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We find out how e-ink screens (used by the Kindle) compare with LCD screens (used by iPad and most smartphones). Contents1 How do electronic ink (e-ink) displays work?2 How do LCD displays work?3 What are the advantages of an e-ink display?4 What are the advantages of a LCD display?5 Which display technology is better? E-ink (electronic ink) displays produce images and reflect light in the same way normal paper does. In electronic paper, we are able to electrically move ink particles across the surface of the screen (using something called electrophoretic technology).
Aside from power consumption, one downside of LCD displays is that they’re hard to view outdoors in direct sunlight.
LCD Display: An LCD display consists of lots of red, green and blue light emitting crystals (left diagram). If you’re looking for a great device specifically for books and text, the Kindle and its e-ink screen will give you much better visibility outdoors and lower power consumption. Before writing about mobile technology, my background was in space & atmospheric physics.
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Because paper reflects light of all wavelengths, it normally appears white (see left diagram below). By adding a non-reflective ink layer onto the paper, we create a dark region on the paper (right diagram). The surface of the screen is reflective and so the light emitted from the LCD display needs to compete with the reflected sunlight (see right diagram below). One of the problems with LCD displays are that they’re hard to view outdoors due to reflections (right diagram). For this reason, they produce much crisper and better looking text than LCD displays (right).
E-ink displays make use of ambient sunlight unlike LCD displays which must compete with it.
As LCD displays are backlit (they produce their own light), it is possible to view them even in low light conditions. Text would be displayed using the e-ink layer whereas graphical elements would be displayed using the LCD layer. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005 with the aim of demystifying mobile technology for the rest of us. If you don't want to receive such a notification, please select the "Don't Subscribe" option from the dropdown menu above. If you reside in an EU member state besides UK, import VAT on this purchase is not recoverable. Import charges previously quoted are subject to change if you increase you maximum bid amount.
In this article, we look at how e-ink and LCD display technologies work and compare the two technologies.


However, once the image has formed no further power is required to keep the image on the screen. A combination of these three colours is used to produce all other colours (see left diagram below). In order for text on the screen to be legible, the light from the LCD must be brighter than the reflected sunlight. The experience of using an e-ink display for an extended period of time should be similar to spending an extended amount of time reading a paper book. This is why e-book readers such as the Kindle can last several weeks between charges whereas tablet devices and smartphones need charging on a daily basis. They respond much faster than e-ink (e-ink displays take a long time for the screen to redraw) so it’s also possible to enjoy rich multimedia experiences such as movies on an LCD display. Such a device really would give the best of both worlds: great readability outdoors as well as a full multimedia experience.
We use cookies to personalise content and ads, to provide social media features and to analyse our traffic. This layer of ink is non-reflective (this region appears black as black is the absence of light; see right diagram below). By changing the intensities of the red, green and blue crystals, we are able to change the colour which is displayed on the screen.  In this case, the screen is backlit (the source of the light is the screen itself). In bright sunlight, the reflected sunlight is often stronger than the light from the LCD display making it difficult to read what’s on the screen.
Reading from a LCD display is more similar to reading from a computer monitor or watching TV for an extended amount of time.
We also share information about your use of the website with social media, advertising and analytics partners. To compensate for this, smartphones such as the Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S II contain an ambient light sensor which will automatically increase the brightness of the display when you’re outside to compete with the reflected sunlight.
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