E-Paper, my beloved! That’s right, I’m one of them this People – the insufferable nitwits who think they’re better than you because a) they’re reading a book about public transport instead of staring at their phone like everyone else, and b) they’re reading this book on a fancy e-reader, no real paperback like any Victorian nobleman.
Okay, I promise I’m not really annoying. However, I love my Kindle Paperwhite with all my heart; It ignited (hee hoo) my childhood love of reading and allowed me to carry a library’s novels in its sleek black form, like in a bag A Space Odyssey Obelisk full of highly entertaining fiction.
It’s a first generation Paperwhite that I’ve owned for a full decade now and it still works shockingly well. I know planned obsolescence is a newer problem in tech hardware, but I don’t think I’ve ever owned technology that has lasted that long — and part of that is the screen.
The magic of e-paper
If you’ve ever used one of the best e-readers (or even a bad one), you’re familiar with e-paper. For those who need a refresher, E-Paper contains millions of “microcapsules” containing positively and negatively charged pigment particles that act as “pixels” when an electric field is applied to them.
It is an invention of genius, a technology that has been completely removed from the liquid crystal displays that dominate our phones and laptops. E-paper screens work very differently and have their own pros and cons compared to ‘traditional’ displays – but after some reconsideration I think the pros far outweigh the cons.
First, e-paper screens consume significantly less energy because they only need electricity change keep a pixel, not animated. They’re great for outdoor use as they don’t have a glossy, reflective surface that causes glare in brightly lit environments. They offer virtually unlimited viewing angles and are easier on the eyes by being more like printed paper. And – as I know from having dropped my Kindle on the bus a number of times – they’re pretty darn durable too!
The big downside
Why isn’t e-paper integrated into our devices to a greater extent? Well, the big downside is the refresh rate – and don’t get me wrong, it’s a BIG downside. My Kindle takes almost a full second to refresh when I click something – admittedly it’s more than a decade old, but e-paper still lags far behind traditional displays in terms of refresh rates.
But technology is still evolving – and I want more companies to commit to improving it. Lenovo is at the forefront of this, unveiling its extremely impressive Smart Paper technology at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year. A little later, at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, I had the opportunity to try Lenovo’s new ThinkBook Plus Twist and I think it could be the future of laptops.
The Twist combines both screen types – a regular LCD panel and a full-color Smart Paper display – into a single device, and I loved It. The Smart Paper has a 12Hz refresh rate, which is still well below the 60Hz+ you’ll find on most laptops, but enough to get Windows 11 working. If you’re doing something that doesn’t require a high refresh rate, like writing in a text document, it works great.
Lenovo isn’t alone — earlier this week, Philips introduced a new monitor that attaches an e-paper panel to the side of the standard display. Philips specifically says the e-paper sidekick screen is designed to help reduce eye strain during productivity work, which sounds smart to me.
The e-development of the e-paper
I want more of this. E-paper has improved a lot over the years, but we need to go further: if an e-paper display can go from 2Hz to 12Hz, it can eventually go to 30Hz – and that’s about it fast as required for one type of display to functionally replace LCDs in laptops as a whole.
Who should be the company that can do this? Well, I don’t trust any of the big e-reader brands; Amazon and Kobo make some great devices for reading on the go, but I wouldn’t expect them to make a great laptop. The Kindle Scribe, an attempt to combine the classic e-reader with the notepad functionality of a pen, was a bit of a disappointment.
So Lenovo? Maybe, but the ThinkPad range is aimed more at business users. Philips is clearly interested in e-paper technology but doesn’t make laptops. There’s only one company in my opinion that could actually make it work and sell it – and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s Apple.
Yes, as a die-hard Windows fan, many who know me will be shocked and appalled to hear me say this, but Apple is the only company with the marketing wow factor and sleek hardware design to make it of an e-paper laptop is a reality. Battery life is already a big selling point for MacBooks – to be honest, I’m shocked we haven’t seen iPaper yet.
That might be because iPaper is already a company (they apparently make PDF shopping catalogues), but I’m sure Tim Cook could come up with a better, more original name. If Apple builds it, they’ll come… As we’ve seen from the iPhone’s popularization of smartphones and Intel’s attempt to beat the MacBook, Apple sets trends as often as it follows them.
C’mon Apple: WWDC 2023 is coming, give me the e-paper MacBook I’ve always wanted. Those rumored OLED MacBooks are apparently delayed anyway! People will say you’re crazy – but if there’s one company that can make e-paper screens popular enough to encourage wider adoption, it’s you.