Just six months after the first e-readers featuring E Ink’s colour electronic paper technology arrived, the next generation of devices is already here with upgraded colour screens. The improvements E Ink has made are minor, but the new PocketBook InkPad Colour has a larger screen that offers a much improved reading experience over the original PocketBook Colour.
When E Ink announced the next-generation Kaleido 2 colour electronic paper displays just months after the first version of the product became available to consumers, we weren’t expecting it to solve all of the issues we had with colour E Ink devices like the original PocketBook Colour — and it doesn’t.
E Ink has improved the colour filter array, which is an extra layer that sits atop the company’s black-and-white Carta HD displays to produce colour images. Kaleido 2 promises better colour saturation with screen-lighting, but colour mode still offers just a third of the resolution of black-and-white mode — 300 PPI compared to 100 PPI, which is even lower resolution than what entry-level Kindles offer. That limitation will continue to make colour E Ink devices like this a tough sell, particularly as they grow in size and become more expensive than tablets.
PocketBook InkPad Colour
WHAT IS IT?
The second generation colour e-reader from PocketBook featuring an improved and larger colour E Ink screen.
The E Ink Kaleido 2 screen offers subtle improvements in colour saturation with much better viewing angles, and the larger display on the InkPad Colour makes reading graphic novels easier without zooming.
Reading black-and-white plain text ebooks indoors is almost impossible without turning on the InkPad Colour's backlight, and colour documents are still limited to 100 PPI resolutions and just 4,096 colours.
Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for local Australian pricing and availability.
E Ink still manages to outperform display technologies like LCD and OLED when devices are used outside in bright sunlight, and that’s once again where colour electronic paper really looks its best.
Colours on the Kaleido 2 display appear beautifully saturated with the sun’s rays bouncing off the InkPad Colour’s reflective screen, and contrast levels mean that if you’re headed to the beach, these are still the types of devices you’ll want to bring with you for reading. Indoors, however, even if you’re seated directly beneath a light source, you’ll be relying on the InkPad Colour’s 24 LED sidelights to adequately see its screen.
The extra layers needed to make the current implementation of colour E Ink possible necessitate the use of a front-lit screen. E Ink now acknowledges that with improvements made to Kaleido 2 to specifically address that use case, but the improvements aren’t night and day. Sitting side-by-side with the original PocketBook (with screen lighting turned all the way up on both devices), colours on the the InkPad Colour do look slightly more saturated and accurate (or as accurate as they can with just 4,096 colours), but you really have to be looking for a difference.
Looking directly at each device on its own, I probably couldn’t tell which one was using the original Kaleido screen, and which the newer one. But the difference gets more obvious when viewing each screen from the side. The viewing angles on the Kaleido 2 colour e-paper are vastly improved, with colours staying mostly accurate even as you rotate the device from side to side. It’s a baby step, but a baby step in the right direction.
But there remains one big downside to E Ink’s Kaleido colour screens that will be especially obvious to those using black and white-only e-readers like the Kindle and Kobo. While the InkPad Colour’s black and white Carta HD panel displays plain text at 300 PPI (1872 x 1404 pixels at 7.8-inches) so it looks crisp and sharp, the colour filter array darkens the background quite a bit and reduces contrast, making it hard to read regular ebooks without a bright light over your shoulder or the screen’s lighting turned on.
By comparison, the Carta HD panel on its own in the Kindle and Kobo looks considerably brighter and closer to the appearance of printed text on a page. I’m not necessarily against turning on the InkPad Colour’s screen lighting — the battery life can still lasts a few weeks with it on — but it does make the device appear more like it’s using an LCD than a screen technology that was originally developed to simulate the appearance of printed paper so it’s easier on the eyes. That, and the fact that the lighting used with colour E Ink screens doesn’t allow for colour temperature adjustments late at night when cooler shades can keep you awake, are some of the bigger trade-offs of E Ink going colour.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo, In-House Art
The inclusion of physical buttons on both PocketBook colour devices is a welcome feature that devices like the Kindle have abandoned, but ironically, on the larger PocketBook InkPad Colour, they have actually gotten smaller and harder to find by touch alone.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo, In-House Art
Bonus points to PocketBook for still including microSD slots for expanding the device's storage capabilities, and now USB-C for charging.
That being said, the bump in size from the six-inch PocketBook Colour to the 7.8-inch PocketBook InkPad Colour really does make a big difference in usability and the types of media you can read on it.
Even with a reduced screen resolution in colour mode, the text in most graphic novels is now easy to read without any zooming required, which is still a stuttery process on a device running a dual-core 1 GHz processor, just 1GB of RAM, and a screen with a slow refresh rate. Magazines, on the other hand, which often feature finer print than comic books, are still a challenge to read in colour mode on the InkPad Colour. If that’s what you tend to read the most, you might want to wait for the even larger 10.3-inch colour e-paper screens that E Ink has promised are arriving later this year.
Even with a larger and upgraded colour e-paper display, the PocketBook InkPad Colour still feels like it’s a few upgrades away from really giving tablets some a run for their money. The newest $597 iPad Mini, which now supports the original Apple Pencil for note-taking, is just $100 more than the InkPad Colour. The iPad Mini runs more apps, can access more media, and features a user interface that rarely has you tapping and waiting for something to happen. And then there’s the screen. Sitting side by side, a backlit LCD screen that can display 16 million+ colours makes a side-lit screen that can muster just 4,096 look like an antique, not a next-generation product.
If you’re really excited to try out a colour e-reader, or are just an early adopter in general, the PocketBook InkPad Colour is now the best device using the latest and greatest version of E Ink’s colour electronic paper. It’s more expensive than the original PocketBook Colour by about $130, but the larger screen size is better suited for colour documents like graphic novels or illustrated children’s books. But if you can wait, E Ink’s already got newer versions of its colour e-paper technology en route that will further address the problems with the new display technology. There’s a reason the company is iterating so quickly, and hopefully it won’t take long for it to resolve all these problematic trade-offs.