Friday, 12 September 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

Review: Icarus Illumina HD E653 (Boyue T61) Android eReader

Posted: 12 Sep 2014 03:41 PM PDT

Icarus-Illumina-HD The Illumina HD E653 from Icarus is one of a handful of new ereaders which combine an E-ink screen with an open version of Android. Starting with the (hacked) Nook Touch and (hacked) Sony Reader PRS-T1, this type of ereader offers the opportunity to expand the ereader to support more features and functions that the manufacturer supplied.

This device is best known as the Illumina HD, but it was actually developed for Icarus by a Chinese OEM called Boyue. I ordered my unit from a Chinese retailer which sold the Boyue T61 without a retail box but with a hefty discount ($99 vs 119 euros). I was able to turn my unit into an Illumina HD by installing the official software update, thus saving a nice sum of money.

A disappointing frontlight keeps the Illumina HD from having the best ereader hardware at the $99 price, but the open Android OS, graphics chip, and many other positive points make up for that in many ways.

Review Date: 12 September 2014, After owning it for 3 weeks

Pro & Con


  • Page turn buttons work with many 3rd-party reading apps
  • Runs Android 4.2
  • Solid construction quality
  • Fast page turns (equal to the Kindle Paperwhite)


  • Battery Life
  • Frontlight
  • No Audio
  • No Google Play


The Illumina HD is an unremarkable looking ebook reader with a 6″Pearl HD E-ink screen. It has a simple design with a black rubberized shell which makes it easy to hold. Cover the logo and its most noticeable feature are the page turn buttons on other side of the screen, and the addition back button on the right and the screen refresh button on the left (a long press on the refresh button turns the frontlight off or on).

This ereader runs Android 4.2 on a dual-core 1GHz Rockchip CPU with a Mali-400 MP GPU, 512MB RAM, and around 4GB accessible storage.  It has Wifi but no audio support. All of the ports and card slots are found on the bottom edge, including the microSD card slot, power button, reset port,and microUSB port.

icarus illumina hd front 1 icarus illumina hd front 3 icarus illumina hd apps icarus illumina hd rear icarus illumina hd ports icarus illumina hd blog

The Illumina HD is nice to old in one hand, cover or no. The page turn buttons are position just right to rest under my thumb (with either hand), and the extra buttons on the front.


Icarus claims that the Illumina HD has a month of battery life, but that’s not really true. In my experience, and this has been confirmed by a couple Illumina owners over at MobileRead Forums, the battery drains itself within 2 to 3 days.

That is a serious issue but luckily this is a common Android problem with an established solution. All i had to do to fix this issue was to install a power management app like Deep Sleep. This app forces all of the processes to go to sleep when you suspend your Android device, this saving battery life.


The Illumina HD is equipped with a 6″ E-ink display with a screen resolution of 1024 x 758. It has both a frontlight and two-point capacitive touchscreen.

I found the screen to be somewhat picky in responding to my input. I had to be careful when pressing any of the icons near the edge of the screen, otherwise it would ignore the contact. I also noticed that the Illumina HD was slower in responding after I installed the official firmware update; that could be a reason to avoid the update.

The frontlight offers a white color with a broad and highly granular range of settings from dim to almost bright enough to use as a flashlight. Alas, it is also rather splotchy.

As you can see in the following gallery, the bottom half of the screen visibly blotchy compared to most ebook readers which launched in 2013 or 2014.  It almost as if Boyue is using screens leftover from 2012; the first Paperwhite  showed a similar defect.

boyue t61 frontlight one boyue t61 frontlight two boyue t61 frontlight three boyue t61 frontlight four boyue t61 frontlight five boyue t61 frontlight one boyue t61 frontlight two boyue t61 frontlight three boyue t61 frontlight four boyue t61 frontlight five


My unit came with a cover (if you buy an Illumina HD from Icarus it will cost extra) which consists of a hard black plastic back with a  stiff brown faux leather front. The Illumina HD is designed to snap into the rear of the cover and never leave it again (it took some effort, trust me). I think the cover may have been intended to work as a smartcover (there is a magnet to keep it closed) but my unit doesn’t work that way.

cover icarus illumina hd 1 cover icarus illumina hd 2 cover icarus illumina hd 3


icarus illumina hd blogThe Illumina HD ships with a minimum number of apps, including a very adequate reading app (I’m happy with it, anyway), a file manager, notepad, web browser, dictionary, and email. The basics are well-covered, and since this ebook reader runs an open version of Android it’s also possible to install additional apps.

My competitor notes in his review that Icarus ships the Illumina HD with several apps that I don’t have because I got the OEM model. His unit came with Greader, Kindle, and a bookstore app (my unit was tied to some bookstore in China).

The stock reading app, web browser, and email client all feel like they were tuned to work well with an E-ink screen. I don’t much care to do email on E-ink but it is possible.

There’s more detail on the stock reading app later in the post.

Installing Apps

icarus illumina hd appsThe Illumina HD does not have Google Play, but there is a workaround. You can use this site to download free apps from Google Play. Also, I successfully installed the Amazon Appstore (I had to install the Kindle app first).

I’ve tested an excess of apps, and found that quite a few will install and run on this device:

  • Web Browsers: Chrome, Opera, Maxthon, Dolphin, Firefox
  • PDF: Repligo, Adobe Reader
  • eBook Apps: Logos, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, CoolReader, Moon+ Reader, Aldiko, Scribd, Oyster, FBReader, Overdrive
  • Office Suites: Docs2Go, QuickOffice Pro HD for Tablets, OfficeSuite Pro 7, Jota+
  • RSS Feed Readers: Feedly, InoReader
  • Other Apps: Pocket, Instapaper, Dropbox, Evernote

Google Play Books and Opera Mini did install but would not run. On a related note, the Nook, AlReader, Moon+, and Coolreader apps were all able to interface with the page turn buttons.

Reading Experience

The Illumina HD has been my main ebook reading device this past week (I started and finished a couple books), and  I liked the stock reading app which shipped on the Illumina HD.

As I pointed out above, you can install any number of ebook apps, but I was happy to mainly use the original app. It doesn’t have as many features as some third-party apps, but the close integration with the main menu and the Books (library) menu made up for a lot.

icarus illumina hd reading app 1 icarus illumina hd reading app 2 icarus illumina hd reading app 3 icarus illumina hd reading app 4

It’s not fancy, but between the several dozen font choices, dozen margin options, and dozen line spacing options, it is workable app. It even has a separate menu for annotations, but it also lacks a functional dictionary (I can’t get it to work), so you might want to go with another app if that is important to you.

And since you are probably wondering, the stock reading app doesn’t quite have a full screen mode; the closest it comes is the option to have a mini status bar along the bottom of the screen. That is more screen than the Kindle and other reading apps get to use; the Kindle and Aldiko apps specifically can black out the taskbar at the bottom of the screen, but cannot remove or overwrite it.

I would rate the Illumina HD as having a more attractive reading experience than the T68. Yes, I know the screen is both smaller and lower resolution, and the frontlight is blotchy, but as I sit here typing I find that I have a greater desire to go back to the Illumina than I do  to use the T68 Lynx.

To be honest one of the features that kept me coming back were the page turn buttons. I’d forgotten just how much I had liked having them; I wish they were more common on ereaders (and tablets, for that matter).


A subset of ereader owners have been interested in an Android  ebook reader ever since the first Nook Touch was released in 2011, and while the Illumina HD isn’t the perfect solution it is best option in its price range.

With a 2012-era frontlight and iffy battery life, the Illumina HD is at first glance far from being the best device on the market. But if you look past those issues then it quickly becomes clear that this ereader is, for a certain type of user, one of the best devices on the market and offers a great value.

The Illumina HD might not have the best screen, but it does has the fastest CPU of any of the ereaders currently – including other Android ereaders like the Onyx Boox T68 Lynx. That gives it a responsiveness  which none of its competitors can match.

It doesn’t have Google Play, but that hasn’t turned out to be as serious of an issue as I had expected. (See the workaround mentioned above.)

With page turn buttons, a recent version of Android, and a microSD card slot, this is IMO the device that Barnes & Noble should have released last year. This is what the Nook Glowlight should have been.

Where to Buy

Now, this is a complicated question. You can buy the Icarus Illumina HD from Icarus, or you can pay less and buy it from a Chinese retailer like BangGood (and then install the Illumina’s firmware update).

Icarus sells this device for 119 euros plus shipping. I got it from BangGood for $99, but they were charging $129 when I wrote this post. The BangGood price includes a case and free shipping but no retail box or – and this could be important – a  warranty.


  • Screen: 6″ Pearl HD E-ink screen, w\ frontlight and a
  • Capacitive touchscreen
  • Screen resolution: 1024 x 758
  • OS: Android 4.2 Jelly Bean
  • CPU: 1GHz dual-core Rockchip
  • GPU: Mali 400-MP
  • RAM: 512MB
  • Storage: 4GB internal, microSD card slot
  • Connectivity: Wifi
  • Weight: approximately 200 grams
  • Dimensions: 159 x 112 x 8.5 mm

The post Review: Icarus Illumina HD E653 (Boyue T61) Android eReader appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Intel Reveals a Prototype Laptop with a Secondary E-ink Screen

Posted: 12 Sep 2014 08:20 AM PDT

intel laptop second e-ink screenIntel wrapped up their annual developer’s conference in San Francisco yesterday, but not before revealing several concept designs, including one which recycles an idea for a laptop with an E-ink screen.

Intel’s new laptop looks like any other model while it is open and in use, but close the lid and you’ll discover an E-ink screen on the rear of the lid. The design is only a concept at this point, but it is being described as potentially like an electronic sticker which a user could read ebooks, images, text messages, or news.

“You know how people like bumper stickers on the outside of their laptop? The first idea was just being able to take any image from your hard drive and just post that on the screen,” said Taylor Courier, an Intel researcher.

Researchers are also working on similar uses, including reading ebooks, RSS feeds, Facebook status updates,  and text messages. They think that when the laptop is in hibernation mode it will be operating at just enough capacity for the e-ink screen to continue to receive data as the Internet connection remains on.

intel laptop second e-ink screen dsc02328-602x400[1] dsc02322-602x400[1]

If you ask me, I’m not so sure that’s a good idea.  A low-power mode still draws power, and if the Wifi is active the drain on the battery can only increase. And since this screen would prove most useful when the user is mobile (and thus the laptop is not plugged in) using the secondary screen comes at a cost which IMO is simply too high.

But the technical downsides might not matter too much because I don’t think we’ll see this in widespread use on the market.

4446-DSCF0354[1]The idea has been floating around since at least 2007, when Intel debuted a very similar concept design at their spring developers conference that year. I can’t recall that anyone ever built a laptop based on this concept. A few models like the Taichi 21 from Asus featured LCD screens on both sides of the lid, but that’s not the same thing. And in any case, that laptop flopped.


images via Mobile Geeks, Laptop Magazine

The post Intel Reveals a Prototype Laptop with a Secondary E-ink Screen appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Publishers File Appeal in Lawsuit Against Used eBook Website

Posted: 12 Sep 2014 07:16 AM PDT

5573381914_00a7bc2517_b[1]The legal woes of the used ebook site Tom Kabinet continued last week as publishers filed an appeal of the July injunction which declared the site legal.

Launched in June 2014, offers a marketplace where consumers can resell the ebooks they have purchased. The site collects a fee on each sale, but aside from offering basic preventative measures against cheating and limiting sales to only DRM-free or DRM-light ebooks, the site is a facilitator and not a seller.

With around 8,000 titles listed for sale at last count, Tom Kabinet is growing in popularity among readers, but the same cannot be said for publishers. It was sued in July for copyright infringement, but much to everyone’s surprise the judge ruled in favor of the site.

The July ruling was the rough equivalent of what would be a preliminary injunction here in the US, but in spite of its less than definite nature the publishers chose not to follow through with a lawsuit. Instead, they waited and filed an appeal last week.

The specific details on the appeal are not available, but Boekblad reports that GAU, a Dutch book industry trade group,has filed the appeal. It’s not clear why they waited so long, but the timing would suggest that they were waiting for a similar case to play out in Germany.

Two weeks ago I reported on a lawsuit brought by the consumer rights group VZBV on behalf of consumers. VZBV believed that consumers had the right to resell the ebooks they bought, but for various legal reasons the courts disagreed.

That ruling in Germany found that the UsedSoft decision, which guaranteed that consumers have the right to resell the software they bought, did not apply to ebooks because they were governed by two different parts of EU copyright law (the software directive and the copyright directive).

Leaving aside whether that splitting of legal hairs makes any sense, there are now two contradictory legal decisions on this copyright issue in the EU.  As a result the issue has been passed upwards to the European Court of Justice to decide.

It’s difficult to predict which way the ECJ will rule. I for one am hoping that Tom Kabinet has as much luck as ReDigi, which “lost” a smiliar lawsuit over the resale of music here in the US in 2013. ReDigi offers a similar marketplace where consumers can resell mp3s, and it was sued in 2012 for facilitating copyright infringement. That lawsuit defined how ReDigi could change their operation and remain in business, and they were even awarded a patent earlier this year for their marketplace platform.

Thanks, Martjin!

image  by Phil Roeder

The post Publishers File Appeal in Lawsuit Against Used eBook Website appeared first on The Digital Reader.

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