What do you get when you cross a folding keyboard with an E-ink display? Answer: the King Jim Pomera DM30 that I wrote about for ZDNet last year. It’s a pocket device optimized for distraction-free writing anywhere, even outside with its reflective display. And if a fixed-function word processor wasn’t retro enough, it even runs on AA batteries. But there are still ties to the modern device world. Files can be moved to a PC or smartphone via memory cards and QR codes in a companion app. The company also offers the DM200, a variation on the theme that includes a larger E-ink display and a rechargeable battery that feels like a modern, fixed-function version of the Poquet PC.
The Pomera line has been around in Japan for over a decade, but had never been marketed in America. That was going to change with the DM30 after its crowdfunding campaign, but its poor execution included a stultifying, subtitled video. Late in the game, King Jim floated offering a US English keyboard, but it was too little, too late. The crowdfunding campaign tanked, raising less than a third of its goal, and the compay nixed its American plans.
There’s no doubt that the Pomera DM30 would have made it had King Jim invested in a good PR campaign to support its crowdfunding bid. Far less compelling products have raised far more. While it hinted that it would try again at some point, there’s still no American DM30. And with the pandemic-fueled recession making us less mobile than ever, it’s unlikely that that will change any time soon.
This fall, we should finally see the arrival of a more successful crowdfunded device, FreeWrite Traveler, which preserves the E-Ink writing experience, but is a much larger device. The DM30 seems like something that someone could do a pretty good job rigging up with a Raspberry Pi Zero, but nobody has.
E-Ink displays are usually associated with e-readers like the Amazon Kindle, but there are a few products on the market that allow for stylus-based input or even run Android apps. Sony was one of the earlier players with a 13″ and then 10″ digital notepad intended mostly for reading and marking up PDFs, and featured long battery life, great outdoor visibility, and a lack of distracting apps. They were niche, professional devices marketed as an alternative to carrying around briefcases filled with paper, but cost north of $1,000 for the 13″ version.
Good e-Reader had reported in 2018 that Sony was working on some promising new products through Linfiny, its joint venture with E-Ink Holdings. However, it now reports that, at least as far as Sony’s product line is concerned, Digital Paper is no more and follow-on products are unlikely. It marks an ignonimous end for the company for a company that launched the pioneering Sony Reader in 2006 before Amazon came to dominate the category. The spirit of Digital Paper, however, will live on as products such as the reMarkable 2 hit the market soon.
The best noise-canceling headphones and a premium ad-free music service subscription won’t save your relaxing soundtrack from being interrupted by phone calls or the bleeps of other apps interrupting you. That wasn’t an issue back in the days of the classic iPod, which was a long-play extension of the Walkman-listening model but was limited to whatever music you could load onto it. Enter the Mighty Vibe, It a device that evokes the the iPod shuffle but that offers functionality akin to the Slacker Player device that once worked with that streaming music service. (I wrote about the passing of the torch from the Slacker Player to the Mighty device a bit after the latter’s Kickstarter campaign.)
The Mighty Vibe lets you transfer playlists from Spotify or Amazon Music for offline, uninterrupted playback. It’s not quite as convenient an experience as the Slacker Player was in that that older device had a kind of “top-off” model for filling up cached “stations” of music, but the Mighty Player offers far more control of the listening experience through its app. On its website, Mighty touts that it has no screens, but the company recently wrote a blog post on its distraction-free philosophy. Among the highlights, it calls screens “a trap,” touts the benefits of combining music with screen-free time, and celebrates freedom from the newsfeed in defending why it doesn’t plan to add features like GPS, a heart rate monitor, step counter, and a screen.
The underlying philosophy is sound, but plenty of digital music players of yore managed to keep things simple while succumbing to a screen. Mighty could create something similar to the SanDisk Sansa Clip line, which had a good run, without compromising its focus. On the other hand, those devices were never able to offload much of their management functionality to a handy smartphoe app.