Product suggestion: large-format e-reader

When I have to read a long, technical document, like a lengthy man page or an academic paper, I often decide to print it out, because I find it so much easier to read these kinds of materials on paper than on a light-emitting display. I am much more productive when I do this.

So, for some time, I have been interested in the idea of obtaining a large-format e-reader, featuring some kind of e-paper display. These do exist, but, universally, they are not Free Software devices. Today I became aware of another rather nice-looking device, with excellent pen-input features for note-taking, which requires (yes, requires) the use of a cloud service in order to be able to load documents onto it. What utter rubbish.

I might have caved in and bought one of the less cloudy ones, if they weren’t so expensive. For the cost of a mid-range laptop, I really want a bit more Software Freedom, and the reassurance of knowing that it isn’t going to become an expensive brick if the manufacturer drops support for it.

I realise that such a thing is probably quite a niche product, and e-paper displays are expensive components, but If Purism were to produce an e-reader with an e-paper display, suitable for reading A4-sized PDFs, with the assurance that it would run Free Software and a mainline Linux kernel, for a reasonable price, then I would jump at the opportunity to buy one!

Out of interest, here’s a poll to see if anyone else would want one:

  • I would buy a Librem large-format e-reader (13" or thereabouts)
  • I would buy a Librem smaller-format e-reader (5-10" or thereabouts)
  • I would buy a Librem e-reader of any size (I don’t care what size it is)
  • I would buy both a large and a smaller format Librem e-reader
  • I would buy a different size
  • I would not buy any of these
  • I passionately object to the basic premise of a Librem e-reader

0 voters

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It’s not something that I would have a need for but hopefully some useful comments.

  1. 13" seems kind of small for reading A4 documents.
  2. There seems to be this weird gap in the eInk display market just above 13". So, let’s say that I want 15" - 19" for reading A4 documents, I didn’t find anything (with admittedly a fairly quick surf). 13" OK. 31" OK!
  3. These displays look a bit expensive regardless but you already knew that.
  4. Have you looked into making your own with a Raspberry Pi? Most of these displays seem to have a SPI interface and a Pi should be able to do that out-of-the-box. (Yes, screen refresh times are going to be slow but that is the expectation with eInk displays.) How much additional software you would need to write for yourself I don’t know.
  5. You didn’t say whether you want B/W, grey, color (how many colors?).
  6. You didn’t say whether you want touch.
  7. I did find some displays with a USB interface but I have no idea what interface the display presents above the USB level and whether it would work out-of-the-box with Linux.
  8. The holy grail would be an eInk display with a standard interface. One I found is: https://www.seeedstudio.com/10-3-inch-E-paper-Monitor-with-HDMI-Display-Interface-for-Raspberry-Pi-and-Jetson-Nano-p-4438.html so that might work out of the box with just about any present day computer.

:+1: Rubbish.

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just to read text ? a dedicated and expensive piece of tech ? what’s wrong with books ?

i would take a piece of paper that REFLECTS and sub-surface scatters light any day over a device that needs power to EMIT light …

a computer exists because it is a meta-tool that surpasses ANY and EVERY technology mankind has EVER produced but to have a device to do only one thing and not MUCH better than a dumb paper is wasted effort in my opinion … but that shouldn’t discourage people to innovate … it simply takes MUCH MORE to move me …

Perhaps the poster is reviewing large documents that don’t exist as a “book”.

I sometimes have to do the same but a) I don’t mind doing so on a normal computer monitor b) I have a rotatable monitor to make that more practical with portrait documents (more common, for me).

me too :slight_smile: and the nice thing is that you don’t need a 999$ Apple Pro stand to do so with normal monitors … one just needs a height adjustable one as those usually come with a rotating mechanism

but a dedicated stand would work much better in terms of freedom of movement, positioning, etc.

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I suppose it depends on the aspect ratio. If you measure the diagonal of an A4 sheet, it is a little over 14 inches. It doesn’t have to be exactly A4 size. It only has to be large enough that you can read the text without squinting! But yes, 14 or 15 inches would be better. That’s why I said “or thereabouts”. :slight_smile:

I get the impression there are patents and the patent holders want to milk it for all it’s worth while they still can. Maybe in another ten to fifteen years we’ll start to see cheaper ones and more adoption and innovation after the patents expire.

Colour would be nice, but not at the expense of not having an e-paper display, and not at the expense of lower visual fidelity. But black and white or greyscale is perfectly good enough. If there’s a page that requires colour, I can just look at that one page on my laptop screen, or print it out. Most of the documents I would read on an e-reader are black and white. If they contain colour, it is usually superfluous. Only rarely do they use colour to convey information that isn’t conveyed any other way.

I have heard of those too. While it would be nice to have an extra monitor in e-paper format, if I’m having to buy a new thing, I’d rather be able to carry it around with me than be tethered to my computer, especially considering the price. Regarding compatibility with desktop user interfaces: Ideally you want a user interface that can selectively refresh exact regions of the screen that have been changed, rather than refreshing the whole thing every time something changes. If you look at the dedicated e-readers, most of them have some kind of optimisation like that for their own user interface. Menu-driven or touch is probably better than using a mouse pointer. Nevertheless, you can make it work.

I didn’t say anything about books. I’ll take a paper book over an e-book any day. This is for documents and papers that are only made available in digital format, which I would otherwise have to print to make them readable.

My university gave me some of my textbooks as free e-books, but I still bought the expensive paper versions because it’s so much easier to read. I considered the e-books to be fairly valueless, especially after accounting for the fact they were locked inside a cloud service.

That’s why this post is about e-paper devices which reflect light from the surroundings, not displays that emit light! Battery life for these is generally measured in weeks.

I’ve tried reading documents on normal monitors, sometimes rotated into portrait mode, but for some reason I struggle with it. If it was good enough, I’d do it that way. It’s fine for something that’s only a handful of pages, or which is formatted for screen. The trouble comes with longer documents, formatted for print, that I either need to read in full or skim through. Apparently skim-reading is hard on a glowing screen.

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No, I haven’t. It’s a nice idea if the parts cost is low enough. Perhaps I can add it to my list of projects, but I probably won’t get around to it for a few years. I’m not going to prioritise it.

Don’t forget, I already have a solution: a laser printer and a big stack of paper! I just want a better solution. So, it has to be worth the time and money, otherwise I might as well just carry on printing.

way better ! thanks for the correction !

maybe i’m too old to believe that such displays exist :slight_smile: they are probably too intelectual property restricted to warrant enough attention anyway since for now it’s only a cash cow …

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sounds like @patch likes the Idea of the remarkable 2 as much as I do and has the same problem with it being the cloud requirement.
I think there is still hope to get rid of the Cloud requirement at least with the old one there were some hacks to get access to it via ssh
I just hope that’s also possible with the second version.

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This is sort of an outside suggestion, but if you find yourself trying to read a document on a computer monitor again, try setting its display temperature to something a bit warmer. I find that it helps reading quite a bit.

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Yes, that’s the one!

I think I used to annoy people in computer labs by doing that and then leaving it that way. :stuck_out_tongue:
Another trick is to invert the colours.

I suspected that you would say that.

So if you bought the 10" HDMI eInk display that I linked to previously and “bolted” a Pi 0 to the back of it (extra cost: very little), you would have a “portable” solution - apart from the need to power it. So it would not be tethered to your computer but it would be tethered to power. (Would have to investigate how long a Pi 0 can be powered from a battery pack.)

You might need some funky software though to select the document that you are going to read - and yes you want 13" / 14" rather than 10" - and yes you really want an eInk display with touch functionality. I’m thinking you fling the document at your Pi 0 + eInk display, and control it, using your smartphone (or any other computer on the network).

Is this as clean a solution as what you asked for? Most definitely not.

Is it something that you could have today? Perhaps yes.

After Purism finishes the Librem 5, if they were to move on to a tablet design then you are at least closer to your target. :slight_smile:

Or when the Librem 5 is available … Librem 5 display output via USB-C (DIsplayPort alt mode) to HDMI adapter to HDMI eInk display. Control it via the Librem 5. No need for a Pi. (Still need power for the eInk display.)

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Actually I don’t really care whether it has touch functionailty. A nice menu-driven interface using tactile buttons on the edge of the device would be fine. Pen input is only a nice-to-have.

I must admit I didn’t notice your link to the HDMI display before. It’s tempting. Expensive, but tempting. Perhaps I’d better have another look to see what else is on the market, because I don’t think that was available the last time I looked.

It would find it highly amusing to combine such an expensive display with a computer as cheap as a Pi Zero. Especially if it’s just stuck on the back with sticky tape or something. :stuck_out_tongue:

USB power bank for power. (Make sure it can deliver enough current to run the Pi.)

Need a couple of buttons for page turning. Maybe they can be configured to act like keyboard keys, and set as keyboard shortcuts in a normal PDF reader. Write a script using inotifywait to monitor a directory and load the “first” PDF file that appears there, then wait for the PDF reader process to terminate before loading he next PDF file, and so on, looping around once all have been opened and closed. Another button that quits the PDF reader. Minimum viable product!

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I meant … you want touch for the hack interim solution that I am designing on the fly. :slight_smile: Sure I get that if Purism did this as a properly designed device, there would be other alternatives for control of the reader (and almost certainly cheaper than touch). If this were an offshoot of a Purism tablet design, it might just have touch.

Yes, you can easily add buttons to most Pi models. However what about remote control via your smartphone? Then you don’t need touch on the reader and you don’t need buttons anywhere. So the smartphone becomes like a touchpad for scrolling up and down, with a few other basic (or not so basic) navigation functions.

If you are going the Pi route, there are a range of options for control via IR e.g. use your normal TV remote :slight_smile: or other optical sensors.

I know that when I’m reviewing documents I need to search around e.g. what the hell was the definition of ABCDEF? Oh yeah there it is on page 410. That’s one reason why I use a normal monitor on a normal computer.

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I don’t have a smartphone!

For me, that’s a different kind of reading: it’s quick reference. If I’m just looking for a specific detail, then I will just read it on the computer.

The e-reader is for when I’m trying to absorb a large proportion of what a document has to say, and understand the way it’s been structured. There is not very much keyword searching involved there. (In fact, searching can be disruptive to my understanding of the structure, since I’ll be teleported from page to page without seeing how they fit together.)

But you will do, right? You don’t yet have a 13" eInk display either. :slight_smile:

Not in the context in which I meant it. I really did mean … I am reviewing a 600 page document and I come to a term and I either can’t remember what it was defined as or am not even sure that it has already been defined.

Heck, even when I read fiction I sometimes find myself checking back for some detail of how some character fits in to the story.

However, OK, let’s say your use case is highly linear.

What about voice control? A Pi doesn’t have much horsepower for audio processing but for your use case maybe “next” and “close” are the only words that need to be recognised.

That’s when I would jump on the computer to find the term. But, for something like an acronym that appears in a list of defined terms, it’s only takes a few seconds to find it manually if you know where the list of terms is.

I’d rather have buttons than voice commands, but perhaps different input methods are good for different styles of learning.

For a kinaesthetic learning style, maybe it would be good to use location sensors, such as GNSS, accelerometer, magnetometer, or beacon tracking (light, sound or RF) to advance though the pages as I physically move further away from where I was located when I originally opened the document. it would take some refinement: for a given document file, it should use the same physical location to represent page 1, if I am within a certain distance of it, but use a new location if I am further away. it also needs to scale to different ranges of movement and different frames of reference. In a garden I might want a range of 10 metres to pace up and down, but in the back seat of a car I would be much more limited and the movement would have to be relative to the car rather than to the Earth. On a longer walk, the range might be a kilometre or more.

Accelerometer could work - tilt the unit one way to go back a page, tilt the unit the other way to go forward a page. I must admit though that I have not looked into the availability and interfacing of appropriate accelerometer sensors for a Pi.

I would be very interested in this. Although you could hack something together with a RPi or the like, this would be in a nice convenient package. Paper is my preference for reading but I also find e-readers very useful when looking at larger documents/books. However, this has much more potential than just reading books. It gets my vote.

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