A representant from E-ink once said on The Kindle Chronicles words to the effect that the current E Ink screen already has comparable or better contrast than newsprint and the paper and ink on most paperback books, and that it's only inferior to the very highest-end laser-printed paper.
So I took out three different paperback books of different age and class (all of them at least a couple of years old, and none being high-end hardbacks with super-white paper), and compared to the very newest and best E-ink screen on the market (the Kindle 4). The books and the Kindle were held next to each other and lit exactly the same, with camera flash, and without reflections. In Photoshop I've then taken a square from the Kindle screen in each and put it over the paper, for clearest comparison.
And I think the photos speak for themselves.
... Yes, it looks dramatic, and it is. But I have not skewed these results in any way, it's as straight and as fair as I could make it without scientific instruments.
If somebody from E-ink reads this, my message is: I am aware that you are market-leading regarding contrast of non-backlit screens, that's an accomplishment. Obviously it must be a difficult problem that everybody is working hard on. My question is: what exactly is the difficulty here, what makes it so grey? Can't the little plastic balls be made pure white, or is it the oil interfering? Or...?
And further, what can you do about it, and how soon can we expect a markedly brighter screen?
... Here is an un-cropped photo showing the setup: main light is from the flash on the camera, and it's at an angle so it does not reflect.
(Here is how it looks when it does reflect, if anybody wondered.)
Here are some responses I have given to comments on the related thread on KindleBoards. I wrote:
All the books I used were cheapish paperbacks, with the yellowish paper such tend to have (though not the *really* yellowish of an old, very cheap one), and all were at least a couple of years old.
I almost never read outdoors. I recognize the Kindle's superiority if one does that.
This is not meant as an attack on the Kindle. In all other respects I love the Kindle, and it's simply a matter of personal disappointment to me that this is an issue to me. I think I'm in a minority. But I don't think it is an insignificant minority, because I've heard it mentioned here and there, for example when Jakob Nielsen's company tested reading on iPad/Kindle/paperbooks, some of the participants mentioned it as an issue.
Of course a bright reading light helps the issue, but for me it has to be so bright that it's not comfortable for me. For a paperbook, I can reach a good-enough compromise with a reading lamp.
I don't know the percentage of people for whom this is a significant issue, I just know that for me at least it is, and I'm posting it in the hope of bringing awareness about it, and also to see if there is hope that perhaps next year I can buy a Kindle which works better for me. (I own *five* different Kindle models, but rarely use them. It's a bit of a heartbreak for me.)
I also hope to gain some data about what *causes* this effect, what is the technical problem, when all the manufacturers say that they are continually working on better whiteness.
I am happy for all the people for whom this is not a problem, and I envy you.