Discriminating eBook readers have an important choice to make: LCD or eInk. In terms of display technology, those are the two main choices, with one of the most high profile proponents of eInk technology, Amazon, manufacturing reading devices using both. Unfortunately, the differences between the two are not made clear in marketing materials, with many LCD-based tablets marketed as “color eReaders” in the recent past. As a result, plunking down a wad of cash on an eReader, deciding between LCD and eInk can be a confusing proposition. If this sounds like your dilemma, never fear. We’ve got the lowdown on exactly what you need to know to get the eBook reader that’s right for you.
What Do you Want?
First, let’s talk plans. More specifically, let’s take a look at what you’re planning to do with the eReader once you get it and just how much of it you plan on doing. If you’re attracted to the versatility of LCD devices because they can be used for a variety of different purposes – from Facebooking to full-on color web browsing to watching movies in high def clarity – then your decision may already have been made. LCD devices have a tremendous advantage over traditional grayscale eInk in that they’re a whole heck of a lot more versatile. They can be viewed in the dark thanks to backlighting (new eInk eReaders like the NOOK Simple Touch eReader with GlowLight can also be used in the dark), run video and games, and show color.
There have been some advancements made in color eInk, most notably by E-Ink Holding’s Triton and Qualcomm’s Mirasol displays, but its future isn’t exactly bright. According to Hiroshi Hayase, Vice President of Small/Medium Displays at NPD DisplaySearch, “One of the primary limitations of eInk is the ability to clearly display graphics information. It’s proving difficult for color eInk devices to compete with LCD, since many consumers want to view movie contents in addition to still images, and tablets like the iPad seem to have already cornered this market at an affordable cost. Attempting to compete with low cost LCD devices will be an uphill battle for new color eInk devices such as Triton and Mirasol.”
If this all sounds pretty cut and dried, it isn’t. Before you spring for that latest generation iPad or Kindle Fire, let’s talk about something that may already have occurred to you: the benefits of eInk, and they are considerable. Especially if you’re talking about limiting the effects of eye strain, which is a major concern if you intend to do more reading than browsing.
Just Like a Book
eInk (short for electrophoretic ink) is the technology that Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other eReader manufacturers have long touted as one of the chief ingredients to their individual recipes for delivering an experience that’s as close as you can get to an actual book without the olfactory benefits of the real deal. According to those who swear by it and deride any other alternative, eInk devices can go weeks between charges, and eInk simply looks better. But looks aside, there are plenty of eye health professionals that’ll tell you eInk doesn’t only look good, but it’s also far better for your eyes.
According to Dr. Michael Pier, O.D., Director of Professional Relations for the Bausch & Lomb North American Vision Care, the drawbacks of the bland and colorless interfaces typical to grayscale eInk readers are outweighed by their ocular advantages. “The total benefit of eInk is the reduction of glare,” says Pier. “Glare affects your ability to see the contrasts between the letters and the background, and this is virtually eliminated by eInk. The better the contrast, the easier it is on the eyes. Contrast allows us to grab focus faster, because we’re not trying to interpret what might appear as a blur on the edges of letters.”
In other words, eInk devices like the traditional Kindle eReader are easier to view with a glaring sun or light overhead.
The obvious question now is: can reading on an LCD ruin your vision? The good news is, no. If you ask Dr. Pier, the real concern lies not in any risks that LCD poses over eInk, but in ensuring that people using eReaders give their eyes a necessary break by employing what he calls “The 20/20 Rule” – for every 20 minutes of concentration in front of an eReader, spend 20 seconds staring off into the distance to give your eye muscles a chance to rest. Regardless of whether you end up with an LCD or eInk eReader, Pier adds this important reminder: “The best contrast you can get in an eReader or in a book is black on white; black font on a white background.”
LCD vs eInk
So what does the future hold for the opposing platforms of LCD and eInk? Can we expect one to go the way of the VCR, leaving the other to dominate? Or is there room for both to co-exist, despite the fact that the iPad has started making serious inroads to eventually becoming a required tool in classrooms? Hayase offers something of a positive outlook that ought to leave eInk enthusiasts jumping for joy: “NPD DisplaySearch forecasts that e-Ink has a strong future, not only for personal reading, but for educational use as well.”
We’ll see how that one works out. In the meantime, all you hardcore bookworms can relax and enjoy that paper-smooth eInk. Leave the LCDs to the tech-nerds and the mediaphiles.