Most modern smartphones feature color LCD or OLED displays. But every now and then a phone maker decides to buck the trend and put out a handset with an E Ink display.

They’re not particularly common. They’re not usually all that cheap. And the E Ink display is sometimes paired with a color display on a dual-screen phone in order to make up for the shortcomings of electronic paper.

But the Hisense A5? It’s a relatively affordable smartphone with a single 5.84 inch E Ink display and Android 9 Pie software. It’s available from AliExpress for $235 and up, but Gearbest is currently selling the HiSense A5 for just $220.

The only catch? Depending on where you live, the Hisense A5 may be a better eReader or small tablet than it is a phone.

That’s because it has relatively limited support for US wireless networks. If you’re happy with 2G or 3G performance, AT&T coverage should be pretty good. But the phone only supports some of AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon’s 4G LTE network bands.

Still, at $220, the Hisense A5 is cheaper than an Amazon Kindle Oasis, and arguably more versatile.

The phone has a 5.84 inch, 1440 x 720 pixel E Ink display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 439 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage. Unlike a Kindle, it also has a 13MP rear camera and 5MP front camera. It also has a microSD card reader, a headphone jack, and a 4,000 mAh battery.

Since it’s an Android device, you should be able to run just about any Android app on the phone — including the Kindle app as well as Kobo, Nook, or Google Play Books apps, just to name a few. Games, web browsers, and calendar apps should also work — but the relatively slow screen refresh rate might make interacting with some apps challenging.

So the price isn’t bad at all if you think of the Hisense A5 as a pocket-sized eReader that you can also use as an MP3 player and personal organizer.

If you’re thinking of it as nothing but an eReader though, there are a few down sides. The user interface isn’t optimized for reading the way a Kindle or NOOK UI is. WiFi tops out at 802.11n and Bluetooth at 4.2. The screen is front-lit, but it doesn’t support adjustable color temperature. And unlike the Kindle Oasis, the Hisense A5 is not waterproof.

On the other hand, you might be able to use it as a phone.

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11 Comments

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  1. One additional thing to keep in mind is that the Kindle app has unfortunately page turning animations that you can’t turn off – and those look awful on e-ink.

  2. Wasn’t familiar with the sd 439, but google tells me it’s 12nm finfet, I was expecting worse, sounds great! A lot of the android ereaders (in the 6+” range) have terrible inefficient chipsets from asia that don’t even have benchmarks you can gauge their normal battery life on, so even though they have eink screens, the battery life was atrocious. While this still won’t compare to a proprietary ereader running a super trim ereader only OS, it should still run circles around other android tabs by onyx et al. It even has more battery capacity than some of those despite the smaller footprint.

    I’ve been looking for something like this to build an eink typewriter with. Mostly I was looking at the dual screen devices from hisense and yota, but I like this better. And having a sim card for a little data sync on the go has some appeal. If it has usb OTG, it’d be a really good fit.

    1. Battery life is a fickle topic.

      For instance, that 4,000mAh battery is impressive :
      It is sufficient for 1.5 days of average smartphone use… at least for 2020-standards. Or if you’re thinking of 2014-standards, it would be 2 days of average use. For 2012 it would have been 3 days, and 2010 would have been 4 days of average use. As you can tell, phones have become less efficient over time as they evolved web standards, applications, and system software became more and more “heavy”. Basically, phones now have much larger batteries, better optimised software, and much much more efficient hardware…. and yet they still last the same 0.5-1.5 day battery life. A modern smartphone is now approaching the power of a modern laptop, at least in terms of capability.

      The QSD 439 is very efficient, and an excellent choice of chipset !
      With that taken into consideration, it should last 2-days with the internal battery.

      Last to consider, how will the e-ink display affect battery life?
      If watching a video, it might actually use more power. If used sporadically, there’s a good chance that it will do as intended and save a lot of power. Basing off the second scenario, how long would we expect it to last? Hisense seems to think TEN DAYS. I’m skeptical. Most flagships have a “standby time” of 7-14 days. That’s basically not using the phone, and the battery draining. So I’m sure it would be longer than 2-days but shorter than 14 days. Even a clean 7-days seems to be a stretch, and I would more expect it to last around 5 days in general (some phone calls, messaging, social media, web surfing, music listening, watching YouTube, and playing some demanding Games). That’s half of what Hisense claims, but its still somewhat impressive!

      1. Somehow youtube doesn’t seem like a common use case for this phone. I’ve seen it done on certain eink screens, but it’s still not very appealing.

        But yeah, 5 days of word processing/reading would work very nicely for me.

    2. It’s funny as I only came to learn about the SD439 a week or so ago. It’s not a bad chip for the market segment. I’m not remembering the GPU, but at eight cores at 12nm, it may provide similar performance to the old, but popular SD625, of which the 14nm SD450 was a derivative. Both are nice upgrades over the 28nm, low-clock-speed A53 chips that were common in the 400 series for so long. Definitely not a bad chip if you don’t need the power of the high-end chips. I definitely don’t need that.

    1. OLED would require a black background. e-paper gives you a middle gray at the darkest. But yea if they could solve that it would be a true best of both worlds.

    2. Why have the e-ink then though? Only for battery saving? Reading on OLED is neutral on your eyes anyway, a bit better thanks to better contrast. E-Ink has still quite abysmal contrast, it only wins in battery life. And light is light, no matter emitted or bounced off the screen.

  3. if they could have kept it at the price (99 euro) they said it would have been an instant buy, but now at $220 i’ll wait and see if it shows up used some time..