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Updates From CES 2020 (#1): Lenovo’s E-ink Laptop, Hisense’s Color E-ink Smartphone, and More

CES has grown to be a trade show attended only by the most brave or foolhardy (plus a few blackmail victims). I stopped going a few years ago when it got to be too much, but I still follow it from afar.

There is almost no ereader news or ebook news this year, but E-ink is popping up all over. Their screen tech has already shown up on a couple new smartphones, and a laptop.

Lenovo just revealed a new laptop that sports a 10.3″ screen on the backside of the 13.3″ screen.

Tom’s Hardware reports that the laptop is going to retail starting at $1,199. It doesn’t sound like they’ve worked out all the use cases yet, but we do know that when the laptop is closed, the E-ink screen can show calendar and email notifications from Microsoft Outlook. You can take notes on the E-ink screen using Lenovo’s included stylus.

Basically Lenovo is positioning this second screen as a bigger and more physically awkward alternative to your smartphone or tablet. I do not see the appeal.

Onyx’s new smartphone is a different matter.

Notebook Italia reports that Chinese ereader maker Onyx is showing off a new smartphone. It doesn’t have a name yet or a final spec sheet, but at this time the phone sports a 5.8″ E-ink screen, runs Android 9.0 Pie, and offers several different refresh modes.

This is not Onyx’s first E-ink smartphone, but if it is released it could be their first commercially successful one. Onyx released the world’s first E-ink smartphone in 2013, only to cancel it less than a couple months later. Their later models were equally hard to acquire, and TBH I can’t recall that they were released for sale at all (please correct me on this).

I don’t expect to ever have an opportunity to buy an Onyx smartphone, but Hisense’s new phone – the one with a color E-ink screen – is a different matter.

Hisense is showing off a smartphone that uses E-ink’s new Paint screen tech. I haven’t found many details on the phone yet (for some reason, no one has even mentioned its name, much less its specs) but I do know that the screen tech its using offers much better color quality than E-ink’s first generation color screens, which debuted in 2011. Those screens had a grey undertone due to the filter placed on top of the screen, while this one looks white in all the photos I have seen.  It also refreshes a lot faster, too.

It still remains to be seen if E-ink can work the bugs out of the production process, so there’s no guarantee that the Hisense phone will reach the market.

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Mike Cane January 9, 2020 um 6:22 am

>I don’t expect to ever have an opportunity to buy an Onyx smartphone

Eh. If Onyx is unsure about U.S. interest, they can do what other Chinese companies have done: Kickstarter or Indiegogo. That might be the best way. Go directly to potential customers. But that route adds the hell of shipping from China.

Eric January 9, 2020 um 12:34 pm

Any news on dual screen 13.3″ e-ink readers? GVIDO is the only product I’m aware of, but they are very quiet in the marketplace. Is there a competitor to this product, before I spend US $1600 on a company without a profile?

BTW, the product is used to read sheet music, displaying 2 pages at a time.

Unk January 9, 2020 um 12:36 pm

Mike Cane, what hell?

Nate Hoffelder January 9, 2020 um 1:15 pm

Shipping from China can be a pain in the ass. I try to avoid it.

MikeCane January 10, 2020 um 5:18 am

@Unk: If you have any experience watching KS/IGG from Chinese-based companies, the backer Comments inevitably degrade into refund demands due to too-long shipping dates — and that’s even when the product has been produced. China needs to make shipping logistics a priority for smaller bundles of goods. Apple leases entire 747s to ship their products. Smaller companies have to piggyback with large shipments and inevitably go through multiple stops before even leaving Asia.

PROYECTO451 January 10, 2020 um 11:05 am

[…] colores, «todos en tonos suaves para poder leer durante mucho más tiempo sin dañar la vista» (The Digital Reader, 2 […]

Unk January 11, 2020 um 9:09 am

@MikeCane: Admittedly, patience might be required for stuff sent from China. The longest I had to wait so far was 42 days from leaving the country of origin (I’m in Europe, though). Usually, it doesn’t take that long.

roberto January 15, 2020 um 10:30 am

"Onyx released the world’s first E-ink smartphone in 2013, only to cancel it less than a couple months later. Their later models were equally hard to acquire, and TBH I can’t recall that they were released for sale at all (please correct me on this)."

I was indeed owner of their Onyx Boox E43 (sometimes E45) e-ink phone, just because back then I desperately wanted a small, wearable e-ink book reader, and although a few other (pure reader) models existed, the phone had the wonderful plus of a front light! To my knowledge, this is til today the one and only available e-ink device with small screen AND front light.

Regarding the phone. It was a very simple android device, running Android 2.idunno, maybe 2.8? That was, when all the regular phones were already running at least Android 4 for at least a year or so, and honestly it was a bit awkward navigating through those old structures. The system was (due to very low RAM and ROM) more than laggy, tipping and accepting options took longer than screen refresh rates which does say a lot 😉 I did manage to use a few side-loaded reading apps and never really used it for phoning purposes, and as it turned out that using the front light basically kills off the battery within a few hours, I decided to let it go. I used a cheap 4.3 ebook reader for a couple of months, before I run into the Yotaphone 2. That was about 3 and a half years ago, and I still use my Yotaphone with deepest love and respect every single day 😀 I love that little thing, it is still great for everything I need, the ebook reader is just perfect size, and the battery still is okay-ish, only recently started falling behind old marks. I wish they would have been commercially successful and could have developed a YP3 (and their promised Yota 10 Inch Android tablet with dual screen!!! Oh man…) with backlight on the e-ink screen and maybe a better camera, but hey, you can´t have everything 😉

Oh and the Boox E43 – I recall that Boox had a Polish distributor here in Europe for a while, and I bought the phone through their ebay shop back then. There were also several offers back in those days (2014-15-ish?) from Spanish sellers on ebay, who knows, maybe there was a retailer too. I bought it actually for a quite reasonable price, I believe around 150 Euros, which was completely fine (regular readers without front light were selling for around 100 Euros at least!) and I was even able to sell it a few weeks later with a little Plus.

Well, that was my (hi)story with the little fellow. It definitely WAS available, it WAS innovative, it WAS super slow and unpractical, but it also WAS something worth having and trying out for a while – because it made me open for the screen size, form factor and the idea of a mobile phone with e-ink, and without that I would never have made it to the Yotaphone. So, thanks, Boox!

roberto January 15, 2020 um 10:32 am

Sorry, where I say "front light", I meant of course backlight… 🙂

Noname January 24, 2020 um 7:15 am

At least some other Hisense E-ink phone seems to be available now:

Nix February 10, 2020 um 4:21 pm

If the Lenovo eInk laptop had the Yoga swivel hinge on it that let you spin the screens around, it’d be a much more attractive product IMO since it’d offer a sunlight-friendly option to use when outdoors. The functionality would be limited, of course, but an electrophoretic display option would beat cranking up the nits and finding perfect angles on anything I’ve used outside.

MKS June 9, 2020 um 10:27 pm

Today is June 9, 2020. I ordered a Hisense A5 e-ink smartphone from Gearbest at the end of January and just received the phone, undoubtedly delayed by current events. There is no English language manual in the box, and the phone itself has a mixed English/Chinese interface. Came preloaded with PRC approved apps in Chinese settings such as Wechat; no Google Play Store.

I can’t find an English manual on the Internet, and, contrary to reviews and videos claiming the Google Play store can be loaded on to it, or that the Kindle app can be used on it, I can’t find instructions on how to set that up. Very frustrating especially as at least one site making such claims also claims to sell the phone. Or will sell the phone. And will offer the manual.

Hisense itself has a website offering manuals for some of their product lines…that are not phones.

Will keep you updated if I make progress.

MKS June 9, 2020 um 10:29 pm

It doesn’t help that the preloaded browser is all in Chinese and yes, I did go to settings, and can’t change the language.

MKS July 9, 2020 um 2:25 pm

Using Google translate on a second phone to read this phone’s interface, I found the Kindle app in the Hisense’s own (Chinese language) appstore. Installed and am using it successfully as a Kindle e-reader. It’s cute, can be read one-handed, has long battery life.

Cannot do the same for Audible, no Google Play Store yet, and while the rooting community is working on unauthorized workarounds (documented in the Wikipedia entry for this phone model) they’re not easy to do yet.

Lesson learned: do not believe what the Other e-Reader Blog says about upcoming hardware, its features, availability, or ease of use.

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