I often write in the evenings which hitherto meant torturing my eyes with an LCD monitor after dark. This is why I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the world’s first E Ink monitor offered by Dasung – a Chinese startup. I bought my monitor on IndieGoGo.
I have always found it a pity that not more is beeing done on developing E Ink monitors. They, of course, have limitations such as the lack of color and the relatively slow refresh rate—I wouldn’t watch a video on such a monitor—but for certain types of office work, an E Ink monitor is superior to an LCD screen.
I am not tech-savvy, so this review will not be a detailed technical analysis of Paperlike. It will instead be from the perspective of a normal user and a writer who’s using a Mac (13″ retina MacBook Pro, with OS X El Capitan 10.11.6). Thus everything written below is very mac-centric—sorry, Windows users!
1. The more general stuff
Dasung’s Paperlike E Ink monitor is only 13.3″ large but comes in the very handy 3:4 aspect ratio. To set Paperlike up is very simple, and the manual is easy enough to follow, though it could have been more detailed. You install the Display Control App from the USB stick that comes with Paperlike, you plug the monitor to your computer, start the app, and it generally works.
I say generally because there are a few things to watch out for. First of all, though not mentioned in the manual, you need to use the micro-USB cable to plug in the monitor (there is also a normal USB cable in the set which made things confusing). Then you need to make sure that the LED indicator light next to the USB slot isn’t blinking (this indicates a stable connection with the computer) before starting the Display Control App. This happens almost instantaneously though (at least with my computer), so no need for a long wait. Lately, I have even stopped checking the indicator light.
Important note: In the manual, Dasung states that Paperlike falls asleep very fast (basically the picture becomes paralyzed), but a keystroke or a click with the mouse are supposed to wake it up immediately. In my case, a click with the mouse did indeed do the trick, but using the keyboard didn’t wake up the monitor. This was very annoying because, when typing, the monitor would stop refreshing after five words or so. I wrote Dasung about it and got a very fast answer with an easy fix (Dasung have been great in all communication). All you need to do is to allow the app to control your computer (it’s less scary than it sounds). This is for a Mac: Go to Preferences -> Security & Privacy -> Accessibility and check the box next to Monitor Control App.
2. Figuring out the settings
Dasung makes it clear in their manual that Paperlike is not the perfect product yet (this is only the second generation) and each user needs to find their own way with the available settings. There are enough settings, though (see below), for each user to be able to figure out an optimal combination. I would also like to add that once you invest the time to do so, the experience is very satisfying.
In the Monitor Control App, there is a choice between four resolution settings: 800 x 600, 600 x 800, 1600 x 1200, and 1200 x 1600. All of them support the extended monitor mode (EXT), apart from the 800 x 600 setting which also supports a monitor duplication mode (DUP). It should be noted that some computers might support the DUP 1600 x 1200 mode as well.
I tried the DUP mode and it didn’t work for me as everything seemed too cramped and too zoomed in, so I’m sticking now to the EXT mode which works great. In fact, in my case, the best setting turned out to be EXT 1200 x 1600 i.e. in the portrait orientation. I believe this orientation is great for typing—be it in a word processor or on WordPress.com—or for reading.
On the monitor itself, you have three buttons: C, 16, and A2. The C button refreshes the screen as needed and removes shadows. The other two buttons switch between a 16-grey-scale display mode (button 16) and a black-and-white A2 or A5 display mode (button A2). The A5 display mode is not supported with the EXT 1200×1600 or EXT 1600×1200 resolution modes, as well as with the DUP 1600 x 1200 mode.
In the A2 mode, the refresh rate is fast enough for the user to be able to type and move the mouse without too much of a lag, so this setting is great if you need to get some work done. A big disadvantage of the A2 mode though is that you can’t see the highlight when you highlight text, but I got used it.
I use the 16-grey-scale setting only when I want to read something (websites look great as long as there are no embedded videos). In this setting, the picture is excellent, but the lag is too big for any proper control of the mouse pointer, and so it’s hard to get any work done. The 16-grey-scale setting is unfortunately supported only by Mac computers.
The way I use the Paperlike is to switch between the 16 and A2 settings as needed. The buttons are positioned very conveniently, and using Paperlike in this way is easy. I also have my laptop nearby to quickly switch monitors if I need to do something fast. In this way, I get done what I need to get done but am mostly looking at an E Ink monitor that spares my eyes.
3. Some small hacks
I am a writer and I use the monitor mostly for writing in Word, for writing my blog posts on WordPress.com and for reading blogs etc. on the Internet. For this purpose, I use a Bluetooth keyboard while I have my laptop to the side with the screen darkened. A portable trackpad might come in handy too with this setup, though I’m okay with using the one on my computer.
Also, for writing and reading, the portrait orientation works best because you see enough of the page without having to zoom out too much which would make the text too small. I need to often play with the zoom level to achieve a comfortable font size without changing the actual font size in the word processor (e.g. in Word, I use something between 200 and 250 %), but it works. I have also found that when using Paperlike in the portrait orientation, it’s best to view windows in full-screen.
As Dasung suggests, it’s a good idea to figure out a few nifty keyboard shortcuts. In fact, when I’m typing in Word, I’m rarely using the trackpad. Below are a few chosen shortcuts that work in any app (on a Mac):
Control + Command + F = enter full screen
Fn + Command + right arrow = go to the end of text (works in Word and in WordPress.com)
Fn + Command + left arrow = go to beginning of text
Option + left/right arrow = cursor skips over entire words in the chosen direction
Command + plus/minus = zooms in (+) or out (-)
I have also installed a very simple app called Spectacle, which allows me to manipulate window arrangement with keyboard shortcuts. There are many such apps out there, but I was looking for the simplest one I can find. Spectacle doesn’t allow you to customize your own shortcuts, but the ones it offers are easy to remember. The most useful shortcut in Spectacle is
Control + Option + Command + left/right arrow
which allows you to move the active window between monitors, so you don’t have to drag it with the mouse. It’s best to exit full screen before using this command.
On the whole, combined with a helpful app or two and a few clever shortcuts, Paperlike is one very useful gadget.