I’ve been looking at color e-reader prototypes for as long as I’ve been a tech journalist. Back in the early days of the edge, We often cover display technologies like Qualcomm Mirasol Or different Electronic ink Prototyping and turning away thinking that even though it wasn’t completely ready, it was only a matter of time. This is how technology should work, right? We see it in unfinished form at a trade fair and it appears in flagship products a few years later.
Needless to say, this did not happen. Amazon and Kobo still don’t sell color e-readers, and if anything seems the prospect is far from what it was a decade ago, it’s now possible to sell acceptable LCD tablets for under $ 100 that don’t have battery life or the external readability of the E Ink, but this is clearly a particular concern.
E Ink is still working on the idea, however, this year the company shipped its best images so far in color screen technology suitable for e-readers: Kaleido. I tested one of the first e-readers to use this type of display, the new PocketBook Color, which is priced at € 199 ($ 234), and while it is not a perfect device, it is good enough to give me hope for the future of E Ink.
Pocket book It is an e-reader manufacturer based in Switzerland that sells mostly to various European markets. The company has been around since 2007 and says it is the world’s third largest maker of premium E Ink-based e-readers, presumably behind Amazon and Rakuten’s Kobo.
Regardless of the screen, the PocketBook’s color doesn’t look much different than any other 6-inch e-reader. They are all plastic, but the design is fairly sleek with a matte silver finish on the back and a soft-touch finish on the front. You’ll find the power button, Micro USB port (PoE), and microSD (yay) slot on the bottom edge. There is a built-in Micro USB-to-headphone jack adapter so you can listen to audiobooks, the device also has Bluetooth support for wireless headphones.
The Home, Menu, and Page Flip buttons are located at the bottom of the screen, and they are all easily accessible; At 160 grams, the color of the pocket notebook is light enough to hold it in place with your thumb down. I actually prefer this over the side-mounted page-turn buttons found on previous Kindles devices I own, which I never felt were at the right height – at least not for my thumb.
PocketBook Color runs a dedicated Linux based operating system that includes various applications. There is a web browser, a notes app, and even some games like chess and sudoku. Page and list rotation performance is reasonable, if not as fast as Kindle Oasis. Battery life was very good – I haven’t charged my PocketBook Color in weeks.
It’s all nice enough, but PocketBook Color would be a totally unnoticeable device were it not for the screen. Let’s talk about the screen.
The staple of Kaleido screens is that E Ink has developed a thinner, higher-quality color filter set than it used in the old Triton technology, which requires a glass color filter layer on top of the monochrome panel. E Ink says that Kaleido displays can show up to 4,096 colors and 16 levels of grayscale, which is the same as it has claimed on Triton, but overall color reproduction has been improved.
The catch is that the color filter matrix severely reduces the overall resolution of the screen, as it lies in front of the E Ink micro-capsules. The 6-inch PocketBook Color screen has a resolution of 1072 x 1448 when viewing black and white content, which makes the pixel density as high as 300 dpi, but areas of the screen that show color see pixel density dropping to 100. The filter is also visible when reading mono content Color if you look closely, giving the screen the look a little more grainy than traditional modern e-readers.
Kaleido screens clearly won’t compete with tablets in brightness, contrast, or vibrancy. But I like to use PocketBook Color in the same situations as I prefer using Kindle on iPad. The screen looks its best outdoors in the sun – I compare the color reproduction to newspaper that faded over the course of a few days. So it’s not exactly stunning, but it’s definitely easy-to-read and glare-free. Resolution is practically not a big problem either, as text remains sharp and images look good at normal viewing distances.
The screen is less impressive indoors, because you really need to use the front light to see a lot of anything. Raise it very high and you won’t really feel like you’re looking at an e-reader anymore, but colors are hard to spot at very low brightness. I’ve found that setting it to around 30 percent brightness usually provides the best balance between color and comfort. But since glare and power consumption are less of a concern in the home, I’m more likely to get a regular tablet in the first place.
Overall, I think Kaleido is imperfect but at least a viable screen technology for e-reader, and PocketBook Color is by far the best color e-reader I’ve ever seen. But the biggest problem was I didn’t know what to do with it.
The PocketBook Store has a very limited collection of English language content. I wouldn’t be critical of the product heavily for that, as it’s not even sold in the English language markets, but you should expect it to be loaded with your DRM-free content if you choose to import. PocketBook Color supports many book formats including EPUB, CBR, CBZ, MOBI and PDF, and you can sync files to the device either via Dropbox or through PocketBook’s cloud service, which is simple and fast.
But even in a world where the PocketBook Store is stacked with a bestseller, or where you have legal, DRM-free copies of everything you wanted to read, PocketBook Color isn’t the best way to get the most out of the Kaleido display. Basically, it’s just too small. Magazines and comic books look good, but hard to read on a 6-inch screen. The manga fit well, but it tends to be overwhelmingly black and white. Regular books with color illustrations or graphics work well, but this is not a very common or exciting use case, and monochrome e-readers have better screen quality overall.
There are modes for zooming, scaling, and viewing of single panels, but I didn’t find them very comfortable or effective. Although PocketBook Color generally performs well, it doesn’t really live up to the task of processing a large PDF. I would be really interested in a version of this device with a screen of 8 or 9 inches, because I think it would be better suited to the type of content that works best on the Kaleido screen.
The only thing that looks great on PocketBook Color is the book covers, and you know what they say about judging their books. If anything, it could be the thing that’s driving technology adoption. It’s definitely nice to have a look at your library and bookstore in color – even the e-ink itself Sell out Kaleido as enabling a “more complete e-book shopping experience”. If anything was going to get Amazon on board, you’d think it would.
Color E Ink doesn’t quite exist yet. Although PocketBook Color is the best device of its kind so far, it’s hard to recommend it over traditional e-readers unless you know what to read on it, considering it’s almost twice the price of the Kindle Paperwhite. Do you have a 6 inch e-reader and use it often for the things you want to read in color? This may be worth checking out. Waiting for the perfect storyboard reader? That’s not it.
I don’t think Kaleido in its current form is the technology that will take electronic color in mainstream ink, but it gets there. Although color reproduction will never compete with LCD tablets, a larger screen with equal sharpness (or ideally higher) would be great for reading things like storyboards and outdoor magazines, and the battery life advantage remains great.
Kaleido color E Ink is good for the same reasons as monochrome e-ink. It still comes with a lot of trade-offs, however, PocketBook Color isn’t the device that will show its true potential. But watch the technology – for the first time in a long time, it actually looks like color e-readers could be viable soon.