E Ink Gallery 3 technology brings us closer to the perfect tablet

E Ink has a new version of colored electronic paper, and although it is not as beautiful as an OLED or possesses the new technical tinge of things like mini- and microLED, E Ink Gallery 3 is certainly easy on the eyes. Gallery 3 is not quite as fast as E Ink found in your Kindle, but it has some absolutely amazing upgrades compared to previous versions of Gallery technology and brings us much closer to a color E Ink screen that big companies like Amazon can actually risk putting a tablet in.

Currently, a handful of companies are making color E Ink tablets based on E Ink’s Other things color technology, Kaleido. These include PocketBook Color (really nice!) And Boox Nova3 Color (cooler in theory than in practice). Kaleido was E Ink’s first attempt at colored E Ink that came in a gadget that most people could buy. It relies on a traditional black and white E Ink screen with a color filter placed over the top with red, green and blue pigments. I’ve used a few products based on that technology, and while it’s nice to see comics and book covers rendered in color, Kaleido has been a pretty disappointing experience so far. Instead of the more paper-like white of black-and-white E Ink, Kaleido is this … muddy greenish-gray thanks to the color filter. Colors appear only when the backlight is on or the full power of the sun is flowing down on it. The resolution is also ugly. Black and white E Ink has a sharp resolution of 300 dpi, but Kaleido, depending on the version, is 100 to 150 dpi. The effect is noticeable and frankly unpleasant. E Ink showed off Kaleido 3 earlier this month, and that should solve some of the issues I’ve had with the latest version, Kaleido Plus, but muddy colors and reliance on backlighting still seems to be part of Kaleido’s deal.

Gallery 3 seems to make up for some of Kaleido’s biggest mistakes. Instead of 4,096 colors, it can produce over 50,000, all with 300 dpi. It seems that there is no need for backlighting for eye-catching colors – although E Ink in the press release claims that Gallery 3 will have a front-lit LED that should reduce blue light. The reason why earlier versions of the Gallery color technology maintained a similar color gamut at a similar resolution, but that they have not been found in consumer devices. This is because previous versions were slow as molasses. Full color pages in the latest version took a full 10 seconds to change. In Gallery 3, the time has dropped to only 1,500 milliseconds (or 1.5 seconds) when the mode is selected to optimize quality over speed. When speed is preferred over quality, the time drops to 350ms. It’s still eerily slow once you get used to an iPad Mini updating 60 times a second, but it’s a huge leap in speed from generation to generation.

And it is the great leap in improvements generation over generation that has made me excited. E Ink needs to dramatically improve its refresh rate if it wants to compete with monitors that update 60 times a second or more. This kind of leap in performance, generation over generation, may not be a stroke of luck, but a sign that a business is really … upright.

And that means we could see actual color E Ink products compete against OLED and LCD technology. Given how much easier E Ink is on the eyes, how much better it performs in sunlight, and how much longer it lasts on a charge, an E Ink tablet would theoretically be the platonic ideal if the page refresh technology could be fast enough.

And E Ink probably thinks so too. E Ink released two demo videos along with its announcement. One shows an E Ink screen that unfolds like the dozens of scrollable OLED demos we’ve seen, and the other shows the E Ink that bends like a whole host of Samsung phones.

Again, this technology is not quite the same as what you find in a folding phone or even a rolling phone right now. But it’s a step in a very cool direction.

E Ink has not said which companies, if any, will put Gallery 3 technology in a tablet or phone, but companies like Boox and PocketBook have shown a real willingness to play with the next technology and explore what a E Ink tablet can do in addition to letting you read a book. I would not be surprised if we see an announcement from one of these companies, or the growing number of E Ink tablet manufacturers in China, before the end of the year.

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