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Wednesday, 1 July 2020

The Hisense Q5 is an intriguing tablet

Hisense is not afraid to innovate and has recently released three E-Ink phones: the A5, A5C and A5 Pro. The A5 has a monochrome E-Ink screen, and both the A5C/A5 Pro have colour ones. As a niche product, the user base of an E-Ink phone is small. It includes those wanting a phone for the basics - e.g., texting, making calls and reading news - that also doubles as a little e-reader.

In April 2020, Hisense announced the release of the Q5 - a monochrome tablet that uses a Reflective LCD (RLCD) display that does not emit any light. Considering that the display Hisense uses is based on LCD technology, then the refresh rate is far superior to E-Ink. If the refresh rate is is comparable to LCD tablets, as it seems to be in this video, then the Q5 offers the benefits of E-Ink but with the added advantage of tablet versatility. Android e-readers advertise that you are not restricted to one e-book store, as it is possible to install the Kindle app, Google Books or Kobo. However, in reality, most third-party apps are unusable due to the limitations of E-Ink. Hisense offers the dual advantage of eliminating light emission and the capability of running third-party applications designed for smartphones and tablets with little compromise. Other than third-party e-reading apps there are also significant advantages for productivity, e.g. word processing, browsing media-rich websites and even streaming video (albeit in black and white).

Three issues of concern are the low resolution, battery life and the dependence on external light. The Hisense Q5 has a low-resolution 1280X800 10.5-inches display and considering the RLCD screen, it is not clear if the text quality will be further compromised.  Regarding battery life, Hisense configured the Q5 with a 5050 mAh battery capacity - the capacity is not big for a regular tablet. Of course, this is the first time we have seen a tablet with RLCD display technology so it is not clear if the battery life will be comparable to E-Ink. However, as there is no backlight, the Hisense Q5's RLCD should be far more energy-efficient than an LCD tablet. 

The dependence of external light is the biggest concern. An E-Ink display is closer to a printed paper. It does not rely on light falling on the screen as its underlying technology is based on tiny positive black and negative white microcapsules that are activated by an electric field that moves these capsules to the surface.  In contrast, as noted, a reflective display uses the same underlying technology of LCD but needs external lighting as there is no backlighting. Being dependent on surrounding lighting, this opens the question if readability and contrast are affected. Further, from the released specifications, it is not clear if the RLCD has a front light installed. As the tablet has just been released in China, it'll be interesting to follow reviews to see if the Hisense Q5 performs well in low lighting conditions.

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