This Could Finally Be the Year of E Ink, Seriously

Coloured E Ink display (Gif: E Ink)
Coloured E Ink display (Gif: E Ink)

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 colour.

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

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.

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.

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.

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-colour 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-colour E Ink tablet we long for will become reality in the not-too-distant future.