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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.