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.