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Meet the World’s One and Only 10″ E-ink E-reader – A51

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I was working on the solar powered ebook reader post earlier and I came across a fascinating historical artifact. Every so often I like to post on an antique ebook reader, and today I can finally post about one that uses an E-ink screen.

This is a 10″ E-ink prototype that was developed in 2005 by Holly Gates, an engineer who was friends with the founders of E-ink and occasionally built custom devices for the company. This one is based on an A5 size screen that was developed for a Japanese customer (I’m told that it never hit the market).

Just to put this in perspective, this device was made at a time when the Sony Librie was the only E-ink ebook reader on the market and you could only buy that in Japan. The Sony Reader hadn’t even been announced yet, much less released.

Now, this device had a screen that could have been made in 2005, only there was no device maker who wanted to buy it. That’s why it never hit the market. The first company to decide to release a large screen ebook reader was Amazon, and they didn’t launch the Kindle DX until early 2009.

This design is built around a Gumstix single board computer with a 400MHz CPU. It has Bluetooth and an MMC card slot, but there’s no touchscreen or keyboard, unfortunately. The screen controller, power management, and a number of other components are built into a custom daughter board.

Note that this is not the 9.7″ screen that is used on the Kindle DX; this screen is larger. It also has a slightly higher resolution (1280×900)  but about the same ppi (155). As you can see from the picture below, all the electronics and the battery are along one edge.

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This is also a remarkably thin device and it’s probably a little heavier than the Kindle DX. Holly reinforced the screen with a sheet of titanium. Considering how fragile these screens are, that was probably a good idea. Do you see how the thicker part is where you’d hold it with your hand? That was a good design. It makes the ereader slightly easier to hold.

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Holly presented a paper on this device at the SID Display Week Conference in 2005.  Oh, how I wish I had been there.


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charlie dulin September 14, 2011 um 6:33 pm

i spoke with holly once about this design and his others on the positron site- way back in 2006 or 2007. i was sketching designs for readers myself at the time and stumbled upon his site. the posts he write about how he made the case etc were very instructive. the design i sketched was allot like this with a flippy atttached cover that put the device to sleep when closed and then woke it up when you opened it. i took the idea of his with the bulk to one side and added it to my design giving the cover a place to nestle in when open.

his bluechute is still to me one of the best overall designs.

anyway good to talk to. learned allot about device making and eink from him and J.D Albert when i was exploring building my own device in 2007ish

Nate Hoffelder September 14, 2011 um 8:33 pm

You spoke to Holly? You lucky dog!

Holly Gates September 15, 2011 um 8:52 am

Hi Nate, this is Holly. Thanks for the kind words! As you note, the screen itself was developed for a Japanese customer and was envisioned for an office type product, hence its A5 dimensions (the source of the A51 name, along with connotations of secret projects). This demo was very successful in getting potential customers to think about the possibilities that could be opened up with E Ink screens, even if the design and construction were probably too aggressive for a real mass market device.

If you are thinking about solar powered ebooks, check out a version of such a product I made a demo for and entered into the Greener Gadgets 2008 competition:

There are a lot of possible variations on the idea of a solar charger; I’m kind of surprised no one has made an actual product with some form of solar charging as a well integrated feature.

Snippy was based on the bluechute demo mentioned by Charlie, but with a thin solar cover attached with a living hinge and held fast with a magnetic catch.

These days I’m working at another MIT startup, a silicon solar cell technology outfit called 1366 Technologies ( This offers a lot less scope for small projects that can be publicly shown and can get the average person excited. Still rewarding and arguably more useful for the planet and our long term future, but sometimes I miss the days of rocking out awesome demos at E Ink!

Nate Hoffelder September 15, 2011 um 9:19 am

Hi Holly,

Thanks for dropping in! Yes, I did know about Snippy (it’s mentioned in the other post). That’s how I first found your site.

charlie dulin September 19, 2011 um 11:39 pm

Holly, I will have to revisit positron for another look but i think you mentioned in the blue chute articles about wanting to have a built in solar charging option that flipped out when needed. glad you actually got to build one and really like that you used it as a cover for the device.

thanks for the link to the solar firm

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