Onyx E Ink smartphone in the works, promises one week battery life (video)

October 19, 2012

    Praised for its readability in “difficult” lighting conditions and for its battery saving potential, but criticized for lag and inability to display colors, the E Ink display technology has been heavily used on e-book readers during the past few years, including on Amazon’s highly successful Kindle line.

    But if you ever wondered how would an E Ink smartphone look like, we have some answers for you today. In short, it looks pretty cool yet kind of quirky, exciting, but limited.

    It doesn’t really help that the first manufacturer to give this kind of “project” a try is not a very well-known name in the tech industry – Onyx International – but let’s keep an open mind and check out the prototype of the world’s first ever E Ink phone.

    The unnamed handheld stars in a seven-minute long YouTube video clip that mostly shows off its number one ace up its sleeve – legibility in bright light. In order to do that, YouTube user “Charbax” puts the device next to a Galaxy Nexus outdoor in the middle of a sunny day, so as to get an idea of how much easier it is to use a phone with an E Ink screen instead of one sporting an AMOLED display.

    The differences are major, but, while the clip’s author states that the GNex is set at maximum brightness, it doesn’t look that way to us. Still, you can’t challenge the prototype phone on this, so moving on.

    I mentioned power saving as another major upside of using E Ink displays, and, while we can’t be certain of this phone’s exact real life autonomy at the moment, we should expect at least one full week between charges. Needless to say that such a battery life would be totally awesome in a pond where even the bigger fishes can only dream of swimming for one or two full days before needing a rest.

    Now for the downers. The phone’s spec sheet is mostly kept under wraps, but, based on rumors and what we can tell from the clip, it will run Android 2.3 Gingerbread and feature an ARM Cortex A5 processor (most likely a Qualcomm MSM7227A).

    Those are some laughable features, but what’s worse is that not even good ol’ Gingerbread doesn’t seem to be running smoothly on the phone. The lag is painful in several instances of the video demonstration, and, while most of the bugs and glitches are probably due to this being an unfinished prototype, we shouldn’t get our hopes up.

    Hearing that the device could weigh only about 70 grams doesn’t make up for that either, so it’s time to face reality. Could an E Ink phone be useful in real life if it proves so clunky and doesn’t let users watch videos, play cool games or do anything else that involves color? Are you willing to sacrifice all that just for readability and awesome battery life? Check out the full video and then let us know.

    Comments

    • http://www.facebook.com/amadeus.klein Amadeus Klein

      I like the concept, but color is important to me… that would be the deal breaker. But that said this phone if ever brought to market would probably do so with better specs and get smoother operations, it might end up as a good”first step”for some users who are still leary of smart phones because of battery and use in bright light situations.. just my 2 cents…

    • Nick Schiwy

      I think that it is interesting and very cool in terms of battery but it’s more realistic for companies to improve their current screen technology and CPU efficiency and battery technology to improve battery life and visual performance in the sun, this is more of a novelty than anything else for me.

    • spunker88

      There are 2 major things holding e-ink back. First is color and the second is the slow refresh time for the screen in which it has to flash to refresh. They have gotten better with the screen refreshing but for video e-ink is still way behind LCD based screens.

    • John Marks

      Cool concept but I don’t see this technology being used in phones for another few years. Remember black and white screen cell phones that displayed hardly anything? Or black and white tvs that had a fuzzy picture? If over time they can make this looks like an LCD and have the same refresh time I could see it being the smart phone stander. (Long battery, no light issues etc…) Time will tell.

    • fan of e-ink

      I think this is a great direction for development. If you use an e-ink reader you miss so much. Imagine having all the text-based web and phone capabilities in a lightweight, less-power-hungry, good-in-all-lighting device. If you can’t see that working while sitting by a pool or hiking on a sunny day etc, then think about the developing world where the luxury of consuming like us is quite different. It seems the mass vision of a phone’s capabilities is to do as much as possible (ie consume media like movies and games). If you back away from that expectation you can see how this device might fit into the world.

    • fan of e-ink

      I think this is a great direction for development. If you use an e-ink reader you miss so much. Imagine having all the text-based web and phone capabilities in a lightweight, less-power-hungry, good-in-all-lighting device. If you can’t see that working while sitting by a pool or hiking on a sunny day etc, then think about the developing world where the luxury of consuming like us is quite different. It seems the mass vision of a phone’s capabilities is to do as much as possible (ie consume media like movies and games). If you back away from that expectation you can see how this device might fit into the world.

    • http://ARMdevices.net/ Charbax

      My Galaxy Nexus phone is set to maximum brightness, I know, I promise. That’s how it is. Anyone can do a test, take your galaxy nexus smartphone in direct sunlight, film the screen with any camera, especially with a sheet of paper with text or an e-reader displayingsome text next to your galaxy Nexus, you’ll see nearly nothing on the screen, that’s how it is.

    • welshblood

      This is a backward step for a Smartphone. If people learned to turn off things like 3G, GPS, Blue-tooth, WiFi and turn down the brightness ( as well as turning the screen off, instead of walking around with it lit up like a torch!), then their battery WILL last all day!! (And in full colour).

      • TNM

        Missing the point, are we? Its not about battery life, its about BEEING ABLE TO READ THE DAMN THING IN FULL SUNLIGHT. There you go. This is no “backward step”, its the future. Refresh time will get better, Color is already done (yea, bit expensive still, but you can buy color-e-ink readers).

    • Aldi

      I’d buy it. I have a onyx book m92 and that ebook reader has been improving my productivity quite a bit.

      So far, I find all smartphones awkward (including the iPhone5 and the Samsung SIII). They are not as capable as I expect a computer-”based” device to be. This e-ink smartphone is a good compromise and it gives superior battery life. Just good.

    • aideno

      honestly the device itself is stunning but the Eink puts me off, if it was in colour id be all over tht lol, but the interface looks too much like windows phone rather than android, i wouldnt normally recomend this to any phone company but i cant help but think it would have made more sense for them to use windows phone OS instead of android.

    • GK

      The thing about e-ink is not that its attractive-to-look but it will consume very little power as you read while travel. meaning longer battery life and no need to conserve while reading ebooks,

    • spectremANDROID

      What it boils down to is that the device in the video isn’t the best possible example, but its a start. Its great that some business entity is at least committed to a serious try. I’m sure that such a device can find a market with just a bit of thought and sincere effort. E-ink is technology, technology always gets better, especially when it is pushed. Manufacturers just need to find the impetus to make that push.

    • John van Hulst

      I never play videos or play games on my phone, so I’d buy it. Battery life and legibility ar far more interesting for a phone user like I am.

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