Popslate's novel smartphone case adds a 4" secondary E-ink screen to the rear of the iPhone 6. It packs in Bluetooth and a battery specced for 7 days of operation.
After almost two and a half years of delays and a development cycle that outlived two different iPhone models, the case finally started shipping to reviewers in late April 2015. I don't have one (there's a story here), but I did go around today and collect the reviews from the lucky bloggers who did get an early review unit.
The reviews are mixed. Not everyone liked it, and even its more ardent advocates tempered their reviews with the caveat that the case can't actually do much. It's good for throwing up low-res (240 x 400) grayscale images, but that's about it.
From the descriptions, it sounds like the Popslate is missing the fancy touch sensor shown in the early promo video as well as most of the software features promised in November 2012. The Indiegogo campaign mentioned ereader capabilities and that " Urgent notifications, sports scores, maps, notes, calendar, talking points—you name it—will now be available at a glance".
None of those features are available. In fact, Popslate actually shipped with fewer features than the InkCase Plus, that universal E-ink smartphone case from Oaxis. Given that PopSlate's PR rep claimed several months ago that the software would be awesome, this comes as a surprise.
According to the reviews, Popslate is planning to add more features in a software update. I hope that happens, because at this point the Popslate doesn't sound like it's worth buying.
And yes, I do have one coming. I've had my order in since December 2014. That cost me $99, and my unit will ship with the other website orders some time in May (I hope).
For now, the Popslate is mostly for decoration — you can display your Instagram images, photos from your camera roll, or choose from a community of images and graphics via the app on the iPhone. But it's easy to see the potential of something like this, especially if it were integrated in a more fashionable or useful case design. It doesn't take a huge leap of logic to see this built into a Mophie-style battery case that not only recharges your phone, but also provides information without having to power your display on. Maybe then we'll get our smartphones to last multiple days between charges.
A week into it, I hardly remembered to flip my phone over. And even when I did, I found no real use for the display. Every time I saw the low-res monochromatic images on the back, I found myself missing my vibrant (eyesight weakening) screen that was waiting to be unlocked.
I really do love the idea of using an e-paper screen on the back of a smartphone as a secondary display, but it needs to have more purpose.
The PopSlate needs to do more with the e-paper screen to justify its $129 price. PopSlate co-founder Greg Moon told me a software update will add more functionality — particularly, better photo management. But right now it does too little. The good news, though: If you've been patiently waiting for your PopSlate to ship, it's finally happening.
Even then, the first-generation case lacks the refinement of design to match its functionality: I’ve always been aware that I’ve dressed my iPhone in something roughly the bulk of a Mophie, but without the benefits in extra battery life.
Nonetheless, I’m impressed by the potential popSlate shows. Yota’s smartphone may be more tightly integrated in how it pairs traditional and e-paper screens, but in doing so it forces compromise: you have to be comfortable with Android, and give up on the flagship devices of the bigger names in the industry.
Should you buy it? Probably not. It’s pricey and kind of ugly and kind of half-baked for $130. But at the same time, it’s a super cool idea that actually works, is pretty damn easy, and unique in the market. You could maybe be part of a community of black and white photography enthusiasts who wear their favorite images loud and proud on the back of their phones, and share them online too.
The popSLATE case is definitely pricey, and there are plenty of stellar cases out there for $30 or less. But, if you're into expressing yourself with your phone and want an easy way to show off your personal art, style, or brand, this case is a fun, effective option.
It’s easy to see PopSlate for what it could be and get excited, but the current version becomes a bit of a letdown by comparison. It’s tough to review a product based on features that still haven’t arrived, and once the company rolls out everything it’s promised, I’ll feel more comfortable recommending this case. For now it probably isn’t worth that high price tag, even if it’s only a few months away from some major improvements.