tl;dr: I got myself a color ePaper reader and concluded after a month of usage that the tech ain’t ready.
A new desired feature has emerged in my perennial quest to find the perfect computing device: does it have an ePaper screen?
ePaper screens offer one big advantage, they go easy on the power consumption, and two smaller ones: there are some (still disputed) health benefits that supposedly could derive from the lack of backlight; and there’s a particular tech-noir feeling that makes them look antiquated and hyper-modern at the same time.
The holy grail is something with the refresh rate and color vibrancy of an LCD, but using an ePaper screen. That technology does not exist today.
With these considerations in mind, I got my hands on an Onyx Boox Nova 3 Color, an Android tablet that uses the latest iteration of Kaleido tech for the display. I’ve used it every day for about a month and these are my findings.
- The battery life is magnificent. I basically charged it only once a week and each week used it for a few hours every day.
- The CPU is fast enough for anything I threw at it.
- The screen size hits the perfect spot for me. Not too small, but still fitting my man-purse.
- The colors are dead. I know they are a lot better than the previous iteration, but I just can’t stand a mediocre contrast. Whites are dirty and blacks are washed out. Every other color suffers from the original sin of how Kaleido technology addresses the mix of b/w and color.
- Ghosting is a huge problem. If you are using this device for work, you have to choose between a slow refresh rate (half a second or more) or accept the spirit of the previous screen onto your view. You can get used to that, or, if you are like me, you won’t.
- Blue back-light means that using the reader at night is basically as bad for my eyes as reading from my mini-laptop.
- The UI and settings provided by Onyx atop the standard Android experience are quirky. I know fans of the company love it, but I was very underwhelmed by the look and feel. The on-boarding is particularly bad since a ritualistic rain-dance is required to activate the Play store. The default behavior of the standby mode makes it turn the device completely off after just a few minutes of non-use, requiring a full reboot to get back to where you left it.
I was dreaming of hacking code on this device from the park, using an external keyboard in direct sunlight. Instead, I found myself impatiently trying to find a purpose for this gadget. When the initial excitation wore off and realized that even as a bare reader it didn’t offer the contrast I needed, I just gave up and sold the device. What remains is the enthusiasm of the ePaper revolution that will be, and the joy of having played DOOM on a color ePaper screen. I’ll try again with the next generation.
If you do go and buy this device, stay away from Good e-Reader. My experience with them was appalling and not worth a second try. They are definitely taking advantage of the quasi-monopoly they have built for themselves in that space, thanks to their good product-reviews and videos. Just remember to shop elsewhere.