It turns out that staring at back-lit computer monitors for 40+ hours a week might not be the best thing for you. With this in mind many of us have started to look towards alternate technologies, largely e-ink. It’s a nascent market with a limited number of players and it’s not moving very quickly, but it’s important nonetheless.
Here are the basics and some help choosing your first e-ink computer monitor.
The goal of this article is to help you find an e-ink monitor for your computer. At least that was my initial goal, and then I realized that I had a lot of learning to do about E-ink and its application as a (somewhat) performant display. What I wanted (and most people seem to be looking for) is a secondary display that extends the window of a desktop or laptop. An increasing number of people believe this is a good idea for developers and other people who spend a lot of time looking at computer screens, particularly at text (as the e-ink displays aren’t great for video).
These aren’t ebook readers, they are full on displays that are capable of being used in a professional setting by a reasonably demanding user.
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The Onyx Boox Max 2 (sometimes spelled Max2) is technically a giant ebook reader, but it works as a monitor if you simply plugin in an HDMI cord to your computer. It has a 13.3-inch, 2200×1650 touchscreen… and it’s actually an Android tablet. So it’s not cheap, but it’s a full-fledged device on its own. Sony’DPT-RP1 has similar specs but can’t operate as a monitor.
The Dasung Paperlike is a dedicated monitor — it has no battery, no on-board processing, and no uses outside of being a monitor. It originally launched as a Indiegogo project and has picked up momentum since then. The Paperlike runs at up to 40 frames per second (FPS) so it’s capable of displaying video fairly well.
Sadly, hose are about the only options available. There is a lot of talk about memory LCD and other options, at least if you want something commercially available that won’t include a bunch of FPGA work and miscellaneous hacking.
Right from the start, let’s make it clear that these devices are expensive, they come from manufacturers you probably haven’t heard of, and they come with serious tradeoffs. So, generally speaking, E-Ink / e-paper displays are not very practical. They are slow (max of 40hz), expensive (at least twice the price of a professional great LED-backlit display), and use non-standard to setups.
That said, if you are getting headaches, you are concerned with backlighting or blue light, you have symptoms of computer vision syndrome (seeing snow, etc), or you are getting frequent computer-related headaches or eyestrain then these monitors might be very practical because one might improve your health or, at least, be a respite from serious discomfort.
Based on my research, particularly great e-ink monitor comparisons, these devices are not ready for professional, daily use. They are laggy, have staining/ghosting problems, and perhaps worst, are quite unreliable. It seems that the failure rate on both of these devices is quite high and user happiness is quite low. If e-ink is your only option (because of health reasons) then these might be a savior, but short of that it seems like your best best is to wait for future development in the space.
I was hoping this was going to be more of a debate (more competition would be better for everyone!) but it looks like the Onyx Box Max 2 is the clear winner here. It’s easier to setup, it doubles as ebook reader, and it has a battery so there are less cables.
To be far, many Dasung PaperLike owners seem happy with their product, but there are also a number of issues people have pointed out with it: glare, problems when switching displays, and a general feeling that product feels like its still in beta.
The Onyx Book Max 2 seems to be far from perfect, but it’s a much more fluid experience to use day-to-day. Plus it works as an Android-powered ebook reader, so you can read books, documents, PDFs, and other files on it, even without it being connected to your computer.
Sal Cangeloso September 18th, 2018
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