I’ve been color e-reader prototypes so long as I’ve been a tech journalist. Back within the early days of The Verge, we’d usually cowl show expertise like Qualcomm’s Mirasol or numerous E Ink prototypes and are available away pondering that whereas it wasn’t fairly prepared, it was only a matter of time. That’s how expertise is meant to work, proper? We see it in unfinished kind at a commerce present and it turns up in mainstream merchandise a number of years later.
Needless to say, that has not turned out to be the case. Amazon and Kobo nonetheless don’t promote color e-readers, and if something the prospect appears even additional off than it did a decade in the past, now that it’s attainable to promote satisfactory LCD tablets for nicely beneath $100. They don’t have the battery life or the out of doors readability of E Ink, but it surely’s clear that that’s a distinct segment concern.
E Ink is nonetheless engaged on the thought, although, and this 12 months the corporate shipped its greatest shot but at color display tech that’s applicable for e-readers: Kaleido. I’ve been testing one of many first e-readers to make use of such a show, the brand new €199 ($234) PocketBook Color, and whereas it’s not an ideal system, it’s ok to offer me hope in the way forward for color E Ink.
PocketBook is an e-reader producer headquartered in Switzerland and largely promoting to numerous European markets. The firm has been round since 2007 and says it’s the world’s third largest maker of premium E Ink-based e-readers, presumably placing it behind Amazon and Rakuten’s Kobo.
Screen apart, the PocketBook Color doesn’t look a lot completely different to another 6-inch e-reader. It’s all plastic, however the design is pretty modern with a matte silver end on the again and a soft-touch texture on the entrance. You’ll discover a energy button, a Micro USB port (boo), and a microSD slot (yay) on the underside edge. There’s a bundled Micro USB-to-headphone jack adapter so you may take heed to audiobooks, and the system additionally has Bluetooth assist for wi-fi headphones.
There are house, menu, and page-turn buttons situated under the display, they usually’re all simply accessible; at 160g, the PocketBook Color is mild sufficient to carry together with your thumb resting on the backside. I truly desire this to the side-mounted page-turn buttons on earlier Kindles I’ve owned, which by no means fairly felt like they have been on the proper top — at the very least not for my thumbs.
The PocketBook Color runs a customized Linux-based OS that features numerous apps. There’s an internet browser, a notes app, and even some video games like chess and sudoku. Page-turn and menu efficiency is affordable, if not fairly as quick as my Kindle Oasis. Battery life has been superb — I haven’t charged the PocketBook Color in weeks.
All of this is good sufficient, however the PocketBook Color can be a wholly unremarkable system if not for the display. So let’s speak in regards to the display.
The key factor of Kaleido screens is that E Ink has developed a thinner, greater high quality color filter array than it utilized in its older Triton expertise, which required a glass-based color filter layer on prime of the monochrome panel. E Ink says Kaleido shows can present as much as 4,096 colours and 16 ranges of grayscale, which is the identical because it claimed for Triton, however the total color replica is a lot improved.
The catch is that the color filter array severely reduces the display’s total decision, because it sits in entrance of the monochrome E Ink microcapsules. The PocketBook Color’s 6-inch display has a decision of 1072 × 1448 when displaying black and white content material, which makes for a excessive pixel density of 300 ppi, however areas of the display that present color see pixel density drop to 100. The filter is additionally seen when studying monochrome content material should you look carefully, giving the display a barely grainier look than trendy standard e-readers.
Kaleido screens clearly aren’t going to compete with tablets in brightness, distinction, or vibrancy. But I like utilizing the PocketBook Color in the identical conditions the place I’d desire to make use of a Kindle over an iPad. The display seems to be its greatest outside within the solar — I’d examine the color replica to a newspaper that’s pale over a number of days. Not precisely gorgeous, then, however actually readable and glare-free. The decision isn’t a giant drawback in observe, both, as a result of the textual content stays sharp and pictures look high quality at regular viewing distances.
The display is much less spectacular indoors, as a result of you actually need to make use of the entrance mild to see a lot of something. Crank it up too excessive and also you don’t actually really feel such as you’re an e-reader any extra, however the colours are arduous to make out at too low a brightness. I discovered setting it to round 30-percent brightness often provided the most effective stability of color and luxury. But with glare and energy consumption much less of a priority at house, I’d be extra more likely to attain for an everyday pill within the first place.
Overall, I believe Kaleido is imperfect however at the very least viable as an e-reader display expertise, and the PocketBook Color is by far the most effective color e-reader I’ve ever seen. But its greatest drawback is that I simply didn’t know what to do with it.
PocketBook’s retailer has a particularly restricted choice of English-language content material. I’m not going to criticize the product too arduous for that, because it isn’t even bought in Anglophone markets, however you need to anticipate to should load it up with your individual DRM-free content material should you select to import. The PocketBook Color helps a number of e book codecs together with EPUB, CBR, CBZ, MOBI, and PDF, and you’ll sync information to the system both over Dropbox or via PocketBook’s personal cloud service, which is easy and quick.
But even in a world the place the PocketBook retailer was stacked with bestsellers, or the place you had authorized, DRM-free copies of all the things you’d ever need to learn, the PocketBook Color wouldn’t be one of the simplest ways to benefit from a Kaleido display. Basically, it’s too small. Magazines and comedian books look good, however they’re simply too arduous to learn on a 6-inch show. Manga is a superb match, however tends to be overwhelmingly in black and white. Regular books with the occasional color illustration or graphic work fairly nicely, however that’s not a quite common or thrilling use case, and monochrome e-readers have higher total display high quality.
There are modes for zooming, scaling, and viewing particular person panels, however I didn’t discover them to be very handy or efficient. While the PocketBook Color’s efficiency is typically high quality, it isn’t actually as much as the duty of manipulating a big PDF. I’d be actually considering a model of this system with an 8- or 9-inch display, as a result of I believe it’d be a a lot better match for the kind of content material that works greatest on the Kaleido show.
The one factor that does reliably look nice on the PocketBook Color is e book covers, and you already know what they are saying about judging books on these. If something, although, that may very well be the factor that drives adoption of the expertise. It’s undoubtedly good to take a look at your library and the e book retailer in color — even E Ink itself sells Kaleido as enabling “a more fully realized ebook shopping experience.” If something’s going to get Amazon on board, you’d suppose it could be that.
Color E Ink isn’t fairly there but. Even although the PocketBook Color is the most effective system of its sort to this point, it’s arduous to advocate over conventional e-readers until you already know what you need to learn on it, contemplating it’s virtually twice the worth of a Kindle Paperwhite. Do you could have a 6-inch e-reader already and infrequently use it for issues that you simply want you could possibly learn in color? This could be price testing. Are you ready for an ideal comic-reading system? This isn’t it.
I don’t suppose Kaleido in its present kind is the expertise that’s going to take color E Ink mainstream, but it surely’s getting there. Even although the color replica is by no means going to compete with LCD tablets, an even bigger display with equal (or ideally greater) sharpness can be nice for studying issues like comics and magazines outside, and the battery life benefit stays vital.
Kaleido color E Ink is good for a similar causes as monochrome E Ink. It nonetheless comes with plenty of trade-offs, although, and the PocketBook Color isn’t the system that may exhibit its true potential. Keep a watch on this expertise, although — for the primary time in an extended whereas, it truly appears like color e-readers may very well be viable quickly.