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Startup rattles tin for e-paper monitor with display fast enough to play video

In grayscale, though. Optimistic plans for daylight-readable display and long-life laptop

E-paper display startup Modos wants to make laptops, but is starting out with a standalone high-refresh-rate monitor first.

The initial plan is for the "Modos Paper Monitor," which the company describes as: "An open-hardware standalone portable monitor made for reading and writing, especially for people who need to stare at the display for a long time."

The listed specifications sound good: a 13.3", 1600×1200 e-ink panel, with a DisplayPort 1.2 input, powered off MicroUSB because it only takes 1.5-2W.

The company also has some rather impressive demonstration videos, showing that the display is fast enough to play video, albeit in monochrome. There's also a technical explanation of how this is accomplished.

Youtube Video

This sounds good, but it also sounded familiar to The Reg FOSS desk. It reminded us a lot of the Paperlike E-ink Monitor which was announced by a Chinese company called Dasung: a 13.3", monochrome, hi-def desktop display. These have been on sale for some years – here's a 2018 review.

Modos launched at the start of the year with plans for an e-paper display laptop, simply called the Paper Laptop. We asked for more information, and founder Alexander Soto told us that the company was working on a community prototype model called the Lancer, based around a Lenovo Thinkpad T42 chassis – partly for its build and keyboard quality, and also because of the availability of aftermarket batteries.

This sounds perfectly plausible so far – we have reported before on the thriving market in replacement motherboards for older ThinkPads.

Modos' initial plan was a Community Pilot program, building prototype laptops around the T42 chassis plus an e-ink display and replacement motherboard. Soto gave us detailed specifications for the motherboard:

SoC: Amlogic A311D (4x Cortex-A73 @ 2.2 GHz + 2x Cortex-A53 @ 2.0 GHz)
RAM: 4GB DDR4 32bit
SSD: User-replaceable M.2 SSD
Network: User-replaceable M.2 WiFi/BT
Ports: USB 2.0 Type-A Host ×2; 3.5 mm Headphone Jack; 3.5 mm Microphone Jack; Gigabit Ethernet

He also detailed the e-paper display controller:

EPDC: "Caster" EPDC on Lattice ECP5 (LFE5U-25F) with 128MB DDR3

The display is a ES133UT2 from EInk Corporation – which is indeed the same display as used in the Dasung monitor, as this teardown confirms.

So the display itself is real, commercial, shipping kit – but it's not cheap, at $450 per unit. This may be a relatively low-powered Arm-based laptop, and it should have a superb battery life, but it won't be cheap.

Soto told us: "One of the areas we would like to focus on is creating the necessary Linux drivers and Wayland protocols. We hope that the development of these Wayland protocols will enable the development of native e-ink optimized applications and, hopefully, with the support from community members, contribute patches to existing free open-source software."

He said that the pilot program for the Lancer laptop would involve 25 to 50 participants, and that would feed into the design and the software of a final production model, as shown in the renders on the site.

Soto has been interested in this type of product for a while, and previously started a project called EI2030 to try to raise interest. Its homepage has gone, but its GitHub and forums are still there.

Modos is looking for around 50,000 respondents to its survey to show enough interest for the project to proceed. ®

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