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An E-Ink Android reference smartphone design from MWC

by Mark Tyson on 28 February 2013, 11:19

Tags: Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), PC

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We last saw an E-Ink screen paired with a smartphone used in the Yotaphone project at CES 2013. That Android smartphone had both and E-Ink display and a regular colour display on the other side. At MWC an unnamed Chinese company has been showing an E-Ink Android smartphone reference design which could be used in a similar dual-screen design or it could just be used alone.

Many of the mobile phones unveiled at MWC would give up the ghost in a day or less so it would be good to see something that outlasts them by a long chalk yet still provides smartphone functionality (i.e. not the new Nokia 105). Also in the bright sun of Barcelona it would be good to be able to read your smartphone display outside with ease. The E-Ink display helps facilitate both these things.

However as you can see from the video the E-Ink smartphone is not without its drawbacks. If anyone has tried a device using an E-Ink display you will have experienced slower refresh rates and though usable it makes the device as a whole appear to lag in response to user interaction, scrolling etc. For communications, texts, emails, browsing or even using maps the mono display can be fine but for many kinds of modern multimedia applications or games it’s just not usable.

All the specs we know

  • CPU: ARM Cortex-A5 family
  • Battery life: 4 weeks
  • OS: Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread with tiled app menu
  • Weight: 80g

The video, from MobileGeeks, gives you a good preview of the E-Ink reference design. However there’s a big problem in this video: the phone being demonstrated apparently has an uncalibrated touchscreen display so the hands-on isn’t very impressive. When the presenter wants to click anywhere on screen it’s a hit-and-miss affair, with so many links and icons in a small space on a modern smartphone this kind of uncalibrated or miscalibrated device just isn’t useful.

Engadget also made a hands-on video of this e-ink smartphone and it appears to be working a little more smoothly in their video, perhaps the development company decided to calibrate the display between the Mobile Geeks and Engadget tests.

HEXUS Forums :: 5 Comments

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Interesting concept, but I can only really see it working with a whole bunch of custom apps designed to give a smartphone experience with e-ink. If it included a browser that automatically paged website content, a maps app with simplified navigation (so less pinch/swipe and more on-screen UI elements) etc. it could be a really useful device, particularly as a phablet replacement (after all, web browsing email e-reader with phone capability fills a lots of general use cases).

I know I'm sounding like a broken record with this, but I could see businesses going after it in a big way: a long battery communications device with only limited “fun” potential? Even better, make this the phone part of a pad/phone device, so when you want the full range of UI experience you dock it with the tablet and get full on Android, but the phone itself runs a limited, e-ink friendly UI (easy enough, just make the phone switch launchers when it's docked ;) ). Then make a desk dock, add some mouse/keybaord enhancements, and you've got a mobile workstation :D

OK, I seriously need to hit kickstarter with this :D
I love the idea/concept - makes you wonder why no-one has done it before ;)

If priced right this sort of device would be perfect for festivals/trips away from power sources, offering basic smartphone functionality and a batter life that even beats the £15 nokias that I usually take to a festival.

On to a winner here I think!
Bad battery life is one thing that really annoys me on modern smartphones. I normally blame it on the fact that they are being made too thin so that battery is a compromise
Put the eInk display on the back of a regular smartphone. Use which ever screen is best in any given situation. Add a stylus too. I think that pretty much covers it.
Hope it takes off. I'm still stuck in the featurephone era because of rubbish battery life and poor daylight readability of most smartphones.