E-Paper

Archive for E-Paper

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Pixel Qi first first established in 2008 by Mary Lou Jepson and her husband John Ryan took over the reigns as CEO in November 2012. Mary left the company in March of 2013 to become Head of Display Division at Google X. John followed her in September to become the Director Program Management at Google X. With a non-existent executive team and no display prospects for the future, for all sense and purposes, Pixel Qi is out of business.

The company designs liquid crystal displays (LCDs) that can be largely manufactured using the existing manufacturing infrastructure for conventional LCDs. The advantage of Pixel Qi displays over conventional LCDs is mainly that they can be set to operate under transflective mode and reflective mode, improving eye-comfort, power usage, and visibility under bright ambient light.

Pixel QI had some moderate success in the early years and shipped out 2.2 million devices using their technology. The Nation Ink Adam, Innoversal Lattic, Clover Systems Sunbook, Hydra-T3 and their biggest client ZTE released a single tablet using a Pixel QI Screen.

In 2012 3M invested heavily in the future of Pixel Qi and used their financial clout to influence the direction of the company away from consumer electronics to focusing on big business, military and government.

John Ryan, Former CEO of Pixel QI told me in early 2012 that “one of the first ways they will deploy their Pixel Qi technology is within the military and give soldiers a new way to receive mission data. If you look at your average paratrooper or ranger they are constantly receiving revised mission parameters and in harsh conditions like a dessert. Being in very bright environments or in the complete darkness is what the essence of Pixel QI is all about. Most military operations worldwide still employ maps and written communications, to receive updates to their mission parameters requires many steps and circumstances can change at any time. The plan is for soldiers to have heavily versatile tablets that last for weeks and are wired into mission control to receive new updates on the fly.”

Did Pixel QI have any success with the military and was the 3M prompting to enter an untested market the right call? In hindsight Pixel QI never announced any formal contracts with the military, and the entire concept was apparently dead in the water.

The final nail in the coffin for Pixel QI was the loss of their existing fab, where all of the manufacturing was done. Floyd and Harris, an IT company in Budapest, outlined the last major setback in early June of 2013.

“We have been using Pixel Qi displays extensively in our UAV ground control stations and generic field service PCs with much success, so today’s news hit us hard about Pixel Qi having to move its manufacturing base from their current subcontractor. Both one of our clients and the European Pixel Qi distributor has called us with the news, so I believe it must be true. Such moves may have very serious implications for the supply chain and the general availability of the only low power sunlight visible solution available for our systems.” The company went on to say, “From what I heard so far, Chunghwa Picture Tubes (CPT) cannot offer their services to Pixel Qi anymore. Most of my sources tell me that the production quantities are still too low for them, but I couldn’t substantiate this from primary sources. There were already some issues trying to get at least a single piece of the new 1280×800 type screen from them, but I was able to buy one eventually from the other EU distributor, Densitron. One contact at the time said that the first marketable production run of these new panels will only start in September, but again, there was no first hand information about this.”

Within three months of the final loss to their manufacturing capabilities John Ryan, CEO fled to Google.

Currently nobody knows the exact status of Pixel QI. The executive team all fled, the main phone number for their headquarters in California is out of service, as is their satellite office in Texas. None of the email address I have gained over the the last five years are working anymore. This includes their entire executive team, IT department and press office. It was a fun ride Pixel QI, you will be missed.

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Jan
09

Inkcase Plus Hands on Review

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The Inkcase Plus is a portable secondary e-ink touchscreen extension of  your Android smartphone. It was designed to connect via Bluetooth and run a series of dedicated apps that allow you to view pictures, read e-Books or use as a sports tracker.

The InkCase Plus features a  3.5 inch 360 X 600 resolution Mobius e-ink display. It comes with its own battery, which should last about a month with regular use. Unlike the Yotaphone which has the e-ink screen physically apart of the hardware, this one is separate.  There is a dedicated case that Oaxis sells that fits the e-ink screen inside, giving you the functionality of an Android phone on the right and Inkcase Plus on the left.

There are 4 main apps that are available to download from the Google Play store that adds new functionality to the device. There is a connectivity app which basically establishes the Bluetooth connection and lists the number of apps that were specifically created for it. There is also a photo and sports app, which allow you to send over content to your Inkcase. The sports app is a bit of a letdown because the timer is staggered to refresh every 5-10 seconds and basically is just sending over a series of screenshots.

The best app that was made for the Inkcase Plus is the EpiReader  app. It allows you to take advantage of the manual page turn keys and turns it into a dedicated e-reader. All you have to do is download EPUB or PDF documents to  your phone and import them into the EpiReader app. You can then access a menu function to transmit the entire book to your portable and read to  your hearts content.

You can think of the Inkcase Plus as a dumb terminal, when you are reading there is no options to increase the size of the font, change the font-type or augment the linespacing. Instead,  you have to do this on your phone, within the app itself. After making the adjustments it is sent over to the Inkcase live, so you can read books with the font size of your choice. To find the ideal reading setup it does take a bit of time to find your sweet spot.

There are a few other options the Incase Plus allows you to employ. Anytime you get a notification on your phone, such as a phone call, text message, Whatsapp ping or an incoming Skype message, you see it all on the portable. It is possible to disable these notifications, but you have to do it one by one.

I think this device is really solid. You can think of it  as a super low-cost e-reader where you can read books and avoid all the notifications that constantly barrage you on the phone.  The screen isn’t the largest in the world, but users coming from a Blackberry background or a flipphone will feel right at home.  You can buy the Incase Plus with the official case for your Android phone for $105.


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Jaasta is seeking to redefine what the computer keyboard is capable of, with an assist from e Ink. The company will be releasing their product in the next few weeks and features a very innovative design that allows anyone to switch to foreign language on the fly or customize the key layout to suit the needs of using Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft Office.

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Have you always wanted to try the Dvorak layout without full abandoning Qwerty? You could even get rid of keys you never use, or add duplicates of ones you rely on often. Twitter power-users could finally get a dedicated hashtag key, instead of having to press multiple keys to access it.

The core technology behind this keyboard is e Ink, the same company responsible for the e-Paper used in the Kindles, Kobos and Nooks of the world. The premise behind it is quite simply. One keyboard to rule them all. Instead of hunting around for a specialized keyboard on Amazon for Japanese or Chinese characters, you just install a software package and the entire keyboard conforms to it.

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The keyboard sports a 3.5-inch multi-touch touchpad and a display where users can see the time, the language, and battery life. The wireless keyboard will be available to pre-order in the next few weeks and if the $300 price does not scare you off, you can sign up for their newsletter to be the first on your block to own one.

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e Ink is primarily known for their e-paper displays found on the Kindle, Kobo and Nook e-readers. The company has been trying to diversity their portfolio with niche market uses for their EPD’s. One of the the new ways they managed to pull it off is with color changing walls using a new technology called Prism.

Prism material lets buildings subtly change colors and patterns on the spot, without having to rely the more traditional LCD displays that are found at the O’hare tunnel walls in Chicago. Prism can be configured to respond to people just walking by, setting up Waypoints  or can be used for elaborate art projects.

E Ink is proclaiming that not only walls and flexible furniture can be adapted to use this technology, but also movable kiosks & exhibits. I think its really important to stand out in the crowd and being able to capture peoples attention with animated colors is really important.

Each of the E Ink-powered Plexiglas tiles are roughly 16-inches by 16-inches and can show off a range of colors. The company is only demonstrating red, white and pink, because its eye catching at CES. I was informed that more colors are available, which leads me to believe they are using re purposed e-Ink Triton technology to provide the color.

Sadly, e Ink is not going to be marketing this stuff directly, instead, it’s working with third-party design and material partners to get it in airports or inside corporate buildings.

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E Ink is looking to expand its business beyond e-readers and focus more on niche devices like the Sony Smartband Talk smartwatch and YotaPhone 2. These alternative markets saw the e-paper company experience 40% growth in the third quarter of 2014.

The Lenovo VIBE Band VB10 wearable accessory is designed to let users live their lives more connected and with less worry. Equipped with features like E Ink display, up to seven-day battery life with the display and Bluetooth always turned on, fitness functions, phone notifications and waterproofing, the VIBE Band helps users stay fit, connected and in the know anywhere they go. The E Ink display means no glare and a clear display – even in sunlight.

Users can receive instant notifications – calls, SMS, Facebook, Twitter, WeChat and more – with space for up to 150 characters on the crisp display, while fitness functions & tracking monitor fitness levels and activity to help users stay focused on their health goals. The Lenovo VIBE Band VB10 works with any Android or iOS mobile device and is competitively priced at $89.

Users will be making obvious parallels between the Vibe Band and the Pebble.  Wrist notifications, waterproof for 30 minutes at up to a meter, weeklong battery life, fitness tracking, low-powered screen, and an affordable price point. The Pebble has an extensive ecosystem of apps that likely Lenovo won’t be able to match, and doesn’t have a true e Ink display.  I think the only way the Lenovo band will be relevant is if this is the first product of an upcoming product line, and not a one time thing.

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Sony was legendary in the e-reader business because the vast majority of their e-readers had touchscreen displays and came with a stylus. This appealed not only to casual readers, but people who needed to make highlights and annotations with pinpoint precision. Now that Sony has exited the consumer sector, there is now a void to be filled, and Kobo is aiming to rise to the challenge.

When Kobo starts to design their next generation e-readers, the logistics and manufacturing is actually done by one of their longstanding partners, Netronix. Back in August Netronix was demoing a new e-reader  at a  tradeshow and showed off a new touchscreen device utilizing Wacom technology. What was most interesting was that the shell containing the new screen was the Kobo Aura HD, which is 6.8 inches and very distinctive.

Wamcom is well known in the industry for making digital pens and touchscreen displays that are often selected by artists. When I worked in the game development industry, almost everyone involved with creating 2D or 3D art, was normally using a stylus. Many of the leading comic book artists, whether they are making print or web-comics also swear by Wacom.

I have heard various rumors coming out of Taiwan that the new Kobo Aura HD will be using a specialized version of Wacam called “WILL.” The Wacom Ink Layer Language (WILL) is an universal inking engine and ink layer framework which connects hardware, software and applications. WILL is a technology that enables high quality digital pen and ink experience. Likely, Kobo will be employing the WILL SDK for its Linux based operating system and integrate it into their reading app and note taking apps.

What I think Kobo is hoping to accomplish is to make a consumer version of the Sony Digital Paper. The DPT-S1 is 13.3 inches and is legendary for its lightweight nature and stylus integration for editing PDF files. It is very expensive, normally retailing for $999.99. I think Kobo really wants to make a 6.8 inch variant and aim it their existing customer base and hopefully give old Sony e-Reader owners a reason to upgrade.

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The BBC recently penned their prospective on a new report by the Harvard Medical School that linked the use of tablets at night to an overall sleep onset delay of around ten minutes, and 11 minutes less REM sleep. The report basically equated e-readers, such as the Kindle as using the same screen technology as the iPad.  Mainstream media such as the BBC is spreading a terrible misconception of what an e-reader is.

The Apple iPad and tablets that are cited by the Harvard team use a backlit display that shines upwards into your eyes at around 60 Hz. e-Paper based readers on the other hand use technology provided by e-Ink, which mimics real paper.  The average e-reader does not have a built in lighting system, but the ones that do normally have five small LED lights built into the bottom of the bezel and project light evenly across the screen. This provides a subtle illumination effect, but does not increase pupil dilatation, like a tablet does.

This Harvard report, like many others tackling this subject  matter basically equate the usage of tablets with the suppression melatonin.  So what is melatonin and why is it a big deal? Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland at night and under conditions of darkness in both diurnal and nocturnal species. It is a “timing messenger,” signaling nighttime information throughout the body. Exposure to light at night, especially short-wavelength light, can slow or even cease nocturnal melatonin production. Suppression of melatonin by light at night results in circadian disruption and has been implicated in sleep disturbances, increased risk for diabetes and obesity, as well as increased risk for more serious diseases, such as breast cancer, if circadian disruption occurs for many consecutive years, such as in night shift workers.

What the BBC and this specific report is getting terribly wrong is just because you can read an e-Books on a tablet, does not classify it as an e-reader.  If a mobile device has an LCD or LED display, it is a tablet. If you hear the term e-paper or e-ink the device is an e-reader. The BBC and many people in academia have no concept of the differences between tablets and e-readers and just lump them into a singular category.  They think that a Kindle Voyage is the same as a Kindle Fire. This demonstrates a clear lack of understanding on consumer technology. 

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Typewriters burst onto the literary scene in the 1860s’s and quickly became indispensable tools for authors to quickly write their next book. They fell out of favor in the 1980’s as the world started to embrace digital publishing, which provided the ability to spellcheck their work and send manuscripts quickly to agents and friends. The Hemingwrite, seeks to marry the old school typewriter with a modern digital version, with an e-paper display.

The Hemingwrite is being billed as a distraction free experience, it is meant to write eBooks, without email, or anything else that might get in the way of crafting your next novel. The Hemingwrite has been generating a ton of positive press when it was first announced back in October and has just been listed on Kickstarter to get funding.

Within one hour, the Hemingwrite has received $107,281 in funding and the goal is $250,000 by Jan 23 2015. Likely, it will smash the companies expectations and should generate the necessary revenue in 24 hours.

The huge demand for the Hemingwrite goes to show that there is a market for authors who are looking for an alternative to computers or tablets. The e-Paper display will last for up to 10 weeks

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Pocketbook has slowly been refining their CAD Reader that is aimed at architects and people involved in creating renderings using software by Autodesk. Today, at an event in Las Vegas Pocketbook has unveiled their latest design that sets a benchmark for e-ink devices.

The Pocketbook CAD now has an e-Ink Mobius display panel, which is the exact same one the Sony Digital Paper employs. The overall resolution of the 13.3 inch reader is 1600 X 1200, which will insure super high clarity to images and text. Underneath the hood is a 1.5 GHz dual-core CPU which along with 512 MB of RAM. There is 8 GB of internal storage that is large enough to carry thousands of blueprints and design documents.

What makes this e-reader flexible? Instead of using plastic or hybrid magnesium alloys it incorporates a rubber housing. It also has a poly-urethane surface that prevents accidental slipping.

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The Pocketbook Cad Flex looks quite different from the first generation prototype that was shown off at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2013. I think Pocketbook attained a ton of feedback from Autodesk and design studios on what exactly was needed as a workplace extension while on various job sites.  I think this is why they came up with a more lightweight design that was resistant to scuffs when carried in a bag full of sharp objects.

I think Pocketbook is doing a tremendous job with the CAD Reader. The trend in the e-reader industry is just release a ton of products and hope for the best. This is the type of mentality that has flooded the marketplace with cheap products and jaded a number of people off of reading digitally entirely. Sony and Pocketbook are doing the smart play by aiming their devices at business professionals and putting enough time and effort into the hardware development.

Update: Pocketbook wrote in and elaborated about the flexible display. “The e-Ink Mobius e-paper panel is actually flexible on its own and we have developed a low-temperature insert casting of the body with the use of rubber to provide relative flexibility of the Pocketbook CAD Flex. But it is not totally flexible, as there are some inflexible components inside. So, although its somewhat flexible its not 100%, but our intention is to make the device more shockproof.


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Sony has secretly been building their own skunk works department in Japan. 200 researchers are trying to flesh out ideas that have nothing to do with the core markets or products that Sony currently is marketing. One of them, to be released next year is a smartwatch, made entirely of e Ink Mobius.

Mobius uses a TFT technology that will enable the watch to be much lighter and rugged .  One of the main selling points behind this watch is that it will weigh less than 50% of an equivalent glass based TFT.  One of the only consumer products on the market to  use this technology was the Sony 13 inch writing Slate, that despite its 13.3 inch display weighs less than a six inch Kindle.

The premise behind the new e Ink watch from Sony is that the screen and band are made entirely of e-paper. This will allow people to not  only customize their watch face, which is standard fare int he world of watches, but also the wristband too. Unlike the Pebble, which actually does not use e Ink, the battery life should garner about a month of constant use.

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When it comes to e-reader technology, no company has played a more pivotal role than e Ink. The Taiwanese e-paper giant has been responsible for all of the screen technology found on the Kindle, Kobo and Nooks of the world. E Ink has had a robust Q3 2014, with revenue soaring to $132.95 million US.

Orders for the company’s EPD technology remained steady during the quarter. E Ink Carta, which is over a year old is primary used on the Amazon Kindle Voyage and Tolino Vision 2. Meanwhile, orders for Kobo Aura H2O remained steady and there has been increased demand for the  YotaPhone 2 and Sony’s SmartBand Talk.

E Ink also reported that its earnings after tax were up over 17% sequentially in the quarter and that total revenues for the first three quarters of 2014 amounted to $353 million US.

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Sharp has just made the highest pixel density screen in the world that should hit smartphones and VR enabled devices sometime in the next two years. The new 4.1 inch IGZO LCD screen with WQXGA has a mind boggling resolution of  2,560 x 1,600 pixels. That works out to 736ppi which  blows away the current reigning champion Samsung with their S5 screen that has 576ppi.

According to Sharp, the new display has the same PPI as that of a 4K display, which means you will likely see a dramatic enhancement in streaming videos and gaming. This could also pave the way for a new breed of VR headsets, which Oculus, Samsung and Sony are betting big on.

This new screen could also be tremendous at making digital magazines, newspapers really shine on the small screen. eBooks too, would also be really solid because you would not be able to even discern pixelation on any of the fonts.

Will any manufacturer dare deliver a smartphone with such a 4.1-inch 2K display? Sharp will reportedly start providing interested firms with sample panels sometime next year, and mass production could be ready to get underway by 2016.

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eReading in Public

This year it seems more new e-readers have come out than almost any other year and it can be quite daunting to choose the best one as a gift, upgrade or just buying one for the first time. Some devices have built in bookstores that allow you to buy eBooks, magazines and newspapers on demand, others make the users rely on finding their own books online and loading them in via the USB cable.

e-Readers tend to come in two sizes for the most part, six inches and 9.7 inches. Six inch e-readers tend to be the most popular, because of their pocket friendly nature and low entry price point. Larger readers tend to be most expensive because less people buy them and it costs more to manufacture small batches.

What is an e-Reader?

An e-Reader typically uses e-Ink technology, which mimics real paper. Smartphones and tablets use LCD displays which has light emitting from behind the screen into your eyes. This has been known to cause melatonin suppression, which basically  makes you stay up  late, unable to sleep properly. e-Readers this year have mostly adopted front-lit displays, which has the light emitting from underneath the bezel, splashing light evenly across the screen. This allows you to read in the dark, controlling the brightness levels, without the need of ambient lighting or a reading light.

e-Readers for the most part have a singular use, to read eBooks. 95% of all electronic readers were designed to purely enjoy a great book, without the distractions that smartphones and tablets provide via emails, notifications and overall distractions.

The Best Six Inch e-Readers

Amazon Kindle Voyage – The Voyage is Amazons new flagship e-reader and has a six inch screen with the best resolution in the business. Amazon has incorporated some new technology in this  model that no other e-reader on the market currently has. The first is manual page turn keys that are flush with the bezel, the buttons do not protrude. When you press down on the button to turn the page you are met with a barely noticeable haptic feedback vibration to let you know you turned a page. There is also an ambient light sensor that will automatically adjust the brightness of the screen based on your lighting conditions.

Amazon currently has the best in class  eBook ecosystem, they control 75% of the market in North America and the UK. They have everything from fan-fiction to being able to read books before they officially hit the bookstores and even an unlimited membership that allows you to check out as many books a month as you want. The Seattle based company is in the news a lot, for good reason, they are the best.

There are some drawbacks to the Amazon ecosystem as a whole. They have their own eBook format, which makes it impossible to buy books from other stores and load them on the device. The Voyage also  has no SD Card support, so you have to use the 3.5 GB of memory with caution, especially if you are loading big PDF files on it.

Kobo Aura H2O – Canadian based Kobo released a singular e-reader this year, that is being billed as the first device you can take with you anywhere. It is completely waterproof up to five meters, fully submerged, which makes it appealing to take with you in the bathtub to the beach or on vacation.

The Aura H2O has the same resolution as the Kindle Voyage, but has a 6.8 inch screen instead of the standard six. It has an SD Card, so you can load up even more books than the Kindle and the Kobo bookstore is populated with millions of titles.

The larger screen makes reading a bit more enjoyable because more text can be displayed, making books seem a bit shorter. Flexible font control allows you to change it on the fly and advanced options allow you to even load in your own fonts. Speaking of advanced options, Kobo is the only company to balance general level options to control simple functions but it also appeals to power users with being able to control font weight or even the bright/dark levels of the text.

Kobo is second most popular eBook store in the world and  you can buy digital content in almost every country. They use the EPUB format, so  you can easily borrow books from your local library or even from other online bookstores and load them in via Adobe Digital Editions.

Icarus Illumina HD – E653 – One of the big trends of 2014 was indie e-reader companies adopting the concept of open Android. This is the same type of user experience that smartphones and tablet owners enjoy, by being able to install their own apps. The HD model runs Android 4.2, which makes it highly capable of being able to run Kindle, Kobo, Nook or any other app such as Moon+ Reader or Aldiko.

The Illumina HD is highly versatile and is able to read most popular eBook formats, you can buy books in EPUB or PDF formats from any major store and load them onto the unit via Adobe Digital Editions. There is no bookstore built into the unit of note, but because you can basically install your store of choice, this e-reader allows for unparalleled freedom and is more solid than any of the e-readers Onyx sells.

Barnes and Noble Nook Glowlight – Barnes and Noble remains a force to be reckoned with in the e-reader industry, even though their market share has diminished due to Amazon and Kobo. The Glowlight was the only model the largest bookseller in the US released in 2014.

One of the ways B&N continues to be successful is due to the fact the e-Reader is sold in bookstores and most people in the US and UK live in close proximity to one. Users who experience issues with the hardware only have to drive down to their local store and receive intimidate support or to have it replaced.

Barnes and Noble was the first company to pioneer the very concept of glowlight technology and their online bookstore is well designed and highly curated. They put an emphasis on editorial and discovery in order to find the next good read.

The Nook line of e-readers tends to get lambasted by the media because it makes a click worthy headline that the company is doomed. This is the similar type of syndrome that Blackberry has experienced over the year, but Nook remains relevant and a good e-reader.

Best Large Screen e-Readers

There are a number of reasons why people tend to buy large screen e-readers. As we get older, the eyesight tends to degrade and book lovers tend to buy the large print editions of books in their local store. Doing this can get expensive as these variants often cost two or three times the cost of a paperback,. Another popular reason why people love large screen e-readers is due to the screen real estate. PDF Files and eBooks can fit more text on the screen, which appeals to students and industry professionals.

Icarus Excel – For the most demanding user that works with A4 sized documents, PDFs and has the need to interact with the content (notes, annotations, highlighting), the ICARUS Reader eXceL is unmatched. The 9.7” E-Ink PEARL touch screen has great contrast and swiftly responds to any command . With 1200 x 825 pixels it has much more detail than most e-readers (800 x 600).

With the stylus you can make handwritten notes, highlight text, and make annotations. And with Wi-Fi connectivity you can wirelessly browse the web and access content on the go.
The Icarus eXceLis perfect for professional environments or education, where interactivity is essential.

This e-reader also runs Android 4.0 which allows users to select the digital ecosystem of their choice, but also install other news/RSS or magazine apps.

Sony Digital Paper – Sony abandoned the consumer e-reader sector earlier this year. They developed a new product that sticky appeals towards people who need to get large PDF files. This reader is 13.3 inches in size and retails for around $999.99 in the US and has higher international availability via Shop e-Readers.

The Sony Digital Paper features a 13.3 inch e-Ink Mobius e-paper screen with a resolution of 1200 by 1600. It was designed to give you a true A4 experience, displaying PDF files as they were originally intended. The lightweight nature of Mobius gives you amazing clarity in the fonts and pictures. It also one of the most lightweight products in its class, clocking in at .08 pounds. To give you some comparison, The Kindle DX has a 9.7 inch screen and weighs 0.91 pounds and the iPad Air is 1.3 pounds.

The Digital Paper only reads PDF documents but it is possible to convert your standard eBook to PDF using online tools or eBook editing software like Calibre.

Wrap up

There was a number of notable e-readers that did not make our buying list for various reasons. Pocketbook has been making them for a number of years, but has made missteps with the internals, such as CPU and RAM which makes using it tedious. Onyx Boox also has a number of new units this year, but none of them were especially compelling.

Our recommendations reflect the best new e-readers of 2014, in terms of usability, features and ecosystem. You could get any of these for holiday gifts or give them to someone and they will not have to go through much of a learning curve.

Categories : E-Paper, e-reader
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