Thursday, 21 July 2011

QOTW: Electronic ink screens for writers. Would you buy one?


If there is one thing above all others that would make my life as a writer easier, it would be a computer with an electronic ink display. Why? Because traditional LCD screens are backlit and flicker, and this can trigger migraines.

Backlit screens can cause glare and eye strain, and whilst the flickering, or refresh rate of the screen, is too fast for the eyes to see, it can also cause headaches or migraines. All of this means the amount of time I can use my laptop is severely limited, not just to one day, but to how many days in one week.

As a writer I cannot put more emphasis how big a problem for me this is. Last week I bought an Acer Notebook because it only has a ten inch screen, in the hope less glare and flicker equals less eye strain.

Of course there are things we can do to help ourselves when using a computer:

Use your computer in a well lit room to reduce glare.
Set the background on your word processing software to blue and font to white.
Use a white background and black text for your blog or website. White text on a black ground is difficult to read.
Look away from your screen and focus on a distant object at regular intervals.
Make sure you blink regularly - dry eyes cause extra strain.

I am sure that you will have plenty more suggestions. But no-matter how careful I am, I still can't use my laptop for extended periods of time. But an electronic ink screen - as seen on the Kindle and other electronic book readers - are not backlit and do not flicker. I can use my Kindle for hours with no ill effect.

Of course, there are drawbacks. At the moment ink screens are only available in black and white. They cannot be used in a dark room, as there is no light. But the technology is being developed, and I am sure eventually there will be computers with colour ink screens because they have one major advantage - they have a much longer battery life because there is no screen to light.

But where does that leave me and anyone else who would happily trade their laptop for a new electronic ink screen version? It seems that for the moment this new technology is at the development stage, and considerations such as gaming and viewing the internet in colour are more important than the possible health effects of LCD screens.

So my suggestion would be for one of the major computer companies to develop a basic word processor for writers that comes with an electronic ink screen. As long as it is compatible with major software programmes such as Word, and has a USB port so work can be saved, I would buy it. I would pay good money for it as well. As for browsing the Internet, well that can still be done on my LCD laptop.

What do you think? If such a machine was to become available, would you buy it?

Update: Further to one of the comments, I want to reiterate that electronic ink screens do not work in the same way as LCD screens, and it is those differences that can trigger my ocular-induced migraines. Unlike traditional backlit displays, electronic ink displays reflect light like ordinary paper. They are not lit in any way.

The image itself is produced by polyethylene spheres between 75 to 106 micrometres, which are suspended in a bubble of oil embedded in a transparent silicon sheet. The polarity of the voltage applied to the spheres determines whether the black or white side shows. Because this creates a stable image, is does not need to be refreshed. Thus there is no flicker. Unfortunately for me, ensuring my laptop's screen refresh rate is 60hz or over, or using a larger PC screen does not help.

41 comments:

  1. I hadn't heard that they were working on a word processor version of the ink screen, but I would be all over it. I suffer chronic severe migraines and the computer is the biggest culprit. Tricky when one is a writer!

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  2. I would LOVE one, if it came to market. I love the Kindle technology and it would be fab to have it on a monitor, too.

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  3. Can you type on a Kindle? I know I can draw pictures on my Sony (though I've never tried to download them as files. Not sure what I'd get.)

    Might be worth contacting Sony (since Kindle are too tied up with Amazon to take any notice) but a version of their reader that creates word processed files might be a simple development.

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  4. I think it would be too limiting right now, I don't think I could afford just an e-ink word processor. I do think screen tech needs to imoprove, but it may take some time. Would be nice if you could switch between the two.

    mood
    Moody Writing
    @mooderino

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  5. Oh I do hope that apple and dell and microsoft all these big companies develop non-flickering screens etc!!! And I do hope they do so at a price we can all afford.

    Take care, Ellie! x

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  6. I'd buy one like a shot......providing I could afford it.

    Yvonne.

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  7. My sister suffers like you and also has an Acer Notebook. I feel for the both of you.

    I think the Kindle screen in a laptop or PC would be wonderful and I would completely go for it.

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  8. I would buy one but it would have to be priced competitively. I'm not overpaying just because there is a new toy on the market.

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  9. The tech geek in me would want to check it out!
    I alternate between my desktop, my laptop, and my iPad. That seems to help.

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  10. I have a Nook Color and love it. I have a number of background options. But I don't have issues with migraines either. That's good to know because my hubby wants to get one, and he does have migraine issues.

    I've never heard of this electronic ink screen. I'll have to Google it. =D

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  11. Interesting concept. I have a NookColor that I enjoy using and then of course is my laptop. I take regular breaks from the screen to avoid headaches, but something like this could be truly useful.

    Sidenote: I wanted to extend an invitation to my blogfest http://writinginwonderland.blogspot.com/2011/07/wonderland-giveaway-blogfest-2011.html

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  12. For me, smaller is worse, I have a large monitor and a desktop PC, this means that firstly I do not need to strain to read text, I can have it as large as I need.
    Whilst the technology behind the display is different, Electronic Ink displays are structured in exactly the same way an LCD display is generated so unless the backlight itself is flickering at less than 60Hz, an LCD laptop display should only differ in the amount of light it gives off. On most LCD screens you can easily adjust the brightness level and so eliminate glare.
    If you are getting headaches, unless you have some other health issues, it is much more likely to be eyesight related than the operation of the LCD.
    A lot of what you have said is a part of the EC Regulations for Working With Screens, something most companies have to impart to their employees if they do not want a raft of litigation from their employees when various health problems occur. Laptops are the bane of the office H&S manager because people will never use them correctly and often end up uncomfortable because they are not sitting straight, or are too far from the screen to see it clearly or too close.
    So maybe it is time for a desktop PC with a large screen, running at 100Hz with the brightness turned down and a comfortable chair set at the right height and distance from the screen. Well just a suggestion from a retired H&S trainer.

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  13. Remember the old fashion type writer? Wouldn't it be great if we could type on that and then plug it into a computer and download? LOL! Someday what you are talking about will be available, just look how fast technology is moving. My eyes are ruined so I would buy something like this in a heartbeat.

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  14. I personally don't have the glare problem with my laptop--well, I'm sure I do, but it doesn't bother me. I would however consider a word processor with the cool screen because it is so easy to read and it wouldn't have internet access which is a terrible distraction for me ;)

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  15. unfortunately sounds like a "lefty" thing. i hope one becomes available for you, but i doubt they will be mass produced unless the benefits outway the cost.

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  16. The thing I love best about my Nook is the e-ink. I can read for hours without getting eye strain.

    The only drawback I've heard is their longevity. But computers being what they are, chances are we'd be replacing them with updated models before the e-ink wore out.

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  17. I had a Kindle, and one of the chief features was being able to download beginning chapters of certain novels from Amazon for free. That way, I could see that new authors had done to grab the reader on the first page.

    Unfortunately, my Kindle has been missing for months. I’ll have to decide whether to buy a new one now, or wait to see what Amazon’s rumored tablet will be like, later this year.

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  18. I still like my real ink books... and my paper and all the goodness that comes with real books :) My hubs has a Kindle though. The electronic ink sounds cool.

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  19. I have a kindle, which is ink display format, and if there was a computer like that, I would buy it... no strain on my eyes and no glare... for sure. It's a great idea. Now someone just needs to make it into a MAC:)

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  20. I would love to buy it, if its not overly priced. Doctors are constantly warning against the overuse of computers creating Eye strain, dry eyes and RSI.

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  21. Hmm... that's an interesting thought. On the other hand, my exams have been save more than once because I could study on my laptop during power-outages...

    :-)

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  22. Oh I so agree about screen glare. I find that cream backgrounds and navy writing are even more easy on the eye than white screens with black writing, but black screens and white writing finish me off and set off my migraines.

    I hope your Acer works for you and stops those awful migraines.

    I probably would try the other screen you mentioned were I an established author with cash to splash, but in the meantime I must stick with my PC ;O)

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  23. Interesting! I'd certainly be interested in that. Although I think my migraines tend to be food induced (coffee, beere, wine, chocolate - all my favourites!) rather than the result of staring at screens all day, I am aware that any flickering really bugs me.

    I wonder if the technology is there yet, though? I hear what you say about refresh rate, but could an eInk screen update itself fast enough as you type?

    I must check and see if anyone has written a note-taker/text editor for the Kindle so I could try it ...

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  24. Hmm...I didn't know all that. I do a lot of computer work, both as a writer and a medical transciptionist. Fortunately, I'm not bothered by the screen. I do own a Kindle and agree it is easy on the eyes, but tough to read in poorly lit areas. Eventually, I imagine the technology will find a happy medium.

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  25. I would LOVE electronic ink on a laptop! I like to write outside but I have to use pencil and paper because the glare of a LCD makes it impossible to see. I'm prone to migraines as well and enjoy my Kindle because it's so easy on the eyes.

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  26. Hi Ellie .. eye-strain is one thing - but migraines are another and must be so frustrating .. so I hope someone is paying attention and you'll get your wish ...

    I hope the Acer helps a little .. all the best - Hilary

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  27. These are so much of a problem for me too, I wish I could find a solution to our joint problems. I've tried many things, most only work for short periods of time. So much so the only thing that would work would be, I guess an eye transplant. But even that, without someone else's eyes, would I still see what I want to see?

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  28. Ellie, I can't thank you enough for the information in this post; it is exactly what I've been looking for. I am glad to be a new follower.

    Michelle

    P.S. I've left a response to your comment on Alexia's blog, http://alexiachamberlynn.blogspot.com/2011/07/using-amazon-to-optimize-book-sales.html.

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  29. Monitors cause nuerological damage due to the extreme brightness hue of the light and flashing pwm that dims the backlight. I have gotten very sick from using them and developed terrible migraines that I will have for the rest of my life. Do yourself a favor and don't put your body through any little stress or tension while using a laptop or backlit screen. it is not worth it and in the coming yers you will see many lawsuits against lcd manufacturers.

    anyways here is a solution to your problem and what I currently use. Buy a nook simple touch eink reader. put android on their (google xda root nook str). Install tightvnc on your pc or laptop and and on your nook install from the marketplace "androidvnc". now you can remote into your pc or laptop and use all applications. for a writer like yourself you might want a bluetooth keyboard with your pc so that you hve a nice setup. BEST OF LUCK TO YOU. try a pixel qi screen if eink annoys you put expect minor headaches... not as bad as regular backlight but still not as pain free as eink to the extreme brightness hue of the light and flashing pwm that dims the backlight. I have gotten very sick from using them and developed terrible migraines that I will have for the rest of my life. Do yourself a favor and don't put your body through any little stress or tension while using a laptop or backlit screen. it is not worth it and in the coming yers you will see many lawsuits against lcd manufacturers.

    anyways here is a solution to your problem and what I currently use. Buy a nook simple touch eink reader. put android on their (google xda root nook str). Install tightvnc on your pc or laptop and and on your nook install from the marketplace "androidvnc". now you can remote into your pc or laptop and use all applications. for a writer like yourself you might want a bluetooth keyboard with your pc so that you hve a nice setup. BEST OF LUCK TO YOU. try a pixel qi screen if eink annoys you put expect minor headaches... not as bad as regular backlight but still not as pain free as eink

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  30. Any news on this subject? Been looking how to get an Eink screen for my laptop, one use is for writing and the other for reading of research. The closest I have come to it, is purchasing a B&N Nook Simple Touch to root. It will then work like a simple Android Tablet and with some further mods I should be able to plug in a USB keyboard as well.

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  31. I reached this post because I just dreamed up the kind of writing instrument I'd like to have, & hope someone could point me in the right direction, or go ahead and invent one.

    Keyboards are a pain, computer screens are a pain, my handwriting is a pain . . .

    What I'd like is a special kind of Kindle, touch-screen, e-ink, designed for writing as well as reading, as well as a combination of the two - annotating and editing!

    To write you would use a fine stylus and point to words or letters displayed on the e-ink screen. Predictive text would spring into action as on phone text-messaging, using a good quality dictionary, such as the Oxford Dictionary of English provided free on Kindle.

    I imagine that touch-screen technology at present doesn't work to fine enough resolution, and doesn't dynamically respond to different font sizes & variably displayed text. If it is heat-operated, you could use a stylus whose point is warmed by battery.

    Any thoughts on this?

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  32. Unfortunately, despite writing to a couple of the major players, I've got nowhere with an electronic ink screen word processor for writers. It seems the demand just isn't there, and neither responded to me.

    The Nook idea sounds interesting. I will have to look into this.

    Vincent - you've given some interesting ideas. A Kindle for both reading and writing would be perfect. Whilst I like the idea of using a stylus, I wouldn't want to point at words or use predictive text. It's probably down to personal preference but I need to actually type the words and predictive text would likely slow me down. I hated it on my last mobile!

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  33. Something to make us all happier...It looks like the E ink screens are coming!
    You should contact LG in your quest and see if they will make an e0ink screen for your computer!

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  34. http://www.extremetech.com/electronics/124229-lg-begins-mass-production-of-flexible-plastic-e-ink-displays

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  35. This is exactly what I'm looking for and for the same reasons. Can anyone make a case for medical necessity? My desire for a product like this is strong.

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  36. I agree, Adam. We can't be the only people who need a non-flickering screen for medical reasons. Added to this, I know numerous writers who would use this product despite no medical need. Surely the demand must be there?

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  37. I will buy it definitely. My eyes are burning like hell, i hate using lcds or leds. Since i got kindle its impossible for me to work on pc :/

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  38. What is the status on this?

    I write/read/edit a lot on my laptop, and looking on a LCD screen for some hours gives me poorer vision, sometimes spots for the eyes and makes me tired (even on the lowest brightness setting). It interfers with my productivity and worries me (I'm afraid it can damage my vision long term). I don't have these problems at all when reading on paper, so I have been looking for an e-ink laptop screen for a while, preferably one I can connect to my existing laptop, but otherwise an e-ink laptop as "writing machine" would be great too. Tablet screens are too small, but if I can find nothing better then if I could connect an e-ink e-reader screen to my laptop keyboard, that could work too.

    There seems to be plenty of demand for this product and have been for a while, it makes no sense why it isn't available.

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  39. What is the status on this?

    I write/read/edit a lot on my laptop, and looking on a LCD screen for some hours gives me poorer vision, sometimes spots for the eyes and makes me tired (even on the lowest brightness setting). It interfers with my productivity and worries me (I'm afraid it can damage my vision long term). I don't have these problems at all when reading on paper, so I have been looking for an e-ink laptop screen for a while, preferably one I can connect to my existing laptop, but otherwise an e-ink laptop as "writing machine" would be great too. Tablet screens are too small, but if I can find nothing better then if I could connect an e-ink e-reader screen to my laptop keyboard, that could work too.

    There seems to be plenty of demand for this product and have been for a while, it makes no sense why it isn't available.

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  40. As far as I'm aware there have been no developments towards e-ink screens for laptops or PCs. Sony have developed an A4 e-ink screen/tablet, that is being trialed in Japan. However, it does not support Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or any of the other major file types. PDF is the only format it will support, making it pointless in my opinion.

    I think until we start to see a much greater emergence of LCD-related health problems, the demand just won't be there. Incredibly frustrating for those of us who need an e-ink screen now.

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