Experts Say Color E Ink Might Be a Fad

Pretty colors

Key Takeaways

  • A new E Ink screen technology has colors and could be useful for dedicated eReaders like Amazon’s Kindle.
  • Several eReaders with color E Ink screens have been released in the past year, but only two are available in the US.
  • Color E Ink screens are more expensive than the black and white versions and have slower refresh rates than LEDs.
PocketBook Color. Europe’s first color e-reader with E Ink Kaleido

A new type of E Ink screen could let you enjoy the comforts of reading on a dedicated device while also being able to see illustrations better.

The low power, easy to read E Ink screens that power many eReaders are getting a colorful upgrade. E Ink, the company that makes the screens, has introduced E Ink Kaleido, a new digital paper display technology for eReader and eNote devices with improved colors and a better contrast ratio than past E Ink color technology. But observers say the technology is likely to remain a niche product.

"Fans of E Ink screens would tell you that the benefits include the screens being easier on your eyes, and using less power," Nate Hoffelder, a blogger at The Digital Reader, a site that covers eReader news, said in an email interview. "There's some truth to the first, but current battery and CPU tech is so good that the battery issue has mostly been solved. Phones and tablets last forever, or at least they would if not for device makers choosing thin devices over longer battery life."

Limited Releases So Far

Several eReaders with color E Ink screens have been released in the past year. Most are only available in China, but two models have been released globally. Those are the Pocketbook Color and the Onyx Boox Poke 2 Color.

"This technology is ideal for image-rich information applications such as charts, graphs, maps, photos, comics, and advertising and alleviates the need for a glass-based CFA, making the displays thinner and lighter than ever before, and with a higher optical quality," Jenn Vail, senior director of business and marketing strategy at E Ink, said in an email interview.

But color E Ink screens still have their limitations, Hoffelder said. The color screens are more expensive to produce, and thus the devices cost more. For example, the Pocketbook Color costs $199 while the Onyx Boox Poke 2 Color costs $279. That’s significantly higher compared to Amazon’s popular Kindle black and white eReader, which starts at $89.

E Ink screens are also much slower than LCD and LED screens, Hoffelder noted. "LCD screens can be refreshed 60 times a second, while E Ink screens can take 2 seconds or more," he added.

Billboards That Draw Less Power

Colored E Ink will probably shine brightest with large-scale displays such as billboards, said Vans Pat, an engineer and writer at One Shot Finance, in an email interview. For example, E Ink Triton has been on the market for the past decade and is used for signs. At the same time, E Ink Gallery has also been used in movable advertisements and other signage applications. 

"Utilizing a color e-ink display on a massive scale will be extremely beneficial when it comes to power consumption," Pat added. "Color E Ink will be able to offer versatility (in the sense that billboard images can be altered without having to manually replace them), and power efficiency (no need for refreshing displays such as LCDs and LEDs)."

woman relaxing at home with tablet
Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

Pat proposed the idea of integrating color E Ink screens into the back of phones, alongside regular screens. "A color E Ink on the back of a smartphone constantly displaying notifications would be cool to see, and best of all, it will eat up virtually no battery," he said. 

The Hisense A5C Smartphone was the first E Ink smartphone to use color ePaper. It was followed by the Hisense A5 Pro Smartphone, which features a faster refresh rate. 

E Ink is working on ways to improve its color displays, Vail said, which includes preventing light leakage and better resolution ratio.

I’d love a Color E Ink reader, because it would be a great way to read books and see illustrations without dealing with the limitations of the black and white screen on my Kindle. There’s no word yet, though, on whether Amazon plans to produce a color Kindle. Jeff, are you listening?

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