Long a staple technology of electronic book readers, electronic paper is finally starting to expand its reach, finding its way into tablets, watches, and even cars, with a recent collaboration at CES between E Ink and BMW. But CES also saw the reveal of an even stranger device based on electronic paper: a wearable device called the Sol Reader that’s an e-reader you can wear on your face.
Although certain technical limitations prevent electronic paper from being used as a universal replacement for LCDs and OLEDs — you definitely don’t want an E Ink TV hanging in your family room — its technical advantages, including low-power draw and a reflective screen that’s easier on the eyes, make it ideal for everything from e-readers to e-notes. Where we didn’t expect electronic paper to show up, even the new colour varieties, was in a pair of goggles.
So far, the goggles form factor has been reserved mostly for either virtual reality, augmented reality, or wearable devices that mix both, leveraging two screens to immerse viewers in 3D worlds or experiences. There’s little doubt that wearables are the future of the devices we still carry stuffed away in our pockets, but the Sol Reader isn’t looking to replace smartphones. Instead, it’s targeting e-readers.
Details about the device on its official website are slim, but Brad Lynch, of YouTube’s SadlyItsBradley channel, managed to get some hands-on time with a prototype of the Sol Reader at CES last week, and shared their impressions in a video. Weighing in at less than 100 grams, the goggles look and feel like a lightweight pair of VR goggles (you can’t see the world around you while wearing them) but instead feature a pair of electronic paper screens behind a set of pancake lenses.
The Sol Reader doesn’t present users with 3D interactive virtual worlds, but instead allows them to read. You’ll see what looks like a book page floating in a dark void in front of you, or above you when using the goggles while laying down, which is apparently the ideal use case, as the Sol Reader doesn’t feature a head strap. Page turning is accomplished through a wireless handheld remote, while battery life is promised to be close to 30 hours, thanks to the use of e-paper displays.
Lynch does give a quick peek at the screens inside the device in the video, which unfortunately look disappointingly low-res, but points out the team behind it has been talking to E Ink about securing a solution with more resolution. That will be critical, as the Sol Reader is expected to sell for a hefty $US350 ($486) sometime this year. If the reading experience doesn’t come anywhere close to what a Kindle provides, it’s hard to imagine anyone spending that much money on the wearable when the Meta Quest 2 is just $US50 ($69) more and has plenty of e-book reading apps available for it.