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The Hisense Hi Reader Pro is a smartphone with mid-range specs including a Qualcomm Snapdragon 662 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. Up for pre-order in China for less than $250, there’s one thing that makes this phone different from most others though: its display.

Instead of an LCD or AMOLED screen, the Hi Reader Pro has a 6.1 inch E Ink black and white display for a paper-like reading experience.

That means you get all the benefits (and all disadvantages) of electronic paper. The screen can be viewed using only ambient light and may actually look better in direct sunlight rather than worse. And the screen only consumes power when the image on the display changes, which means it can display a static image indefinitely, even if your phone’s battery dies.

Those are some of the reasons that E Ink displays are commonly used for eBook readers like Kindle or Kobo devices. But there are some down sides to E Ink. This particular screen supports 16 shades of grey but cannot display color. And the refresh rate is much lower than for LCD or OLED displays, making E Ink a poor fit for watching videos, playing high-motion games, or other activities like simply scrolling through web pages smoothly.

Hisense has been making E Ink phones for years, and the company says that this model supports faster screen refreshing than some previous models, but that’s not really saying much.

Interestingly the company is also branding this phone as the “pro” model of the Hi Reader eBook reading device that launched earlier this year. Don’t ask me why. The two devices have different displays, processors, and wireless capabilities. And the Pro model makes phone calls and connects to 4G LTE networks, while the non-Pro model does not. They seem more like different categories of devices rather than two versions of the same device.

Here’s a comparison:

Hi Reader Hi Reader Pro
Display6.7 inch
E Ink
1200 x 825 pixels
300 ppi
grayscale
Capacitive touch
Frontlit (36 levels of brightness)
6.1 inches
E Ink
300 ppi
grayscale
Capacitive touch
36 levels of brightness
Adjustable color temperature
ProcessorUnisoc T610
2 x ARM Cortex-A75 CPU cores @ 1.8 GHz
6 x ARM Cortex-A55 CPU cores @ 1.8 GHz
Mali-G52 MP2 graphics @ 614 MHz
Qualcomm Snapdragon 662
4 x Cortex-A73 CPU cores @ 2 GHz
4 x Cortex-A53 CPU cores @ 1.8 GHz
Adreno 610 graphics
RAM4GB4GB
Storage64GB128GB UFS 2.1
SoftwareAndroid 10
Limited support for Google Play Store & Google apps
Supports sideloaded apps
Android 11
Limited support for Google Play Store & Google apps
Supports sideloaded apps
Battery3,000 mAh4,000 mAh
AudioSpeaker
Single microphone
3.5mm audio jack
LDAC
Speaker
Dual microphones
3.5mm audio jack
WirelessWiFi (2.4 GHz & 5 GHz)
Bluetooth 5.0
4G LTE
WiFi (2.4 GHz & 5 GHz)
Bluetooth 5.0
Dimensions7.5mm thick?
Weight177 grams183
Price1,299 CNY (~$188in China)
$293 and up from AliExpress
1,699 CNY (~$246 in China)
$347 from AliExpress

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  1. Simply turn off all color on an Android phone and put it into darkmode. The results are almost as acceptable as e-ink.

    Yet even after all this time of using a stupid “smart” phone and still not liking it (I won’t root because of security and don’t like Android enough to even want to learn it well enough to root with confidence) … My background is in Linux and Windows which are in my opinion preferable to other operating systems in their own unique ways. Linux is by far the most fun and rewarding to invest time and effort into learning. I still hopelessly wish for a viable Linux phone that achieves true desktop convergence (whether it be xfce, cinnamon, plasma… but definitely not Gnome as even the Android Ux would be far superior to anything Gnome offers). Microsoft or Mac will probably still do it first. Maybe the Duo 3 will offer a Windows 11 option as an alternative to Android 13, although I doubt they will.

  2. Honestly I can see a use case for this, for those folks who want to go minimalist with their phone. It’s a good alternative to a “dumb phone”, and of course doubles as an e-book reader so you don’t have to carry your Kindle or Kobo everywhere you go.

    It would be really interesting to know if it has screen mirroring via the USB-C port, like some higher-end Android phones. That would make it possible to use at a desktop with Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, using the full potential of the CPU/GPU and storage.

    1. I usually recommend pinephones to anyone who asks about “dumb phones” (provided a compatible carrier is available). Original Pinephone, not the Pinephone pro, because the Pinephone can’t play video at an acceptable framerate. Unless this has a degoogled ROM, I don’t see it as as much of a “digital detox”.
      If pine64 could make the pinephone with an e-ink screen (and pick a modem that carriers don’t just flip the bird at) while keeping the price the same, that would be substantially more of a digital detox/minimalist phone than one of these.