Mirasol vs Color E Ink vs Pixel Qi – Which is the eReader of the Future?

Color eReaders

The next obvious step for ebook readers is color. And there are currently three different types of screen technologies trying to bring color to ereaders, Mirasol, color E Ink (Triton), and Pixel Qi.

All three screens differ quite a lot, but there are similarities. Each is meant to be readable outdoors in bright light, each offers color, and all aim to be more energy-efficient than traditional displays.

So the obvious question is: which one is better? Which one is going to win out over the others and become available on your next ereader?

Well, I don’t own a Mirasol or color E Ink ereader yet, but I’ve had a Pixel Qi tablet for about 1 year now (the Notion Ink Adam) and can safely say Pixel Qi is not the answer (here’s my Pixel Qi review, comparing it with E Ink and LCD).

The fact that Pixel Qi is readable outdoors in sunlight is a benefit but it has poor viewing angles and is no where near energy-efficient enough to ever be useful for ebook readers. The Adam gets about 5-6 hours of battery life normally and only about 7-9 hours with the backlight turned off entirely. That pales in comparison to color E Ink and Mirasol, both of which can get up to 3 weeks on a charge. Pixel Qi is better suited for tablets than ebook readers.

The race is a lot closer between Mirasol and color E Ink. Like I said, I haven’t tested either in person yet, but Nate from over at The Digital Reader posted some pictures, a short video, and some thoughts comparing the two. Here’s a quote:

As for me, I could clearly see a difference when I had both screens in front of me.The Mirasol screen had better color quality – but only in the narrow 20% viewing angle. In that small region, Mirasol showed colors that were both stronger and sharper, while the E-ink screen looked distinctly washed out in comparison. But outside that region the color E-ink screen had better color. And of course neither compares well to LCD, but of course we expected that.

Basically it sounds like the Mirasol screen has better color but the viewing angles aren’t very good. The color E Ink looks more washed out by comparison but the screen is clearer, especially at angles. There’s also the fact that the Mirasol screen has a light. I imagine color E Ink could benefit from something like this LED frontlight too.

Mirasol and color E Ink have been trying to go mainstream for quite a while now, but neither have really caught on. There are a few Mirasol ereaders on the market, none of which are being sold in the US. There are a couple of devices using color E Ink screens, but only one is available in the US, the jetBook Color, and it costs $500 and is mostly aimed at the eduction market.

Perhaps it won’t be Mirasol, E Ink, or Pixel Qi on the ereaders of the future. Maybe it will it be something entirely different.

Here are some videos from CES that explain more about Mirasol, E Ink, and Pixel Qi and show them in action.


Color E Ink

Pixel Qi

5 Responses to “Mirasol vs Color E Ink vs Pixel Qi – Which is the eReader of the Future?”

  1. Nathan, let me offer up an out of the box idea about the next e-reader screen interation. First, for color to really catch on, it’s going to have to look like a vibrant color magazine a.k.a. major “eye candy”. The tablets with their LED screens currently have this space. From what I’ve seen I think we’re still a couple of product cycles from a really “magazine quality” e-ink screen.

    I’m just wondering if it would make more sense to stay in the B&W space and increase the number of shades of grey from 16 to 256 as an alternative step. 256 shades of grey would make even color images appear as if they were black and white photographs and look very life like compared to the newsprint style 16 shades of grey. Also, this could result in improved appearance for probably not that much more money and maybe also open the door for larger e-reader screens to be able to read print formatted books at reasonable prices.

    I don’t know if this reasoning makes sense or not. I’d be interested in your posting your views.

  2. I’ve been hoping the same thing in regards to eink readers. This could simply be me, but I’d love to simply see the next generation gain 8 bit B&W (256 shades of grey), maybe a bit higher contrast and a baked in front illumination like that LED diffusion setup that the video you linked to has (supposing it works as well as they claim and there are no downsides in the future, like bright spoting with minor screen scratches or something similar or reduced screen contrast/increased glare).

    Ideally I’d also love to see increased resolution to 1024×768 from 800×600 and maybe even faster screen refreshes/reduced ghosting from partial refreshes. However, I’d lump those in to “nice to have” and not something that would really sell me on a new one over the nook ST that I have right now.

    If you can do color right, sure why not, but since most of my reading is of plain text books with a very small handful of graphics (cover art, maybe an interior map or chapter heading graphics) color doesn’t really improve my reading in terms of an ebook reader much. Good diffuse built in illumination for night reading and higher bit depth grey scale as well as improved contrast does. Higher resoultion or faster refreshes do as well. Color is a distant 5th or 6th want out of an ebook reader for me (even with color things like PDFs and magazines are just going to be too small most of the time to enjoy on a 6″ ebook reader. Now a 9 or 10″ ebook reader…but wait you are in to sizes that make sense for a tablet anyway).

  3. Cost aside I would like to see a combination of 2 screens, b&w e-ink on one side of a “book”-like device and fast-high-res LCD (or OLED) on the other side. Software should be able to switch content from one screen to the other, also 90, 180, 270, 360 degrees turnable.

  4. Go look up the enTourage edge duelbook. It is similer to what you are describing (although the store has closed down)