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Old 04-11-2007, 12:29 AM   #1
Bob Russell
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Motorola Motofone F3 with E Ink display

When one thinks of e-ink, one thinks of dedicated e-book readers or signage. One thinks about upscale displays that are easy to read in direct sunlight. But the last thing that comes to mind is a budget device.

Well, Motorola released the Motofone F3 near the end of last year with an electrophoretic display, and wonder of wonders, it's a budget phone in the $30-$50 range. As was discussed previously, it pretty much just make calls and not much more.

Does this mean cheap e-ink e-readers are on the way? Maybe, but there's a big leap to get from a basic phone with a tiny and low resolution screen (2x6 characters only) to a fancy display like we see on the iLiad or Sony Reader. Just compare prices on small phones with OLED displays with the difficulty and cost of producing a large screen OLED TV. It just doesn't translate well... unfortunately.

More information is available at this review by The Register.

Thanks to Alex_d for the tip!
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Old 04-11-2007, 05:46 AM   #2
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What strikes me as odd is that until now I thought of E Ink e-reader devices as "premium" devices, premium in that they usually cost more than regular LCD readers. Motorola selling the Motofone as a budget devices raises the question of the true costs of E Ink vs. LCD.
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Old 04-11-2007, 06:40 AM   #3
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The cost is rather low as long as you keep things scaled down resolution-wise.
AFAIK, printing out a sheet of e-ink is rather cheap. It's the electrode matrix underneath that's expensive to manufacture and attach to the e-ink sheet.

So: large e-ink display, low resolution = low cost; small e-ink display, high resolution = high cost; large e-ink display, high resolution = even higher cost.

Edit: Just BTW, Motofone's display is backlit (not sure if it's mentioned in the Register's review, haven't headed there yet), but it looks rather bad at night. Oh, and the contrast seems a tad lower than on iLiad or Sony.

Last edited by orcinus; 04-11-2007 at 06:42 AM.
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Old 04-11-2007, 09:16 AM   #4
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I'll bet the technology is pretty cheap to produce, even at high-res. 90% of the price is for "intellectual property" on this new, properietary technology (or more precisely, eInk saying, "who else you gonna buy this from?"). A company in Motorola's position with such a different application that is going to sell in _very_ high volume* is in a good position to simply say, "yeah? your mom and her LCD dealership."

The thing that makes me not so sure about the resolution argument is that if high-res was really that expensive/hard to do, then why did Sony go straight to 800x600 with the very first Librie?


*not only is it a cell phone, not only is it dirt cheap and will be carpet bombed on the emerging markets, but it's one of the most beautiful cell phones period. I'll seriously bet it will outsell the Sony Reader by 1000x, without exaggeration.


P.S. The best contrast of any display I have ever seen, eInk included, were those old LCD watches that didn't have backlights.

Last edited by alex_d; 04-11-2007 at 09:27 AM.
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Old 04-11-2007, 10:06 AM   #5
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I think the price of the eink display could also be possibly offset by the price of a smaller battery. Less displaying power need = smaller battery = smaller phone.
But that's my two bits, I don't even know of refresh rate and power drain.
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Old 04-11-2007, 10:06 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alex_d
90% of the price is for "intellectual property" on this new, properietary technology (or more precisely, eInk saying, "who else you gonna buy this from?").
Well, I'd've called it "Research and Development Cost Recovery," but that (loosely) covers it too.
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Old 04-11-2007, 04:36 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yvanleterrible
I think the price of the eink display could also be possibly offset by the price of a smaller battery. Less displaying power need = smaller battery = smaller phone.
But that's my two bits, I don't even know of refresh rate and power drain.
Except it doesn't have a smaller battery
It uses a 700 mAh BD50 battery. Well, at least the engineering sample i've reviewed does

Edit: Oh, and everyone seem to go nuts over it here. This is probably the first 35$ phone i've seen that seems to attract more attention than 1000$ smartphones

Last edited by orcinus; 04-11-2007 at 04:39 PM.
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Old 04-12-2007, 09:33 AM   #8
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I expect that a lot of the reason that this display is (evidently) much cheaper than the screens on, say, the Reader or iLiad, is that it's addressed very differently, I've suggested before that it's probably a segment-addressed display, rather than a pixel-addressed. I still can't be sure that's what's going on, but from the pix we've seen (especially on Moto's website), it sure looks like that's what it is.

Assuming that is the case, the cost of the backplane driver would be significantly lower, and, as orcinus noted, the backplane "electrode matrix" is the expensive part on a pixel addressed display.
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Old 04-12-2007, 10:06 AM   #9
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By 'segment addressed' do you mean something like a vector?
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Old 04-12-2007, 10:11 AM   #10
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No, something like this.
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Old 04-12-2007, 10:15 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yvanleterrible
By 'segment addressed' do you mean something like a vector?
I mean that the pieces of the characters are addressed/controlled as a unit, like the seven segment display that igorsk pointed out, instead of as individual pixels like a computer monitor -- I probably explained it better in my other post on the things ....
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Old 04-12-2007, 03:03 PM   #12
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Having a few dozen segments vs close to a million pixels certainly does simplify the electronics a lot (the cpu, the driver), but i'll bet it's a tiny fraction of a $350 price tag. Every dollar is very significant for a $30 phone, of course, but I think it's not the main reason motorola was able to afford eink and window shoppers at Borders can't.
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Old 04-12-2007, 03:45 PM   #13
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I worked in the semiconductor industry for about 5 years, for a company that makes the machines that makes microchips (Applied Materials, if anyone's interested). I don't think that really gives me any insight into the cost structure of making this sort of thing, but I have do some notion of the complexity involved (which does drive the cost somewhat, I s'pose). I say that to give you a bit of context for this statement:

The complexity of making a few short lines worth of 7-segment display drivers, versus individually controlling 480,000 pixels on a display the size of the Reader's (remember, smaller means more complex, all by itself) is more on the order of a geometric increase in complexity.

Also speaking from the knowledge (it's come up a few times around here) that 6" pixelized e-ink display panels alone wholesales for around $100 per unit ....

In light of all those details, I have no problem at all accepting the notion that the Reader's display, and it's much greater complexity and functionality are a very large part of the reason that it retails for so much more than the Motofone. I'm quite sure that Sony is making a typical profit on it, but that's usually a percentage mark-up over per unit production cost.

You can each, of course, take all of that salted to taste.
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Old 04-12-2007, 04:21 PM   #14
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You're right, it's segment adressed. I thought that's widely known and implied it as the cause for low price in my first comment...

The display has 2 rows by 6 characters, standard 14 segment arrangement each, plus some icon areas.


Edit: Just BTW, it seems to exhibit the same bug Reader does with the latest firmware update - battery indicator locks up while / after charging and doesn't indicate true battery condition until you reset it. Curious, no?

Last edited by orcinus; 04-12-2007 at 04:30 PM.
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Old 04-15-2007, 07:22 PM   #15
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The Motofone does not have a backlight. The blue LEDs that light up the buttons may cast some light up towards the display thus causing the effect and look if a backlight.
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