The vast majority of color E INK devices that have come out in 2020 have primarily been by Chinese companies. The iReader C6, Onyx Boox Poke 2 Color, the Hisense range of smartphones and now the iFlytek C1. The iReader and iFlytek both use similar design, with a flush screen and bezel, but tap into different ecosystems. The iReader uses Baidu, while iFlytek uses their own and also Migu, these two devices are perfect for Chinese speaking people who live outside of China, students studying abroad, or other circumstances.
The iFlytek Color e-Reader C1 features a 6 inch E INK Kaleido display with 300 PPI and 100 PPI for color. The screen is flush with the bezel, with a layer of glass on top, this makes it reflective if you have overhead lights, so you might want to invest in a matte screen protector.
You will be able to read in the dark via their front-lit display system, that packs a whopping 24 LED lights. The lightning system has a combination of blue and white LED lights, this is similar to how iReader did their front-lit display. I found that both of these devices do not project a clear white background, but tend to have a blue hue. You need to have the front-light on to some degree, or the screen is too dark to read. This is because the color filter array is always active and is never disabled.
Current color E INK technology is capable of displaying 4,096 different colors, which will make manga, comics and other materials shine. The cover art on ebooks sitting on your main library shelf really pop, due to the full color display. Reading PDF files is equally good.
Everything is quicker on the iFlytek C1, since it has a quad core processor, 1GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage. You can connect up the device to your PC via USB-C to charge it, and also sideload in digital content, such as PDF files or ebooks.
It has an internet browser that you can connect to via WIFI. You can listen to audiobooks via the rear speaker and also plugin a pair of headphones, since it has Bluetooth 4.1. There is an advanced TTS engine that can read ebooks aloud, but there are no settings to control the voice. It was designed for Chinese characters, and if you try and read aloud English books, you get a hilarious rendition of someone who can’t speak English very well. There is also a microphone, if you decide you want to engage in any activities.
The front of our review unit was white, with royal blue accents on the side, and the back platting is royal blue. iFlytek confirmed that this model was discontinued soon after release and they are only marketing the red one. They stated that the performance of the device has increased on a software level and the refresh rate has been upped. There is a speaker on the back, for TTS, music or audiobooks. Bluetooth is available so you can connect up a pair of headphones or a wireless speaker too. No buttons of any kind are on the device, everything is software driven. On the bottom of the e-reader is a USB-C port, power button and microphone, there is nothing else on either of the sides.
On a pure hardware level, the iFlytek C1 is really well designed. The retail packaging has a kaleidoscope of colors on the front, symbolizing that this e-reader can display colors. Cartoon pictures of people using the device are all over the box art. It has a glorious picture of the e-reader on the front of the box, along with the model name. Everything screams premium, it looks like a $500 dollar e-reader.
The iFlytek C1 is employing Google Android 8.1 as the primary operating system and have developed their own custom launcher. It is not possible to sideload apps, nor does it have an app store to download anything.
There are two different ecosystems packed on this e-reader, with a switch at the top. You can toggle between the Migu Bookstore and the iFlytek. Migu is one of the largest stores in China, but to access it, you need a Chinese phone number, two factor authentication and a Wechat. This is similar to how the Kindle Migu X could access both the Migu bookstore and also the Amazon one. If you don’t have any of these things, you simply can’t access Migu. The iFlytek bookstore offers thousands of ebooks and also the Longyuan Comics store for graphic novels and manga. This is also region locked, so only Chinese Wechat accounts can only access it.
If you speak Chinese, you will get value out of the shopping experience, provided you are originally from China, or have friends or family that still live there. Just registering for store access needs a Chinese phone number and an address, this needs to be verified in order to be officially registered. I am sure there are workarounds for this sort of thing, but I am not sure about them.
This is a Chinese e-reader, it is not possible to switch it to an English mode. The only way you can navigate around the device is to use Google Lens or similar service that translates everything on the fly. You can sideload in your ebooks though, if they have English or another language, you can read them. It supports PDF, EPUB, MOBI, TXT, and HTML.
Navigating around the e-reader is standard fare. It shows all of the ebooks you have on your library shelf or ones that are in the process of being read. If you toggle to the Migu store, there is all sorts of different books that would be on the shelf, its like switching between multiple accounts in real time and seeing different books or comics.
The navigation on the bottom can take you to the library, store, settings menu and a few other options we couldn’t access, such as recommendations, purchases and a wishlist. The settings menu can let you register for a store account, access WIFI, Bluetooth or search for firmware updates.
If you speak English, you will likely get no value out of it. It is simply too locked in to cater to a specific country, at the exclusion of everything else. Good e-Reader has spoken with executives at iFlytek who seem to be interested in releasing an English firmware version of it, so at least it would be useful for a non-Chinese audience. We will conduct a follow-up article when this happens.
When it comes down to it, a dedicated e-reader is geared towards reading books. Many e-readers from lots of worldwide brands do not have an integrated bookstore and force users to basically sideload everything. Some companies that do have stores, have a really small, paltry collection of royalty free bestsellers. The iFlytek C1, has two different bookstores, iFlytek and Migu, there is no shortage of ways to purchase and download stuff.
Let’s say that you speak Mandarin, but maybe have lived your entire life in another country and most of your family lives near or with you. Chances are, you are not going to have access to the official ways to buy content, with a Chinese address and phone number and Chinese credit card, or other payment method. You will get value out of this e-reader, by sideloading in your own books. It supports EPUB and PDF, two of the world’s most popular formats. If you load in a Mandarin ebook, you can read it and also all of the dictionaries and note taking functionality would be there to tweak. There are also options to change the font-type and font size, via a slider bar. Adjustments can be made to the margins and line spacing to make the reading experience your own.
There are no manual page turn buttons, everything is done via the touchscreen interface. You can swipe or gesture to turn pages and it is lightning quick. Cover art and TOC are in full color and B&W text is displayed at 300PPI, so you would get a really good reading experience.
When iFlytek announced their C1 Book reader in the Spring, many people did not think they would actually release a final product. Fast forward to the end of Summer and it is finally available.
Should you buy this device? If you are a fiend for color E INK, and must own them all, than yes. If you are doing competitive research or thinking about developing your own color e-reader, than of course, it would provide value. If you speak English, I would not. There is simply too many barriers in place to purchase ebooks through official means, and do you want to sideload in everything? The lack of app store is also a deal breaker for most. If you speak English, want a color e-reader, buy the Pocketbook Color or the Poke 2 Color, if it is ever available again. If you speak Mandarin, live in China or are from China, than yes, this device was made for you.
This e-reader is expensive. It retails for $319.
Michael Kozlowski has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.