There are plenty of colour ebook readers around, but they invariably use LCD screens. This means low battery life, more eyestrain and a worse experience in direct sunlight than their E-ink counterparts, like Amazon's Kindle. E-ink Corporation, the company behind all the top ereader screens, already has a colour version of its own screen tech though, and it was showing it off in the Ectaco jetBook at CES 2012. Read on to find out whether it's any good or not.
The Ectaco jetBook reader is different to most ereaders found on UK shelves. Its screen is 9.7in across and its resolution 1,600 x 1200 pixels. Currently the only colour E-Ink reader available across the world, according to its maker, it's easy to call this the most advanced ereader yet.
However, it has deliberately marketed itself into a niche. The E-ink rep told us that it's primarily though-of as an educational tool, for kids to view textbooks on. From a user experience perspective, this angle holds out too.
The Ectaco Jetbook Color isn't very quick compared with a Kindle or the latest Sony ereader, and page turns can feel laboured. But when its pixel density, 206dpi, is so much greater than the reader norm of 166dpi - resulting in sharper text - and it offers the techie holy grail of colour E-ink, it's an interesting signpost of what's to come.
The E-ink Corporation's solution to colour ereading is very similar to its current black and white model, used in all the most popular readers. It works using dark and light microcapsules that are brought to the surface to form images and text. There have been various generations of the tech - Vizplex and Pearl the most notable - but the jetBook's Triton screen adds colour filters to extend the palette beyond the 16 shades of grey currently supported.
However, as you can tell from this close-up of the jetBook's screen, the technology has a way to go. The limited contrast of E-ink becomes all the more apparent when dealing with colour, resulting in muted tones that at best resemble low-quality newsprint.
The screen is sharp, but colours are muted
This is problematic because the key functions we'd initially image for a colour reader - magazine and comic book (graphic novel, if you must) reading - will be stymied by this imaging limitation. E-ink was quite open about this problem, and was even up for discussing the relative merits of its colour rivals, Mirasol's colour screens top of our particular list.
Mirasol's solution offers better colour reproduction, but worse battery life at decent brightness levels. Seeing E-ink's colour tech in action, we can only conclude that it still has some work to go before reaching the level of quality we're after - and given the small increments in contrast achieved over the past five years, it may take a while. The Ectaco jetBook sells for £379.95 and the same hardware has also been spotted bearing the Hanvon brand. Drop us a line below in the comments in you're eagerly awaiting a usable colour E-ink solution.
With a larger screen and slower operation, the Ectaco jetBook isn't going to lure us away from our Kindles and Sony Readers any time soon, but its use of a colour E-ink screen is fascinating. The mediocre level of colour reproduction won't make it palatable for a mainstream gadget-buying audience, but fingers crossed we'll get there one day.