By Harry McCracken | Monday, November 2, 2009 at 10:24 pm
I’ve been writing about e-readers from the moment that Amazon released its first Kindle. And when I do, I usually express my reservations about the E-Ink screens used by the Kindle and all of its direct competitors. Yes, they’re glare-free and run for days on a charge. But the technology’s monochrome-only, the displays are slow, and the cost has kept e-reader prices high enough that there are plenty of book lovers who haven’t splurged on one yet.
Chipmaker Marvell announced a new processor today, the Armada 166e, that’s designed to let designers of e-readers build better E-Ink-equipped devices. Marvell’s system-on-a-chip builds an E-Ink graphics controller right into the processor, allowing for e-readers that cost less to make but yet which can refresh their E-Ink displays more quickly. (Earlier e-readers have used separate graphics controllers to drive their E-Ink screens.)
Marvell gave me a preview of the technology at work last week. It showed me screens that eliminate the annoying flashing effect when the screen refreshes–the one a Technologizer reader recently asked about–and which are snappy enough to do simple animation. The company says that Armada-powered e-readers will be zippy enough to do fancier, more faithful formatting of e-books, digital magazines, and other content. And it also says that as the E-Ink technology gets better, its chips will really be able to show off their stuff.
The Armada is in multiple upcoming e-readers, including Plastic Logic’s Que, Spring Design’s Alex, and one I hadn’t heard about yet, the double-screen EnTourage eDGe, which claims to be both an e-reader and a netbook and looks a little like Microsoft’s Courier concept:
Marvell also showed me a mockup of a proposed petite e-reader design that looks like it could be kinda cool:
I’m still looking forward to the first color-screen e-readers–even if they’re called tablets rather than e-readers and have battery life that’s a fraction of what E-Ink can deliver. But it’ll be interesting to see how rapidly E-Ink devices improve–and judging from the technology demos Marvell showed me, its new chip will help.