams light straight to your retinas. No, thank you.

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I suffer from eye fatigue from time to time, and occasionally it worsens into a tiny migraine. That’s no fun! But E Ink doesn’t cause eye fatigue. I switched from reading on my iPad Pro to flipping through pages on an Amazon Kindle, and I definitely felt the difference.

Then there’s the not-insignificant matter of battery life. E Ink displays take only a fraction of energy to power compared to other displays. I don’t know how many times I have left my apartment in the morning with a fully charged iPhone, only to have to charge it mid-day because I played too many rounds of Brawl Stars.

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But E Ink displays do have a ways to go before they can actually compete with the all mighty LCD. Mainly, E Ink’s resolution is abysmal compared to LCD displays. The iPhone Pro 11 and the E Ink Hisense A5C are relatively the same height, but one boasts a 2.7K display with a pixel density of 468, whereas the other comes in at an underwhelming 720p with a 276 ppi—I’m sure you can guess which one is which. (Make sure to check out the video above to see a side-by-side comparison of an LCD and E Ink display.) E Ink displays are also not as ubiquitous as LCDs. Few consumer devices today use E Ink technology compared to LCD. In fact, there are no known upcoming products from U.S. tech companies that use full-color E Ink technology. But we have hope.

But picture this: an iPad Pro that could last a month on a single charge. Or a laptop that doesn’t cause eye fatigue. If the technology continues to improve, maybe the full-color E Ink tablet we long for will become reality in the not-too-distant future.

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