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Color e-reader that sips less power than E Ink? Qualcomm says, Yes!

February 15, 2010 | 12:33 pm

Mirasol 3

One of the biggest advantages of E Ink, which is used in the vast majority of digital book readers sold, is its ability to last for days, even weeks, on a single charge. (That claim is one of the main reasons devices such as Amazon.com's Kindle will remain competitive once Apple's 9.7-inch full-color iPad hits the market next month.)

But E Ink is about to get some competition on that front too. Qualcomm, a semiconductor company in San Diego, plans to launch its own e-reader this fall, using a color display technology that the company claims will use even less power than the grayscale E Ink.

Dubbed Mirasol, the screen mimics how butterfly wings reflect their brilliant colors. Other examples  include the iridescence seen on pearls, peacock feathers or soap bubbles.

It works by reflecting the existing, or ambient, light around it, instead of using color filters that require  intensive back lighting. Using tiny mechanical systems, Mirasol displays manipulate incoming light to reflect the desired color, pixel by pixel. Its ability to harness ambient light instead of relying on back lighting is what gives Mirasol its energy advantage over LCDs.

For a video demonstration of a working display by Qualcomm's marketing director, Cheryl Goodman, click on the continue reading link below.

According to Qualcomm, a Mirasol display can last anywhere from 18% to five times longer than E Ink, depending on how they are used. Under the conservative model that includes a mix of book and magazine reading and some Web browsing, E Ink displays lasted 7.3 days compared with Mirasol's 8.6 days. Throw in video and the gap widens dramatically.

To be fair, E Ink was designed for reading books, not watching movies.

But e-book owners also happen to be heavy consumers of movies, games and radio. According to a recent survey of more than 2,000 adults by L.E.K. Consulting in Los Angeles, those who owned an e-reader spent on average of 18 hours a week watching movies, playing games or listening to the radio, compared with eight hours for the overall population.

That's exactly what Qualcomm, and Apple with its upcoming iPad, are counting on when each launch their devices later this year.

-- Alex Pham

Follow my random thoughts on games, gear and technology on Twitter @AlexPham.

Photo: Mirasol display. Credit: Qualcomm.

Video credit: Alex Pham / Los Angeles Times

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