InkCase Plus (Un)Review: I Paid $89 for THIS?

inkcase plus 1 The InkCase Plus looked like a great idea when I backed it on Kickstarter this summer, but now that my order has finally arrived I wonder if I may have set unrealistic expectations.I would normally wait a week to post a review, but I've had a few requests to post my first impressions. To put it simply, I'm not happy.

The electronics are as good as the early sample I saw it in July, but the software hasn't been improved any and the case itself is disappointing.

Hardware

For those not familiar with the InkCase Plus, it's a system for a universal smartphone case which adds a 3.5" secondary E-ink screen to almost any smartphone. Its developers came up with the idea of dividing the case into two modular components: the electronics, which can be mass produced in job lots, and the case itself, which can be designed to fit specific smartphone models and manufactured in smaller quantities.

That was a good idea when the InkCase Plus was first announced, and it turns out to be an even better idea today because the case which is sitting on my desk, well, I'm not happy with it.

Cases for five different smartphone models were produced for Kickstarter backers, but since I don't have one of the more popular smartphones I instead requested the large universal case (which is supposed to fit most smartphones over 5" in size).

The case looks like it was manufactured as cheaply as possible. As I hold it in my hands I get the feeling that this is a case I would find in a discount store for a couple of bucks, and not one which cost $89.

What's more, I'm not sure that you can technically call this a case. I'm not bothered by the fact it doesn't enclose my smartphone; I expected that. But I would not call this a case because there's no way to attach it to my smartphone.

The photos shared by the developer (here) suggest that the case is supposed to have a sticky spot where you would place your smartphone. It does not, and I can't find anything in the retail box  which resembles a piece of double-sided adhesive. (The early images also look nothing like the case I received, but that's not unusual.)

So even if this case met my quality standards, it wouldn't meet certain functional standards. I was never planning to use it as a case, so it doesn't affect me so much, but it's still frustrating.

The electronics, on the other hand, are much more satisfactory.

inkcase plus 2The ereader module is built around a 3.5" Pearl E-ink screen. There's no frontlight or touchscreen, but it does have BT, a battery, and a CPU which is just powerful enough that this could have been made into a stand alone ereader.

It's a very simple device with just 3 buttons on the front (power and page turn buttons), and since it is so thin and small I can easily hold it in my hand.

I'm currently using the ereader module by itself, in the included folder case. This is also pretty cheaply made, but I can live with it because the ereader module looks cute and easily fits in my pocket.

 

I'm not even bothered by the fact that the sticky in the folder case is so strong that the rear of the ereader component regularly pops off; I have to be incredibly careful when removing the ereader component out of fear of damaging it.

Now if only the software were as good as the electronics.

Software

The InkCase Plus was designed as a smartphone accessory, so pretty much all functions require a companion app to be installed on your mobile device. Since I covered the existing apps back in July, I won't repeat myself here.

There's really not much new to say about the software. One of the companion apps, EpiReader, has been updated with a new feature (it now connects to Dropbox) but there aren't any new companion apps for your smartphone/tablet, and so far as I can tell, the device itself is running the same firmware as the unit I tested in July.

And that is a little disappointing.

While the InkCase Plus does have a few useful features, I had been told that it would have new features by the time it shipped, including the option to use it as a stand alone ereader. That hasn't happened yet.

You can read on it, but you'll need to keep it paired with your smartphone/tablet so the companion app (EpiReader) can send the ebook over to the device one page at a time. Given that this is intended to be a smartphone accessory, that is not an unworkable idea, but the device is capable of doing more.

BTW, when I looked in July, the InkCase website mentioned new apps, including a coupon app and one called InkCase Now. Neither has been released, and I can't tell you when they will be available.

Conclusion

I'm torn.

On the one hand, I know that since I hardly use my smartphone I'm not the target demographic, and thus I shouldn't be commenting on a device which I only have a very specific interest in. (I'm also not a fan of smartwatches and other second screen smartphone accessories.)

But as I sit here looking at the InkCase Plus on my desk, I wonder whether even a smartphone user will be happy with the InkCase Plus. The only part I am happy with is the ereader module; both the software and case come up short.

The case I got is non-usable junk; there's no other way to put it. And there's really not much in the way of software features. What's more, this device's best feature is crippled by poor design decisions.

I'm going to keep playing with my unit, but unless new software is released and unless I can get a better case I just don't think it will prove all that useful.

About Nate Hoffelder (11579 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

19 Comments on InkCase Plus (Un)Review: I Paid $89 for THIS?

  1. I had never heard of this device until I saw one of your other articles discussing it.

    I checked out their website and my first thought was- If the purpose of the device is to save battery on your smart phone (by minimizing the screen time spent on the phone), does the fact that you are using BT to keep the devices synced negate the battery savings?

    With battery life getting better and better on phones anyway, I question that selling point. Other than a novel way to use eink technology, I just don’t get it.

    • If you live on your smartphone, it might make sense, but even then I’m not sure what the point is.

      When the InkCase Plus is used as designed, you’re going to be holding your smartphone but not actually looking at it. Instead you look at a smaller and less useful screen. Why bother doing that when you can just wake up the smartphone which is already in your hand?

  2. Don’t be frustrated. I’m sure that the other cases are all just as bad. Wouldn’t have expected something nice at that price to be honest. It would have been too much of a good deal.

    The people who bought the original for the iPhone definitely didn’t care for it. Not only that, but the apps for iOS have been sitting on the App Store and their critical photo app wasn’t even updated for iOS 7. Neither was the reader software.

    I suspect a similar fate on the Android side. They will ship out orders, and just vanish. It will be another product that will put Kickstarter on people’s bad list yet again.

    • Actually, I reviewed one of the models released last year. I thought it was pretty bad, but I also thought this manufacturer would iterate and release a good design this time around.

      It looks like I called that one wrong.

  3. Really just hoping for an ereader that I can use on a plane or train without running the bright LCD and battery on my phone while doing so. Hopefully we’ll see standalone ereader functionality in the coming months.

    I really couldn’t care less about the case.

  4. @Nate, this is Bruce from InkCase 🙂
    Thanks for posting the review. I think it is fair and you are right, due to tight resources, there’s very little progress in the past few months except that we have finally settled all the production issues and rush out the production for Kickstarter backers. But good news is, we have just gotten new funding and will definitely expedite and improve significantly in the coming months. Hope you will be happy to see the improvements by then 🙂
    @CJJ Battery savings in fact not the key selling point as people getting used to power bank 🙂 While waiting for us to get ready more apps like InkCase Now or other 3rd party Apps, people might find it useful for reading, using as bike computer, or simply use it to display your favorite pictures (or to-do-list etc…) Especially for reading, people tends to keep their Kindle at home and read on smartphone on-the-go because they don’t like to bring too many devices. With InkCase, they can now enjoy reading on the Kindle-like display on-the-go without having to bring additional device as it will form part of smartphone if FitCase is used. Anyway, even if you don’t like the FitCase, it is small enough to fit into your pocket like what Nate has shared.
    @Jessica We are committed to provide to our users an InkCase that we all will like it and find it useful. We are sorry that we are still not there yet, but we hope everyone can give us a few months time to see the progress. We will be always around to listen to you guys and keep improving with the feedback and support from you guys 🙂

    Last but not least, hope you guys can join our forum at http://forum.inkcase.com/ and let’s make InkCase better together 🙂

  5. Thank you Nate. I very much appreciate your post.
    I belong to the group of people that use a dumb-phone for making phone calls – and a wrist watch for keeping time ;-). I also own a smartphone [paid for by a contract that is not paid by me ;-)] – used as a mini-tablet and improvised reading device – for those times when I go where I do not expect to read much. Serious reading is done on a front-lit 6″ reader that is a bit too large for some pockets.

    I plan to use InkCase plus as an ultra-portable emergency reader.
    It was obvious that the fit-case couldn’t be manufactured in quality comparable to expensive phones.

    Could you please post review for reading app and reading on the device? You have posted Early review, but I did not learn what are the options for formatting the text – fonts, margins, line-height, justification. Are fonts uploadable by user? How fine is the font size control? I suppose that all that has to be done on phone.
    How fast does blue tooth drain an average smartphone, how long does the inkcase last while reading? What is the distance you can keep inkcase away from phone? Does distance affect battery life? Do I have to start reading app on phone, hand over control to inkcase, lock the phone and continue reading on the inkcase? What happens when you put it away for 10 minutes? Can you resume reading or do you have to wake the phone as well? Can the reading app be running in the background on the phone? Does the app support folders when opening books?

    • Here’s what I’ve see so far:

      • 3 margin options
      • 3 theme options (white, night, and Sepia)
      • Three line height options (but they’re not enabled)
      • an option to install your own dictionary (ColorDict included – is that a StarDict format?)
      • the Android app has a toc, including ones for highlights and bookmarks
      • Three fonts are included (Droid Mono, Sans Serif), and you’re supposed to be able to download more but that doesn’t work for me
      • There are 15 steps from this font size to this font size, and there are larger and smaller options

      There’s no ragged right option, just fully justified.

      All of the settings have to be changed in the app, and each change gets synced to the device. This gets annoying when you try to find just the right font size, but I have taken to disconnecting the InkCase Plus and reconnecting it after adjusting the font size to the one I want.

      “What is the distance you can keep inkcase away from phone?”

      I have the InkCase Plus paired to my KFHD, and I could still read on the device when my tablet was a couple rooms away (12 ft to 15 ft distance).

      ” Do I have to start reading app on phone, hand over control to inkcase, lock the phone and continue reading on the inkcase? ”

      I just now let both the tablet and InkCase Plus go to sleep. I then woke up the Plus (but not the KFHD) and continued reading.

      “Can the reading app be running in the background on the phone?”

      It’s working for me, so yes.

      “Does the app support folders when opening books?”

      It lets you search through the folders when you import books, yes. You can also get the ebooks from your dropbox account.

      FYI: One important issue I am having is that I can’t figure out how to leave an ebook and return to the library. I had to reboot my KFHD.

      • Thank you very much.
        In this case (no pun intended 😉 ) you are my eyes. I am trying to decide whether I would like the Inkcase.
        I can’t stand Knidle interface, for example, because I am so much used to the configurability of PocketBook, and I have been reading left justified books from the time before the first e-ink reader was just a gleam in inventors eye.

        I consider the inability to switch to the “ragged right” justification unfortunate. — the smaller the screen (in comparison to the font size, of course) the more impact on the readability the full justification has. With standard paper page, where line has 70 – 80 characters the statistic works for you and you have no huge gaps between words. With narrow 3.5″ screen, you are much more likely to have huge gaps between words on some lines.
        Which leads me to further questions:
        – how can you switch between portrait and landscape? Can you at all?
        – does the reading app hyphenate?
        – does the app hyphenate non-english texts?
        – What languages (code pages) does the app support? Right to left texts? – not that I personally can read any such script, but for the sake of completeness of your review (the first one on the net!).

        Thank you again Nate. I can’t emphasize enough how much I appreciate your feedback.

  6. Got mine when I got home from vacation yesterday. Been playing with it, and so far am liking it. The little folio case does what it does, and the machine doesn’t *need* to be removed from it. The hardware is great. The software isn’t so much, but if I’m just feeding it ebooks and reading them, it does what I wanted it to. It’s an ebook reader that doesn’t suck my phone’s juice, and it’s tiny so it doesn’t take a lot of pocket space (I used to carry a kindle in my front pants pocket!).

    My two wishlist items for it would be:
    Make it standalone. If this means reviving openinkpot, that’s fine.
    Give it a frontlight. Version 2.0. Make it the $120 version. Don’t care what.

    If I had those, I’d have everything I ever wanted in an e-reader.

    @Nate – You’ve popped off the back of yours. Any read on what the guts are? I’m just curious if it’s enough to turn into a standalone with a firmware upgrade.

  7. Looks like it has at least 32 megs of ram. Should be good enough for epub2 and mobi at least. Only question past that is storage.

  8. Erk. Misread Mbits as Mbytes. So 4 or 8 megs. Should be plenty as long as there’s storage.

  9. U don paid 89 for this, u paid 89 for the campaign, this is just a reward

    • In retrospect, I think I’m someone who should never get involved in these kind of campaigns. I saw this as a pre-order, not support for a campaign.

      That might be wrong but it is how I see things.

  10. They were done with design, and just needed to spin up manufacturing. This was a preorder that would have auto cancelled if there were not enough preorders.

    Technically this was a campaign reward though. It was ‘de facto’ a pre-order.

  11. Just received mine after months of shipping failures. I was excited to open it up but soon realized what a piece of garbage it was. I feel completely ripped off. I hope Oaxis goes out of business.

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