Is E-Ink Worth It?

January 15, 2010

kindle 2.0This year is being touted as the year of the slate computer.  CES was filled with announcements of new computers that are like over-glorified e-book readers.  Of course, e-book readers are also being announced right and left.  This Christmas was Amazon’s biggest year for the Kindle so far, and claimed that on Christmas day sold more e-books than print.  But the worth of e-readers like the Kindle and Sony’s E-Reader are being questioned.  Well, more specifically, the E-Ink technology they use is being questioned.  E-Ink techonogy is one of the main reasons prices for e-readers remain high.  So, is E-Ink worth the price?

A quick and easy way to decide this is to look at the pros and cons of E-Ink.  On the pro side, e-ink use uses less power.  It only needs to charge the screen one with each page turn, so the over all power usage is low, and an e-reader can go for days or even weeks (without a wireless connection).  It is also supposed to be better on the eyes.  You can read e-ink for longer and not suffer from eye strain than say an LED screen.

The cons for e-ink are about as many as it’s pros.  The first one that is always brought up is the low contrast.  E-ink is black on a gray background, so the text doesn’t stand out as well as black against white.  It also doesn’t do so well with pictures as everything is rended in gray scale.  The other, and biggest complaint is the slow page turns.  E-ink can take up to a second to refresh the page, and it flickers in the process, which can be distracting.

sony_prs-700Tech reviewers that I’ve heard and read seem to play up the cons and downplay the pros.  They question if LED is really that bad to read on.  And the speed, or lack there of, really seems to annoy them.  So the question becomes are these things really that much of a deal breaker?  I finally got to play with an e-reader with e-ink.  Staples had a Sony e-Reader on display and I played around with it.  And I have to say, I think, as a consumer, I think they do have some valid points.  The biggest I will agree with is the flickering as the page changes.  The speed isn’t so bad, but the flashing of the screen as it redraws was downright distracting.  I’m sure I could get used to the black on gray contrast.  I’ve read some books on not the best paper, but I think my eyes would like greater contrast better.

So, is e-ink worth all the attention it’s been getting?  Is it what makes an e-reader and e-reader?  Can an e-reader with an LCD screen still be considered a reader or a pc tablet?  Personally, I don’t think the e-ink makes the difference.  It may have spurred the current e-reader market, but whether a device has it or not doesn’t decide it’s function.  LCD or e-ink, a device that only read books is an e-reader.  A device that does more is a tablet.  It isn’t form but function that matters.  And as for e-ink?  As long as it has the flicker, I’m not interested.  It’s nothing like turning a page.  The world doesn’t go blank and suddenly reappear for a page turn.

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7 Comments for this entry

  • Since I was standing next to you when you were looking at the e-reader, I have to say I was completely unimpressed. The long refresh times, the flashing, the bad contrast, all of it turned me off of the Sony product entirely, not to mention that by reducing the font size so you can read a full page at a time, it’s a strain on the eyes. When you read a page as fast as I do, you need as many words on-screen as possible, especially with the slow refresh and annoying flash, I’d want to limit how often I had to see those and with Sony, I’d be looking at them a couple of times a minute, minimum.

    Yet another product I have no interest whatsoever in owning.

  • Simon Jones says:

    The question as to whether LCD is just as good as e-ink for reading, one must consider the context of use. Under different conditions, advantages may become negatives, and vice versa.

    A 5-minute side by side comparison at an indoor tech convention is not the same as actually using the devices in the real world as they are intended. E-ink readers provide at least 24~48 full hours of reading on one charge; LCD devices cannot. E-ink outperforms LCD in full sunlight; in such optimal conditions, you may even appreciate the lower contrast. Of course, in darkness, backlit LCD wins.

    My only knock against e-ink is that it is a transitional technology, like laserdisc caught between VHS and DVD. Once color e-ink capable of 60fps becomes perfected, it may end up replacing LCD in portable devices where outdoor use and battery life is a concern.

    • Yes. As I said, most of the criticism has been from tech critics, who tend to live in a different world from the rest of us. They work on the theory of recharging devices every night and dismiss battery time more than the display. Though I do wonder about color e-ink. I know there are devices that use it in Asia, but they are very expensive, and for e-readers to take off, I really do believe the price needs to come down to below $200. I’ve been hearing more about OLED screens. I wonder how they compare to e-ink and LED, and if they could be what we need to split the difference.

  • Michelle says:

    I think you need to check out a Kindle. I got one for Christmas and I haven’t put it down since! There is NO noticeable delay in page turning. It’s easy on the eyes and delightful to read on.

    I could live with a bit more contrast, but this is not hard to deal with and I’m 60 years old. The eyes aren’t what they used to be.

    Overall…I don’t know how I lived without my Kindle!

    • If there was one available locally I would. But I’m holding out on buying anything. There were so many announcements at the end of the year and at CES, I’d prefer to wait for the market to shake out. And like Simon mentioned, e-ink may just be a transitional technology. As much as I loved my laser discs, most have been replaced with DVD. I don’t want to be in the same position with an e-reader. But I’m glad you’re enjoying it! I have heard a lot of older readers like the Kindle. Keep Reading!

  • secret says:

    I have had a prs 600 for two days now and i love it! I have like 300 books on it because there i s this website that lets u download in pdf format. And u cant play pdfs on a kindle. Anyways anyone who says that the glare is a big problem is lazy and cant move their hand to swift the angle. Get some exercise folks!!

  • Chris B says:

    Yes, there are two major advantages of eInk, and you won’t notice them in a 5 min comparison.

    1. Most importantly, you can read for hours with eInk with no more eye strain than when using a book, this simply is not true on LCD.

    2. The power consumption of an eInk display is so small you can go for days without having recharge your eInk reader.

    These two factors mean you can read through mountains of material in a away that was impossible with LCD. So only people that read a lot in a continuous way are going to notice the benefits, people that just want to show off the latest gadget that they will never actually use are going to be disappointed I’m afraid.

    I agree with the writer who said its transitional in that colour eInk will arrive. On the other-hand they still print books in black and white so I don’t think its a wasted investment for 1-3 years of use. Believe me you can read a lot in a month let alone 3 years, and you can get that knowledge now, not wait that valuable time.

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