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Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

Color E-Readers Finally Available to Consumers

Tablets stole the show, but they’re not true analogs for paper.

  • March 1, 2012

For those of us who still think tablets are a less enjoyable reading experience than plain old glossy magazine paper, the good news is that the elves at Qualcomm have been busy turning their Mirasol color e-ink display into something more than perennial vaporware. Displays like this one are different from the backlit LCD panels on tablets in that they are reflective and require an external light source to be viewable. Ultimately, it’s this sort of display that will give us true replacements for printed material.

The KYOBO eReader, Hanvon C18, Bambook Sunflower and Koobe Jin Yong Reader all use full-color Mirasol displays

The Mirasol display, which uses tiny mirrors to refract light in a way that is reminiscent of irridescent butterfly wings, has apparently been especially hard to manufacture, because it’s taken more than four years to ramp production volume to the point that this display could be sold to consumers. The result are devices (still only available in Asia) with 5.3 inch, 800-480 pixel screens. That means a display density of 223 pixels-per-inch, which is twice the resolution of an iPad but falls short of the resolution in Apple’s Retina display. Mirasol has a high enough refresh rate to allow web navigation and video playback, albeit with some flicker.

Mirasol’s primary competition is E-ink’s Triton display, which uses the same technology found in the black and white displays that Kindle made famous, but overlays them with a color filter.

The folks at Good E Reader did a side-by-side comparison of the two technologies, and its seems clear that Mirasol is the superior (but also more expensive) option.

Mirasol remains washed-out in comparison to the best that ink-on-paper has to offer, and there’s something to be said for the stained-glass effect that’s achieved when displaying video and photographs on a backlit surface. That said, if you’re wondering what magazines and books will be delivered on when e-readers have achieved mass-market penetration and paper is relegated to luxury publications like Monocle, it’s likely it will be something like this.

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