It was announced last week that Amazon is already working on adding a light into its next generation Kindle. Not having a built in light has been one of the big drawbacks for e-ink e-readers. Easy to read in sunlight? Awesome! But what about at night in bed or on a long car ride?
The speculation is that the lighting will be a softer “frontlit” type of lighting. It is designed to be easier on the eyes than its LCD counterparts. That way the ligthing will still fulfill the promise of longer battery life and comfortable reading.
Usually when one e-reader company gets a bright idea, the others quickly follow suit. Last year’s big thing was touchscreen e-ink. There are already posts floating around that hint on a Nook counterpart to the new lighted Kindle.
This year’s big e-ink feature is shaping up to be light. Will next year’s be color? Not sure if color e-ink will be ready for a debut that soon, but you never know. Technology seems to be evolving faster and faster with each passing year.
When the lighted Kindle comes out, the competition will not only be among the major e-readers, but within Amazon’s product line itself.
It probably won’t even matter in the long run, but by including a built in light, Amazon will be killing off Kindle light accessories and Amazon’s own Kindle Lighted Cover. As I said, this matter will probably be pretty insignificant in the scheme of the things because for awhile yet, there will still be owners of the older models. Then, eventually the accessories will be redesigned to suit the needs of the newer Kindle generations.
So, e-ink devices have not succombed to tablets yet. They still have some major potential that can help them stay in the game.
The tablet market is off and running and the Kindle Fire is doing very well. I have often wondered what the future of the original e-reader will look like. Now that the Kindle, Nook, and Kobo e-readers are all touchscreen, what is the next big update?
I’m not saying they’re perfect by any means. The page transitions could be smoother, and the page turn buttons could be arranged a little better to make things more comfortable for lefties. Then of course, there’s always the potential for faster browsing in the Amazon Store.
Right now to me at least, my Kindle and iPad serve completely different purposes. I have tried reading a book on both an iPad and Kindle Fire, and the screen is just too bright for me to read for a long time. My Kindle Touch isn’t really a gadget to me that I feel like I need to separate myself from like the computer or phone.
A hybrid tablet and e-reader has been mentioned in the past, and I think this is most likely what will happen. The trick is designing one that can create the same effect that both an e-reader and a tablet can. I’m not exactly sure how far off this possibility is, but it would be nice to be about to just carry around one device that does multiple things. At the same time though, if that device is stolen, you lose everything.
With the Kindle Fire out now, I’m not sure I really see a point in creating a color e-ink Kindle. Most books, regardless of whether they are print and electronic don’t use much color. I can see it being used for highlights and annotations, but how high is the demand for that?
In the short term, I would love to see a light built into the Kindle. I don’t mean a backlight necessarily, but perhaps a light that is built in at the top that can flip in and out when needed. There are a number of good clip on lights available, but having one that fits seamlessly into the device would be ideal.
E-readers are continuing to show strong sales, and now that the prices are lower than ever, many more consumers are able to jump on the e-reader bandwagon. In the next year or two at least, I think e-readers like the Kindle and Kindle Touch will draw sales from these new consumers.
Looking ahead 5 years or so, I predict that the hybrid e-reader/tablet will emerge and take a share in the market. But who knows, there may be something completely different around to shake things up. Technology progresses incredibly fast these days. To say the pace of technology competition and updates are overwhelming is a major understatement.
With Kindle 4 being released, some people on forums started arguing whether Pearl eInk screen is the same in $99 Kindle Keyboard and $79 Kindle 4 “Non-Touch”. Both sides have posted side-by-side photos to support their claims. Having recently obtained a Spyder 3 Print SR colorimeter for purposes of calibrating my printer I decided to do my own research.
Telling whether two colors are the same or not is a tricky business. Lighting, our eyes and brain can play tricks on us that can be best illustrated by this short video.
Different colors may appear the same under different lighting conditions or if they are positioned in a certain way. The opposite can also be true. The biggest factor is the context – what is around objects that we try to color-match. It can make things appear darker or lighter or even change tint. This is where precision colorimeters come in. Precision colorimeter is a device that contains calibrated light source and calibrated color sensor that measures color of a very small spot on an object. This eliminates effects of external lighting and takes our eyes out of the equation. It produces 3 numbers “L”, “a” and “b” that precisely identify a color regardless of its origin or context. “L” stands for lightness. It measures how bright the color is. This is what one would care the most when evaluating grayscale device such as Kindle. “a” and “b” contain information about color – whether it is green or blue. Ideal neutral gray color has both “a” and “b” equal zero.
In the past I did some very crude measurements to compare Kindle 2 and Kindle 3 with my DSLR by trying to keep lighting consistent across exposures. This time I used the Spyder colorimeter to compare Kindle 4 and Kindle 3. I also threw Kindle 2 and Kindle 1 I had in the mix to gather more data and validate my DSLR measurements. I created 16 PNG files that contain monotonous squares ranging from #000000 to #ffffff with #111111 as a step. I copied these files on Kindle devices and measured each square with colorimeter. To make results consistent I refreshed the screen by pressing Alt-G before each measurement (Keyboard+Back on Kindle 4). If I weren’t lazy I would measure each color multiple times and average out the results. However after some testing I found little variation in measurements of the same color so I let it slide. Below is the table with measurement results and a graph to illustrate it.
Dynamic range of the screen is ratio of brightest and darkest color that it can display:
Kindle 4 = 3.57
Kindle 3 = 3.52
Kindle 2 = 2.84
Kindle 1 = 2.39
As you can see, Kindle 3 and Kindle 4 have very similar response curves and dynamic ranges, even despite the fact that I’ve heavily used my Kindle 3 (Keyboard) during the last year, while Kindle 4 is brand new. Perhaps if I had a specimen of unused Kindle Keyboard, measurements would be even closer. On the other hand measurements of Kindle 2 and Kindle 1 are very different from K3/K4. According to Amazon these devices use different screen technology and it shows. These results are also very much in line with my rough DSLR measurements from last year. Kindle 1 supports only 8 shades or gray (as opposed to 16 in later models) and it can be seen in a non-linear character or its transfer curve.
Bottom line: Kindle 4 and Kindle 3 have very similar screens to the point of being identical. While point is the same in Kindle 2 and Kindle 3/4, but Kindle 2 has lighter darks. Kindle 1 has lighter whites but also even lighter darks than Kindle 2.
So, one way to stop the e-ink vs. LCD war is to put both of them in one device. Apparently, Apple (NASDAQ:APPL) has such a device in the works.
This is one of those things I’m going to have to actually see to grasp exactly how this can be done. Comparing a Kindle e-ink display and an iPhone’s LCD display is like comparing apples to oranges. They are so different. They each have different functions and the Kindle is designed just for reading. Sometimes it is good to escape internet and games, and just read.
From what I understand, the user will be able to switch between the iPhone 4 display and an e-ink display depending on their needs. So, in theory, you could use the Kindle Application on your iPhone, and it would be more Kindle like than than the current version that is on the iPhone. If you can use that application, it would still allow you to download and purchase books from the Kindle Store.
So, could this development kill the Kindle if it went into production? Probably not. Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) could either make a rival Kindle device, or they can focus on the Kindle software platform and e-book sales. E-book sales are getting better and better all the time. Especially with authors writing books exclusively for the e-book platform. Another key factor is cost. Many people can’t afford an iPad yet. Even an iPhone costs more than the Kindle does.
It’s possible that this goes without saying, but the huge jump in sales of the Kindle has resulted in some major benefits for their screen producer, E Ink Holdings. E Ink, for those who are unfamiliar, is the company that currently drives the eReader market with its durable, low-power, highly readable displays, and is used on both Amazon’s offering as well as the original Barnes & Noble Nook.
Projections regarding E Ink Holdings are indicating that the company is likely to post better than expected profits for the fourth quarter of 2010, in spite of the fact that earlier estimates already placed them at a 60% improvement over the previous quarter. Overall, it’s been a good year for them, it seems.
Even better, for E Ink and for fans of eReaders in general, 2011 is looking like it will be anything but a plateau for the industry. Analysts are anticipating as many as 22 million sales this year, up from slightly fewer than 11 million in 2010. It only makes sense. Sales are up, prices are down, selections are only getting better, and people are starting to finally get over the idea that Tablet PCs will negatively affect the eReader market. E Ink themselves claim that one in ten consumers already have an eReading device, which is definitely a persuasive factor for many potential customers. A large user group, few of whom have complaints, means a reliable product, after all.
Moving forward with existing screen technology isn’t all that e Ink has going for them, either. Recently, especially since the introduction of the Nook Color, people are thinking that color displays on eReaders are just ever so slightly over the horizon. I’d tend to agree, personally. The offering along those lines from E Ink is their Triton display: a color active matrix display that uses the proven tech we know and love, adapted to show us thousands of entertaining color combinations.
This, assuming it takes off in the face of competition from other widely anticipated display products such as Mirasol’s product, will allow eReaders using the new display to take on things like textbooks, cook books, books for kids, and any number of other types of books traditionally relying on colorful illustration. Is anybody else looking forward to digital copies of Where’s Waldo? I know I am!
For now, the Kindle is doing amazingly with the E Ink Pearl screen technology and manages to stay consistently on top of the market. The screen clarity and contrast is unmatched, so far as I’ve experienced, and it lends itself to battery life that is almost too good to be believed compared to anything we’ve seen previously. Also, it doesn’t hurt that it’s a non-backlit option for reading which most (though yes, I know not all) people who give it a chance tend to appreciate. It’ll be fun to watch where things go from here, but it’s hard to deny that they earned the success they’ve gotten so far, or that things are looking up for the very near future.
For the first time in a while, we have some real hope for a decent full-color eReader in the near future. Sure, the NOOKcolor will be out soon, but nobody really cares that much. E Ink, maker of the current amazingly popular screens for the Kindle and nook, has announced a new display technology that they have dubbed Triton.
E Ink Triton is a color active matrix imaging film that manages to retain all of the benefits of their previous products(such as the monochrome E Ink Pearl screen found in the current generation of the Kindle) without limiting the display options when it comes to illustration. Users can expect to retain the direct sunlight readability, quick page turns, amazing battery life, and durability that they have come to expect and hopefully quite a bit more, depending on how companies like Amazon(NASDAQ:AMZN) manage to adapt the technology for improved user experience.
This comes with the usual cautions, of course, before people get too excited. Namely, this is not an LCD screen. This means that you cannot expect everything to work precisely the same way a standard computer monitor would. You will not be watching video on it, nor will there be a back-light. It is an amazing leap forward for eReading technology, not just another potential selling point for entries into the tablet race. Reflecting on that point, if this works well and is adopted for use in something like the Kindle, there will really no longer be any grounds for complaints about usability from people wanting anything short of a full-function tablet.
This advance bodes well for the future of eReading and will definitely tie in well to such things as the recent push by Amazon to get periodicals published on the Kindle platform. I know that we won’t be seeing a color Kindle by the end of this year, but now that it appears to be a practical inevitability, the possibilities are abundant.
There’s a great deal of talk floating around lately about the potential for a color Kindle device by the end of this year. It’s always been something of a given that a color display with the positive attributes of eInk would be developed and put into production at some point, but few believed it could realistically happen before the end of the year. Now, however, Mirasol Displays is claiming to have a working 5.7″ color eInk-like display in production and on order to a number of clients with delivery expected toward the end of this year and the beginning of next. Further comments revealed that while the earliest adopters will be eReader producers, the fact that these new screens can display 30 frames per second, operate in full sunlight, and and support touchscreens makes them perfect for cellphones and other portable technologies. If these screens live up to their potential and affordable production is already beginning, this could well breathe even greater life into products like the Kindle, allowing them to retain all their current usability and address naysayer complaints about refresh rate and monochrome displays all at once. All that remains to be seen is where things go from here in terms of price, availability, and whether or not Amazon(NASDAQ:AMZN) is among the early adopters.
The small business start up, Kakai has revealed plans for a dual screen device that will rival Kindle for the classroom. This article from Electronista provides a brief overview of the device. It is not a sure thing yet and it isn’t projected to be available for demonstrations for several months. It will be powered by the Linux operating system and feature LCD display instead of the e-ink technology that the Kindle uses. It is said to be both a notepad and e-reader in one with web access and easier textbook downloads. A notepad would be useful for students because it provides an easy way to take notes on the book they are studying.
Overall, the Linux operating system has been a computer techie’s domain because of its fully open source nature. It hasn’t really taken off in the mainstream consumer population. There really aren’t many programs compatible with the operating system at this time. However, it might be a totally different ballgame on an e-reader system.
The Kindle can be quite clunky at times with slow page turns and download speeds. However, the Kindle uses e-ink which supposedly does not cause eye strain like the LCD display does. So that will be an issue that will be interesting to watch in terms of whether it plays any factor in which device is better for educational purposes.
After searching for the best book light to use with the Kindle, I came across the Kandle, by Ozeri. According to the product description, the Kandle can be used on other e-reader devices, regular books and as a free standing night light. The Kandle has pivoting arms for customized page viewing and also includes lights that are distributed evenly to prevent eyestrain and glare. It had the best reviews overall. However, there are many others to choose from. Other book light suggestions include the e-Luminator2 Booklight for Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation and Mighty Bright XtraFlex2 Clip On Light.
After looking at the Kindle forums regarding booklights for the Kindle, I found out that there are a lot of Kindle users who want a backlight option to be added to the next generation of the Kindle. Booklights in general have not had top rated reviews because of their battery drain and instability, as well as their cumbersome nature. Amazon claims that their e-paper technology is easier on the eyes and allows longer, more comfortable reading. The response has been mixed about this assumption. Users have claimed they have no trouble reading on their computers or iPhone. Amazon could install a backlight function just to have the option available. That would put the choice to read with or without a backlight in the hands of the users and not Amazon.
For those who enjoy reading in bed, there is a major reason why you should reach for a Kindle instead of an iPad. Studies show that reading the iPad in bed affects sleeping habits according to a recent article from the Los Angeles Times. The Kindle and other e-book readers such as Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Sony’s e-reader use e-ink. E-ink technology is supposed to simulate the process of reading a page from a “real” book.
However, the iPad uses an LCD screen that emits light like on a computer screen or a television does. On one hand, you can save buying a light and read the iPad under the covers while your significant other, if you have one, sleeps. As you might know, it is recommended that you take a break from the computer or TV before bed so the brain can prepare itself for rest. Since we hold an iPad in such close proximity to our faces, the effect of the artificial light is much greater than from watching a TV across the room. The same idea goes for using the iPad. The Los Angeles Times article says that exposure to such bright and artificial light can slow the production of melatonin, which helps us sleep.
So, curl up with your Kindle, and the reading light if you need it and enjoy some nightly reading pleasure.
Well, the news of the day revolves around the recently announced improvements to the eInk technology. Honestly, it looks like good news. I know, many people are holding out for color, but this is still something to be excited about.
According to information from the recent Red Ferret interview, we’re looking at the potential for significantly higher contrast and refresh rates on eInk displays being made available by the end of the year, as well as some noticeable improvements in durability not too far off beyond that. Comments were made regarding the potential for animation now that the refresh rate has been improved so significantly, but we can probably take that as more of an example case than a real goal for the technology. Maybe for scrolling effects? I can certainly see those being a major boon for eInk based web browsers, if nothing else.
Anyway, good news for the future of eReaders in the face of the increasing competition from the tablet market. It comes at an especially good time, we can hope, with the prevailing opinion being that the next generations of both the Kindle and the nook are probably coming in the next year or so.
I’ve always been fascinated by the way in which new applications drive new developments in technologies. What’s got me interested today is the military applications of eInk. The potential benefits are clear. Low power draw, huge standby times, clear to read in pretty much any conditions, and far more durable than your average LCD. If production costs on the material itself can be driven down sufficiently, this technology could significantly reduce the average infantry load of batteries and equipment at a reasonable price without costing functionality.
HP’s prototype, according to the Wired article on the subject, should be available starting next year. They have some thoughts on how to make the production more efficient, the basic idea being to use the flexible nature of the material to print continuous runs of the displays instead of small batch jobs. Take these, power them with portable solar panels sewn into fabric to charge on the go and you’ve got some really impressive versatility.
This excites me as a consumer, honestly. Yeah, I’ll still want a Kindle or something similar for reading books, but the idea of my next road trip’s GPS being something I can strap to my wrist and forget about when it isn’t in use is quite appealing. A decade ago we started having entertainment technology that was small and thin enough to conveniently fit in a pocket, a decade from now we may have some that can be sewn right into things. Definitely a fun idea.
In an bizarre way, people seem to be looking to devices such as Apple’s new iPad as the future of electronic book technology. This seems…shortsighted. Let’s take a moment to look at a couple of the major complaints people have had regarding eReader adoption.
The lack of the “feel” of a book while reading is a very common theme. Nobody can deny that a Kindle in your hand isn’t quite the same thing as a paperback. Fortunately, after a few minutes of reading, the weight and display size are close enough that you hardly care. What are the chances this will prove true with a 1.5lb half inch thick tablet?
As a tablet, we also have to consider the fact that eInk isn’t involved. For many people this will initially seem a good thing. After all, what complaints about the Kindle don’t begin with the words “no color screen” or “slow page turns”? As anybody who has spent some time with the Kindle can tell you, however, the perception of “staring into a screen” that so many people are concerned with never seems to arrive with the eInk screen. Will the benefits outweigh the loss for iPad owners? How many people do you know who can spend hours a day reading books on their laptop?
Sure, Amazon is hedging their bets with the new Kindle software app for the iPad, but it seems unlikely that it will end up being necessary in the long run.
According to Andrew Nusca’s article on potential growth in the e-book market following the Apple iPad launch, “the average e-reader is 47 years old, makes 75,000 a year and reads two books per month.” This generation tends to associate reading with pleasure, and the lightweight, easy to navigate, Kindle 2 strives to meet those demands. Therefore, the e-ink technology that the Kindle uses is much more akin to reading a regular print book than any computer. The general consensus is that the e-ink technology is more comfortable for reading for longer periods of time. Can anyone picture curling up with an iPad at the beach?
The tablet market, which includes the Apple iPad , is geared towards younger, internet savvy users. The younger group tends to search the internet for smaller chunks of information such as articles, blogs or social networking sites. The average teen spends nearly a full time work week surfing and downloading media from the internet each week according to Nusca.
Another key factor for growth is price. Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray, suggested that Amazon will lower the price of the Kindle to $149 according to an article from CNET News. That would distance the single purpose e-reader market from the multifunctional tablet market. So, in essence, its all about the marketing strategy.
It seems like the Apple iPad announcement has really shaken things up in the tech industry because we are suddenly hearing a lot of new announcements from companies we had almost forgotten about or did not know existed. The latest is Delta Electronics and their 13.1 inch e-reader that will carry a color e-paper display. This display has been developed by Bridgestone and it will hopefully have better refresh rate than the eInk technology that is found on the Kindle. While the e-reader itself may not be very interesting, the display does interest a lot of people because this is what future eBook readers might start using.
Other than the colored, larger version, Delta Electronics also plans to bring forth another e-reader model that will have a monochrome display measuring 8.1 inch. This too will use the same e-paper display technology as the larger, colored version. Both devices are expected to have touchscreen UI’s, since that is the latest thing to add to e-readers.
The date chosen by Delta Electronics has not been the best one though. They chose to announce it the same day when Apple released their iPad. As a result, it simply got buried under a lot of Apple coverage. The color eBook model was actually briefly shown off last year and it did garner some interest at that time.
At this moment, details about the UI are uncertain and hence there is a lot of room to speculate about how it will compete with Kindles and the Nook. Of course, that is only if it plans to compete at all. This could end up being just another boring e-reader that just has a different screen. But if it manages to to do video somehow that might shake things up quite a bit. But even then, it has to have a content store of some kind to compete with the Kindle, Nook or the iPad even. Current estimated shipping date is sometime in Q2 2010, same as the Asus Dr-950 e-reader.
The eInk display technology (the same one that is used on Kindle screens) has a new rival. Far more than LG’s micro foil technology that is used by Hearst, Qualcomm’s Mirasol display technology is threatening to overtake eInk by the end of this year. Mirasol, as we reported earlier, is a new display technology that is being developed by a team of researchers under the banner of Qualcomm — their primary sponsor. The main advantage of this technology is that it has the capability of producing RGB pixels. That means full color displays. And it doesn’t stop there either.
Mirasol can also display video and decent frame rates and according to those who saw the demo at CES 2010 — it is a very promising new technology. Because even though the screen is doing full color video, the developers claim that it has a 6x battery advantage over eInk under average eInk usage. The overlaying of a capacitive touchscreen allows the screen to become touch enabled but reduces the display’s sharpness slightly. Still, it is supposed to be capable enough to take over the eInk displays. To give you an estimate – if your eInk display device lasts one full day on a single charge, the same device will last for 6 days on the same single charge and battery if it uses a Mirasol display. Of course, this is all theoretically speaking but the real world value is still likely to be quite high.
Mirasol can easily be read under direct sunlight like the eInk screens and it can also be evenly backlit for dark situations – something that the eInk screens are not equipped for. Mirasol is likely to hit by the end of 2010 and the first screens will be around 5.7 in size — enough for medium sized eBook readers and may be even tablet devices. Watch the video for a look at what it looks like.
Skiff is the result of the efforts put in by Hearst and it was previewed at this year’s CES. Skiff is an eBook reader like no other. It uses LG’s Micro Foil display technology that allows the device to be the largest and yet the thinnest eBook reader in existence. It is so thin that there’s a press photo of ir being bent and it look just like a piece of plastic being bent. But make no mistake about its features because it is pretty well packed and some people are saying that is looks better than even the Kindle DX.
It comes with both WiFi and 3G, the latter of which is brought to you by Sprint. The device is optimized for large format print publications like newspaper and magazines. It will have an undisclosed number of tie ups with various content providers, including the San Francisco Chronicle, as seen in the image on the right. The reader is supposed to enable the distribution and viewing of print media content in rich visual styles including rich layouts and detailed letter faces along with dynamic updates to the device itself. They are probably referring to the availability of 3G on the device and pushing content over the air. It remains to be seen whether the 3G connection is baked into the price of the product like the International Kindle.
The Skiff eBook reader will integrate with the Skiff e-reader service, which is the equivalent of the Whispernet on the Kindle. But instead of mainly books, think mostly periodicals that you have to subscribe to. The people behind the Skiff are hopeful that this device will help the industry turn around and make some money from subscriptions which are flagging. And the Skiff’s gorgeous and sleek looks are going to come in real handy in those efforts.
If there’s one thing that has always been the complaint against e-book readers — it is the lack of color and also video in some cases. Of course, the counter argument was that it was a fair trade off for saving your retinas and achieving a paper like display on an electronic medium. It made the eBook readers like Kindle what they are today. But of course, we want everything!
Hence , the logical next step in display technology was to make a display with all the advantages of e-Ink screens that could also display full RGB color and may be even video. Thinking along these lines are multiple teams and they all have their own approach towards the problem. We have already seen the Qualcomm backed Mirasol project and then there was the Pixel Qi screen that made news at CES 2010. It seems like another project that is working on a different solution to the same problem got overlooked.
It started as a Philips project but then went independent. They promised a product in 2009 but went awfully quiet after that. But now they are showing off their displays and products are apparently in the pipeline. The technology that they are using is called Electrowetting, according to the website and from the way it reads, it seems like a modification and improvement on top of the LCD technology. It has the low power consumption that is expected from this class of displays and it also has video rendering capabilities.
They seem to have three versions of this display – LiquavistaBright, LiquavisaColor and LiquavistaVivid. You can read more about each variety over at their website. Over all, they say that it can be manufactured with existing procedures and it is also very scalable.
They have demos on their website from CES 2010 and they look pretty good. However, I will only believe their claims when I see the first product line and its average price tag.
The eInk-LCD hybrid display screen from Pixel Qi will be on display at the upcoming CES event and everyone’s really interested to see it in person. But before it goes up on display, many units of it would probably have been shipped to India for use on a new tablet device called Adam.
Pixel Qi’s hybrid screen gives us what we have been wanting for some time now — the battery life of an eInk display (the one used on the Kindle and other ebook readers) and the usability of an LCD screen. And it gives us the advantages of both in the most literal way possible by combining the two. I my opinion it doesn’t exactly solve everything because it doesn’t look as good as an LCD screen and probably isn’t as easy to read under direct sunlight. But it is still a usable compromise.
So this tablet device called Adam, is currently being developed by an Indian company called Notion Ink. This is most likely the only such start up from that entire continent to have shown up on the radar of the international tech community. While the tablet device is not meant to be only an eBook reader, it is certainly going to capable of doing that. It is basically a Tegra based smartpad that will be targeted at low-cost computing on the go for the Indian masses.
But it is actually very relevant for the eBook reader market because it will become the first device to demonstrate in a rigorous real life scenario whether or not the display technology will hold. The eBook market is pretty demanding when it comes to battery life and readability. They have been spoiled on the eInk and even thought it has pathetically slow frame rates, the extremely low power consumption and the high degree of readability has made it quite popular. But backlight is missing, so is color and video. So newer technology is immediately required.
The screen is real but the housing is non-functional right now
Qualcomm is funding the development of a new type of display technology called Mirasol and it is being touted as the future of eBook readers. That means it will replace the e-Ink technology that our beloved Kindle uses. So how does it work and why is it (reportedly) so much better?
Mirasol has been developed by mimicking a feature that makes the butterfly’s wings shimmer. It uses no back lighting, just like e-Ink and uses incidental light to reflect it back through a special layer. This layer is made up of multiple microscopic membranes that can be change through electric current. Once they change, they remain static in that state until another electric charge causes them to change again. This means they do not use electricity during a period of no change.
Their main advantage is that these membranes can produce the three main colors used in modern color displays – Red, Green And Blue (RGB) – and hence can produce a vibrant colored image. They also produce very impressive blacks (at least in theory) because in their closed state they reflect no light at all and have no other source of light.
Due to their design, they are able to run higher frame rates, thus making smooth videos a possibility on the display. Currently, pushing the frame rate up on the e-Ink would cause it to consume more battery.
That is because e-Ink uses tiny microcapsules that have three states – Black, white amd mixed. Changing them through negative and positive charges creates the same effect as LCD pixels. But since they contain physical particles, they do not need any backlighting. But making them support RGB would require highly specialized particles and higher frame rates would require much more current.
How this will affect eBook readers is still debatable but if it does become viable, then Amazon might consider switching. We just have to wait a bit more to see how it pans out. Qualcomm intends to have it in the market by the end of 2010.
There’s a new Cool-er Reader coming, and it’s supposed to give Amazon a run for its money. According to the Mirror, the new device will not only have wireless, but also a full color screen. And possibly a touchscreen. All from a company that has made a profit selling budget eReaders.
Further details won’t be released until CES in January, but I have a feeling that any rumors surrounding the device are way overblown. If the new device is still in the budget range and does feature everything its supposed to, then it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call it a Kindle killer. But I’m not sure how Interead could possibly pack in more features than the Kindle and still beat the Kindle on price.
It is possible that Interead is planning something that isn’t an eInk device at all, but something with LCD. Of course, that would stretch the definition of eReader since the device would feel like a tablet PC with most its features missing. I could be wrong though, and it might be possible that Interead comes out with something that is a mind blowing success. Especially now that Coolerbooks has gained additional support from Google.
If Interead is planning a color eInk device, then Amazon may also have a color Kindle around the corner. Amazon has been waiting on color because the quality of color displays from E-Ink Corporation isn’t up to their standards. Since everyone is basically using the same E-Ink technology, if one company can do color others probably can too.
There isn’t really any major technological developments involved. The ink changes color depending on its temperature. By evenly layering the ink across paper, and adjusting the ink’s temperature via various electric voltages, the appearance of the paper can be altered.
At the moment, this is really just a proof of concept. It’s planned use is for integrated displays in affordable scientific tools, such as a water tester. But what if the technology was refined and used as a cheaper alternative to an E-Ink display? A fine tuned electric grid placed across a thermochromic surface could create a durable, relatively inexpensive, dynamic display. The refresh rate wouldn’t be fast enough to be a computer monitor, but it could work as an eReader.
Such an application is probably unlikely due to the long head start of eInk technology, but display is fairly cool nonetheless. If you want, you can try to build one yourself, but I’ll warn you that the paper can get a bit technical.
In regards to the lawsuit against Arizona State University, over the Kindle DX‘s inaccessibility for blind people, a quick search for braille eReaders brought up this prototype design.
Unfortunately, no such device is yet in production, but the basic technology already exists. Braille displays for blind computer users have been around for decades, and it’s only the prohibitive cost that has kept an eReader like this from being developed. As research continues, it can be expected that something like this prototype will one day exist.
A braille device that fell under the Kindle brand, or at the very least had support for the Kindle Store, would solve any problems surrounding the current suit against ASU. But even more important would be the larger effect a braille eReader would have. Unlike the purchase of a normal eReader, which essentially comes down to a consumer’s personal preference, a braille eReader would have near universal acceptance in the blind community. With braille, a refreshable eReader with a limitless digital library would have clear benefits over the limited supply of bulky paper braille books. If such a device could be developed at a reasonable price, the maker would not only stand to help the disable but also to make a huge profit.
Ok, lets pick up where we left off: My Kindle DX has just arrived…
Unboxing Kindle DX
Kindle DX power up
Exterior & Ergonomics
Kindle DX is much larger and slightly heavier than Kindle 2. In fact If you put K2 on top of DX, K2 would be almost the same size as DX’s screen. It’s still comfortable to hold and flip pages, at least for right handed people like me. Of course it works upside down and it’s usable this way but I will pass on making a judgment on how comfortable such setup would be for left-handed people. One thing for sure – alphanumeric keyboard is not usable this way. Landscape mode is comfortable. As Kindle is rotated, 5-way controller is automatically remapped so left remains left and right remains right.
Amazon leather cover now comes with two magnets to keep itself shut. If you are still using floppy disks from the previous millennium you shouldn’t put them next to Kindle DX if you are using the cover.
Kindle DX vs. Kindle 2
Screen and fonts
It’s large. That’s for sure. 824×1200 pixels. It seems to update faster than Kindle 2 and whiles seems to be slightly lighter. There’s minimal ghosting sometimes just as on my second K2. The first K2 that was bricked by airplane didn’t have ghosting problem. Screensaver pictures seem to be the same as in K2 but upscaled and they do look gorgeous on the big screen. Fonts seem darker. So looks like Amazon took complaints about low contrast in Kindle 2 seriously and decided to address them. Spatial resolution is slightly lower – 150ppicomared to 167 in Kindle 2.
I’ve downloaded samples of some of the “books that look good on Kindle DX’s large screen“… Really they should be called “books that would have looked great on Kindle DX should have looked great on Kindle DX if images were not downsampled to lower resolution… I’ve checked 3 books and none looked as good as screensaver images. You could clearly see that illustrations in these books are much lower resolution than the screen. Hopefully this will get fixed as some point.
There are 7 font sizes just as in previous models. However the smallest font on Kindle DX seems to correspond to second smallest on K2. I can’t say for sure because I have Droid fonts installed on my K2 so that I can read Cyrillic. When font size dialog is invoked there are 2 additional options there that are specific to DX: “Words Per Line” and “Screen Rotation”. The second one is pretty much self-explanatory: you can explicitly select one of the four rotations or set it auto and let the accelerometer control it. “Words Per Line” really controls left and right margin width. Three available options are: default, fewer and fewest. At the moment I don’t quite understand the use of it. If I would want smaller screen area I’d just use K2. As this option is changed inline pictures as downscaled as well.
Works as advertised – the image rotates as you rotated the device. Refresh time is good. Changing scren orientation is as fast as flipping a page.
Kindle DX Landscape
Keyboard layout is QWERTY. Numeric row is merged with top letter row. To enter numbers you need to hold the “Alt” button. If you just need to enter one digit, you can press “alt” and digit in sequence (“alt” is “sticky” just likethe “shift” button). On DX buttons stick out more and are harder to press. Overall I found K2 keyboard more comfortable and easy to use than DX. Except “Next page” button being larger on DX, buttons on the right edge of the device are identical. 5-way controller stick is higher on DX.
Kindle DX relies on it’s large screen to display PDF files “as is”, without re-flowing the text (which would be next to impossible with PDF since the format lacks any concept of paragraphs or text continuity). The only way to zoom that I could find is to switch to landscape mode. It’s not such a big problem because most PDF files that people would want to read are preformatted for either Letter or A4 page size and Kindle DX screen is comparable in size to these formats.
Although there is concept of pages in PDF and you can navigate to any given page, both internal and external links in PDF files are disabled. Structured table of contents that is present in some PDF files is not usable either.
Graphically PDF files look fine and crisp. Rendering time is also good. It usually takes around 5 seconds to open the file initially and after that pagination speed is the same as when reading ebooks.
It’s not possible to download PDF files to your Kindle via WhisperNet. Most likely this is because Amazon pays 12 cents per megabyte to Sprint while keeping Internet connection free for Kindle owners. Given decent support that Kindle DX has for PDF files, abundance of PDF files on the Internet that people would like to download and read and relatively large size of these files it wouldn’t be a good idea for Amazon to enable such downloads.
It so happens that in my past life I spent a lot of time writing software that would process PDF files. Some time later I’ll run a comprehensive test of PDF support in Kindle DX and publish the results here.
Web browsing seems to be that same as on Kindle 2. “Advanced mode” is now called “Desktop mode’”. Basic mode is still much faster and usable than desktop mode. I tried to render BlogKindle.com in desktop mode and DX actually rendered it quite well. The only problem I could see was the lack of PNG transparency support.
Kindle DX Basic Web
9 inch screen definitely makes browsing a better experience.
There are seemingly no changes in this feature. Funny thing that I’ve noticed as I experimented with it that female voice seems to have trouble pronouncing word USB. With male voice turned on is sounds much more natural.
Apart from PDF support, changes to font size dialog, picture viewer mentioned above and additional game mentioned below Kindle software remains the same. Kindle DX comes out of the box with firmware version: 2.1 (337560062). Source code for Kindle DX is already published by Amazon and I’ll take a look at it. What seems important is that it has a separate section for Kindle DX sources code. On this basis I would speculate that next version of software for Kindle 2 is going to be 2.0.4, for Kindle DX it’s going to be 2.1.1. These will come from separate branches of code so I wouldn’t hope too much for PDF support being ported to Kindle 2 any time soon.
Unfortunately Kindle DX was unresponsive to the “old way hacking”. When I created a small “update” using Igor’s tool to dump the system log along with full directory listing to the root of Kindle drive the “Update Your Kindle” menu item remained disabled. Either Amazon has changed the format of the update files or they’ve come up with some way to digitally sign them to prevent hacking. Either way this means no unicode fonts for Kindle DX for the time being :(
Minesweeper is still there. It’s accessible by pressing Alt–Shift-M in the home screen. If you press G after minesweeper is started you can play GoMoKu (it’s like tic-tac-toe but on a large board and the goal is to get 5 in a row). Kindle is actually a very good GoMoKu player. I played it twice and so far the score is 1-1 even though human player always gets the first turn.
Picture viewer is also there. To activate it connect Kindle via USB cable to your PC and create “pictures” folder in Kindle USB disk. Create subfolders there and copy pictures. Subfolders will become “book” names and pictures will be pages. JPG, PNG and GIF files are known to be supported. Once you’ve copied the files, disconnect the USB cable and press Alt-Z in the home screen – you should see your picture folders among books now. Scaling options have moved from the main menu to font-size dialog. Kindle DX will never try to stretch image to fit the screen but it can downscale to either fit width, height or screen. You can also display image at actual size and use 5-way controller to navigate the image. Screen rotation is also supported.
Symbol keyboard shortcuts are gone since numeric row is merged with the top letter row.
Hidden settings are still there. Typing “411″ and “611″ (using the alt-key) open corresponding settings pages.
Kindle DX is a nice device. Perhaps it’s not as much better as people hoped it would be but Kindle 2 sets the bar quite high. For day-to-day book reading I would still recommend Kindle 2 because of greater portability. If you can’t get by without PDF support and don’t want to use Savory hack (that would add similar or better level support than what’s available in 2.1) – Kindle DX is right for you. Hopefully with time there will be digital media that would take advantage of Kindle DX’s large screen.
Stay tuned for more detailed reviews, second impressions etc…
Prime View International (PVI) signed an agreement to acquire eInk Corporation (producer of electrophoretic used in Amazon Kindle and Sony PRS eReaders) for $215,000,000. PVI has been consolidating eInk related assets for quite some time, starting with acquision of ePaper business from Philips in 2005. In 2008 PVI acquired Hydis technologies, a company that produces elements for eInk screens.
Most analysts agree that this will eventually lead to cheaper eInk displays available to device manufacturers like Sony and Amazon. However eInk CEO Russ Wilcox told Forbes in an interview that integrating two companies will take time so there will be no immediate price drop.