Last year, Oaxis sent me an InkCase protective case for the iPhone 6/6s (it was subsequently released for the iPhone 7). It was an interesting concept: a second display on the back of an iPhone that used E Ink technology for long battery life and no glare in sunlight. The case connected to the iPhone via Bluetooth, had its own battery, and the E Ink second screen could display notifications (useful), photos (cool), and e-books (bingo!).
But that initial version for the iPhone 6/6s had two primary drawbacks from my perspective. First, the 4.3-inch second screen was a little small—especially for reading e-books. Second, the edge of the case inexplicably stopped short of the iPhone’s glass front, leaving it unprotected if set down display-first. As one would do to see the notifications or photos on the second screen…
I just received a review unit of the Oaxis InkCase i7 Plus, and I’m happy to say that this new version addresses both of those problems, although it does introduce a few new ones.
The Cool Stuff
With the i7 Plus, the InkCase is now truly a protective case for the iPhone, with a lip that extends far enough to keep the iPhone’s display from being scratched when set down. A rubberized bumper helps keep the smartphone safe from drops as well.
The big news from my perspective is the boost in the size of the E Ink second screen. It gains 40% more screen area with a 5.2-inch diagonal measurement, and the Carta 1.2 E Ink panel offers higher contrast with 540 x 960-pixel resolution.
Like previous versions, the InkCase i7 Plus connects to your iPhone via Bluetooth and from there you use an app to configure it. You can have it display widgets (such as weather alerts, reminders, calendar events, and activity levels), photos (it can store up to 10 and you can choose one as the default power off wallpaper), or you can use it to read (by uploading daily news articles or e-books).
That e-reader functionality is what has always appealed to me, and with the InkCase i7 Plus, it’s actually practical. You get a waterproof e-reader with a decent-sized E Ink display and the ability to tweak the font size a bit (in the photos I have the font size set to maximum). E-Books need to be DRM-free .epub or .txt files, so keep those limitations in mind.
Another very cool function, that will appeal to selfie fans in a big way, is its ability to use that second screen as a viewfinder to compose a selfie using the iPhone’s primary camera. You get a limited view with E Ink, obviously (although it may actually be a superior view in glaring sunlight), but it’s good enough to see to get everyone in the frame. And then you can take advantage of the iPhone’s primary camera for better results than its lower resolution front-facing camera.
The InkCase i7 Plus has some of the same frustrations of the previous InkCase I tried. The app isn’t as polished as it could be. On occasion, exporting a photo to the InkCase would turn into an endless loop that would require quitting (after 15 minutes of processing at one time) and trying again. Error messages and alerts are a little on the informal side. “Hey, listen!” seems to a favorite alert phrase of the developers. You’re still forced to use a proprietary magnetic cable to charge the battery (which lasts roughly five days of typical use).
The case itself is fairly light, but it definitely adds bulk—including the lip, it’s nearly 1/2-inch thick, and the material feels a little low rent. But my biggest complaint would be the buttons, especially the power button. Navigation through features, including page turns, is via capacitive touch controls that work reasonably well, but can be balky at times. But the power button is narrow, rubberized, and extremely stiff. It makes powering up a sleeping InkCase a chore.
Availability and Pricing
Despite its name, Oaxis says the InkCase i7 Plus will also work with the iPhone 6 Plus and 6s Plus. I didn’t have any of those models handy to confirm, but the speaker cutout looks big enough to accommodate a headphone jack…
I don’t typically cover Kickstarter projects, but the InkCase i7 Plus is well past its funding goals ($120k + at time of writing with a $28k goal), the company has successfully launched several previous versions and I received a production unit complete in retail packaging. It ships in August and, with the Early Bird pricing of $99, it’s also easier to justify buying one than at the $159 retail price.
Is the InkCase i7 Plus worth considering? If you read a lot of e-books on the go (and your library includes compatible files), it’s a nice alternative to carrying an e-reader as well. For everyone else, you’ll need to decide if the cool stuff like photo wallpapers, widgets, and selfie-assistant is worth the additional bulk and price tag.
Disclosure: Oaxis provided a review unit but had no editorial input.