The clever e-ink technology, which uses minimal power draw to display mono images on small screens, has really started to gain traction in the market. Obviously most e-readers like the Kindle use it, but it’s also making its way to smaller devices, like phones. The Yotaphone 2, which we reviewed a while ago, is an example of a clever implementation of the tech, but now you can have the same kind of twin screen functionality for your existing phone. Clever.
The InkCase+ is a new e-ink screen which connects to your phone (iPhone or Android) via Bluetooth, and then gives you a low power 2nd screen you can use for all sorts of things. We tested out an early version of the product and accompanying apps last week.
The product ships in a very nice package, and inside the box you get the unit itself, a USB charge cable and a short but decent user guide. Unfortunately our review model was so new that the guide didn’t include all the apps that are available, but we assume that these will be included in later versions of the product. See our video below for an overview of the product in action.
The unit itself comprises a skinny handheld with a 3.5 inch mono screen. There are three buttons on the front, and a micro USB charge socket on the bottom and that’s about it. We did notice some sort of other interface which is not explained in the documentation, so we’re guessing that’s there for the version of the product which comes with an integrated case for certain phones like the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy range.
To operate the unit you first engage Bluetooth on your phone and pair with the InkCase+. Once you’re connected, you can fire up the free InkCase+ Companion app and start to use the screen with some apps. At the moment there are four apps available, a standard e-reader, a sports app, a camera editing app and another e-reader which seems to be for the Chinese market only.
Each of the apps offers a set of functionality, but for most people the Sports and e-reader apps will be most useful. The e-reader lets you read your stuff on the small e-ink screen while your power hungry phone stays in your pocket or bag, and you get full control over scrolling through pages. You can also set the font size in the e-reader app to a comfortable viewing level for your eyes.
But it’s the Sports app that is really interesting. This tool uses the phone as an activity tracking device, so once you set it up, you will get updates to the screen every few seconds, which relate to the activity you’re doing. We see this as being particularly cool for cyclists, who can stick the InkCase+ on their handlebars instead of their phone, and use it to track distance traveled, average speeds, and even calories expended. Pretty neat.
The final app is the Photo app, and while we’re not sure why you would want to transfer photos from your phone to a mono screen, there is one use for it which is rather cool. Nowadays barcodes are becoming more popular, for things like concert tickets and even boarding passes for flights. With the InkCase+ Photo app you can take a snap of a QR or barcode and then put your phone away and use the low power e-ink screen as your barcode display. Swipe it, show it at the door etc. We liked this functionality on the Yotaphone 2 and we like it here too.
The InkCase+ is a very interesting product, and it reflects our increasing frustration with the battery life of modern smartphones. It may also point to a dissatisfaction with the large size of mainstream phone screens, which makes them tiring to hold for long stretches of time, but we’re not totally sure that’s a real thing…yet!
However there’s no doubt that having an additional screen can add some interesting benefits in different circumstances. E-book reading is clearly a big winner here, as are the barcode and sports tracking modes, but it remains to be seen if other apps will help drive the tech forward or not. Nonetheless it’s a cool idea, a nice product and an interesting experiment in smartphone accessory development.
Price: $94.88 / £64.12 (base unit)
Intelligent 3.5 inch e-ink screen panel for Android smartphone
Resolution: 360 x 600
Battery: 3.7V 500mAh
Bluetooth: Bluetooth 2.1
Function: Support e-book, photo, sports information, notification
OS: Supoort Android App
Standby time: 5 days