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.
Last Updated 6/17/19 – It’s summer 2019, time for another update! Unfortunately news from Q2 2019 has been very limited and the Paperlike Pro remains the best game in town. The Boox Max 2 is still a viable buy as well, but still has many flaws. This category has (un-officially) entered a stall, but the good news it that we know e-ink monitors are on the radar of some major players, like Benq and Lenovo.
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 Boox 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.
With one of the most confusing product names of all time — the Not-eReader — Dasung went back to the people to raise money for another product. This product launched as an Indiegogo campaign and ultimately raised a small amount of money (just $153,495 from 362 people) in order to produce a secondary, e-ink display for mobile phones. This 7.8-inch device acts as a mirror display for Android devices and iPads as well as an e-ink tablet and even a secondary display.
It’s an interesting idea, but clearly one with serious limitations. First of all, it can mirror the display of a smartphone/tablet, which is great, but if you have an iOS device you can only use that iPhone or iPad for input. This means you are holding your phone but looking at the monitor. Android is able to cede control to the Not-eReader and allow for input there.
More usefully, and more pertinently, it has good video processing capabilities and has an HDMI input so it can act as a secondary display for PCs and Apple computers. It has support for Windows 8 and Windows 10 wireless connections as well. When connected to a computer it can act as a mirror or extension of your desktop. While the size is limited, it should be sufficient for some documents, video, and reference materials you have to leave open or frequently refer back to.
Like the other Dasung products, it’s an open Android tablet so it can do all the other things you’d expect from an Android tablet including, not surprisingly, act as an e-reader.
CES 2019, the world’s largest unveiling of technology news, unfortunately had very little news on e-ink monitors. This year e-ink news included an e-ink keyboard which has similar functionality to Apple’s MacBook Touchbar and Google Assistant Connect, a tiny e-ink display that is sort of a smart refrigerator magnet which displays snippets of information your your upcoming day.
Onyx Boox seemed to have little to no presence at the show, but did do a blog post acknowledging CES was happening as well as claimed they are well-poised for the future because of their Advanced Color ePaper (ACeP) technology. This is a full-color, reflective e-ink display which could be interesting in the future but is original being used on an e-reader for children. You can see an image of it on the company’s Instagram feed. No monitor products were announced or, it seems, demoed.
Boox does have new products coming in 2019, namely the Onyx Boox Note Pro and Nova Pro, but it’s not clear if either can accept HDMI input or have some other way of becoming a true computer monitor similar to the Boox Max 2.
E-Ink (the company) had one big piece of news, which was e-ink (the product) film that could be written one. Called JustWrite, it’s a non-backlit display that can be written on with a stylus. The consensus seems to be that the material won’t work for larger displays or monitors, but will work in a laptop or tablet.
Back in 2018, CES attendees did show off E-Ink booth tours in which the company has some products which products which may hint at upcoming e-ink monitor products but nothing like that seems to have been posted this year.
Speaking of e-ink laptops, Lenovo showed off the Yoga Book C930 at CES 2019. This is a foldable laptop that has an e-ink display in place of a keyboard. This extra display can be used as a e-book reader, keyboard, or drawing pad but it does not seem to be able to be used as a secondary display (or to accept display input).
That’s it for now! Please email if you know of anything I missed.
In non-e-ink monitor news, Benq announce the curious GL2780 display. This is a seemingly standard LED-backlit computer monitor but it has a “ePaper” mode. Benq calls this the “Eye-care B.I. technology plus ePaper and color weakness mode” but this is not in any way an e-ink experience! The monitor simply simulates e-paper by entering a monochrome mode which is black and white only, with limited distractions (it’s still unclear what this means), and lower than normal brightness. This monitor should prove to be affordable and eye-friendly but not what people reading this article are searching for.
Sal Cangeloso September 18th, 2018
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