If you’ve been reading physical books for a while and you’re looking to transition to digital copies, you might want to check out an E-Ink device. Read on to learn more about E-Ink, its benefits, and where the technology is going.
E-Ink and How it Works
E-ink, also known as “electronic ink” or “electronic paper,” is a type of display technology known for its low power consumption and visual similarity to ink on paper. These features make it a perfect fit for many e-readers, such as Amazon Kindle and Kobo devices.
Unlike traditional display devices like LED and TN, which often comprise individual pixels that each display a color, e-ink devices are much more reliant on fascinating chemistry. E-Ink displays are made of a thin film on top of millions of small capsules filled with a bunch of particles floating in a clear fluid. These particles are all colored a specific pigment: in greyscale displays, those pigments will be either black or white.
These particles are set to move around depending on what type of electric charge they receive. For example, black will rise when exposed to a negative charge, and white will rise when exposed to a positive charge. Therefore, an E-Ink display works by sending these small electric signals to all of these capsules. If a particular spot is supposed to be black, then the device will send a negative charge to move black to the top. If you want to read more on this process, check out this helpful guide on Visionect.
That is the reason why devices equipped with these displays tend to have phenomenal battery life. Unlike an LED display, which uses colored light that is on at all times, E-Ink displays only consume power when the arrangement of colors on the display needs to change. The display takes up virtually no power when you’re simply reading the words on the screen.
A Quick History on E-Ink
Even though it’s become the generic name used for these displays, E-Ink is a commercial technology owned by the E-Ink Corporation. A group of scientists and engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab developed it in 1996. In 1997, these researchers founded the company that owns the patent to e-ink. They were eventually inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2016.
E-Ink later came into mainstream adoption thanks to the rise of e-books, particularly with large digital booksellers such as Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble. These companies have released their e-ink readers, or eReaders, to accompany the digital books that they sell. E-Ink also has some utility in other devices, such as digital tablets, mobile phones, and notebooks.
E-Ink has seen many iterations since the launch of its first-generation E-Ink Vizplex in 2007. In 2010, the E-ink Pearl became the first e-ink display to reach widespread adoption in the market. Many of the most widely used eReaders today still use this technology. Since then, there have been many iterations like the E-Ink Carta, which used a high-contrast, high-resolution display, and the E-Ink Kaleido, which uses a color filter to display a range of colors.
Easier on the Eyes?
We’ve discussed some of the advantages of E-Ink in the past, comparing E-Ink with LCD technology. Aside from the huge difference in power consumption, where eReaders can often go for weeks without charging, there are other significant differences.
E-Ink is infinitely better if you’re reading in direct daylight because there’s no glare on the displays. You also get some of the aesthetic value in reading something that resembles paper, which might be appealing to people who are switching over from traditional reading. Lastly, there’s price: E-Ink devices tend to be some of the most affordable on the market because of their undemanding specifications and because their manufacturers will eventually make income on selling books.
E-Ink Devices Going Forward
One of the most exciting alternative uses of e-ink is note-taking. While the display isn’t entirely built to support it, it still provides a note-taking experience completely different from any traditional tablet. That’s why some companies have ventured into experimenting with it as a primary touchscreen.
In 2020, a Norwegian company called reMarkable released their second iteration of an e-ink tablet specifically intended for note-taking. The reMarkable had pretty modest specs, a small body, and a custom version of Linux. It also included a note-taking pen. While tech enthusiasts considered its performance to be quite mediocre for the price, it still offered a fascinating look into how using e-ink technology as an input device would look.
For now, it seems that e-ink is here to stay. E-books continue to grow in adoption, and e-readers from companies like Amazon and Kobo continue to get priced more attractively. Also, the company behind e-ink is committed to continuously improving its technology, with new versions coming out every few years.
If you’re interested in getting an eReader with an e-ink display, you might want to check out one of the tablets we featured in our roundup of the best eReaders.
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