In the early days of e-readers, most devices had physical buttons to turn pages and otherwise navigate the device. [bwkrayb] longed for these halcyon days before touchscreen e-readers and improved on the concept by adding mechanical keyswitches.
By using an Adafruit NeoKey 1×4 as the keyboard interface, the e-reader has four hot-swappable keyboard sockets with built-in LEDs. [bwkrayb] is hoping to use these LEDs to implement a front lighting system in a future revision of the hardware.
The 3.7″ screen displays pages after running an EPUB through ebooklib and Beautiful Soup to generate files that can be used by the Waveshare drivers. Refresh time is reportedly slow, although [bwkrayb] suspects this might be due more to the limited power of the Raspberry Pi Zero 2 more than the display itself.
If you ever looked for open-source e-readers, you’ve no doubt seen [Joey Castillo]’s Open Book reader, but you might not yet have seen the Abridged version he’s building around a Raspberry Pi Pico.
The Open Book project pairs a 4.2″ E-Ink screen with microprocessors we all know and love, building a hacker-friendly e-reader platform. Two years ago, this project won first place in our Adafruit Feather contest — the Feather footprint making the Open Book compatible with a wide range of MCUs, giving hackers choice on which CPU their hackable e-reader would run. Now, it’s time for a RP2040-based reboot.
This project is designed so that you can assemble it on your own after sourcing parts and PCBs. To help you in the process, the PCB itself resembles a book page – on the silkscreen, there is explanations of what each component is for, as well as information that would be useful for you while hacking on it, conveying the hardware backstory to the hacker about to dive into assembly with a soldering iron in hand. There’s simple but quite functional software to accompany this hardware, too – and, as fully open-source devices go, any missing features can be added.
Joey has recorded a 30-minute video of the Pi Pico version for us, assembling and testing the newly ordered boards, then showing the software successfully booting and operational. The Pi Pico-based revision has been greatly simplified, with a number of self-assembly aspects improved compared to previous versions – the whole process really does take less than half an hour, and he gets it done with a pretty basic soldering iron, too!
If you’re looking for updates on this revision as development goes on, following [Joey] on Twitter is your best bet. He’s no stranger to making devices around us more free and then sharing the secret sauce with all of us! During the 2021 Remoticon he showed off a drop-in replacement mainboard for the Casio F-91W wristwatch, and told us all about reverse-engineering its controller-less segment LCD — worth a listen for any hacker who’s ever wanted to bend these LCDs to their will.
Last last month, a post from the relatively obscure Good e-Reader claimed that Amazon would finally allow the Kindle to read EPUB files. The story was picked up by all the major tech sites, and for a time, there was much rejoicing. After all, it was a feature that owners have been asking for since the Kindle was first released in 2007. But rather than supporting the open eBook format, Amazon had always insisted in coming up with their own proprietary formats to use on their readers. Accordingly, many users have turned to third party programs which can reliably convert their personal libraries over to whatever Amazon format their particular Kindle is most compatible with.
Native support for EPUB would make using the Kindle a lot less of a hassle for many folks, but alas, it was not to be. It wasn’t long before the original post was updated to clarify that Amazon had simply added support for EPUB to their Send to Kindle service. Granted this is still an improvement, as it represents a relatively low-effort way to get the open format files on your personal device; but in sending the files through the service they would be converted to Amazon’s KF8/AZW3 format, the result of which may not always be what you expected. At the same time the Send to Kindledocumentation noted that support for AZW and MOBI files would be removed later on this year, as the older formats weren’t compatible with all the features of the latest Kindle models.
If you think this is a lot of unnecessary confusion just to get plain-text files to display on the world’s most popular ereader, you aren’t alone. Users shouldn’t have to wade through an alphabet soup of oddball file formats when there’s already an accepted industry standard in EPUB. But given that it’s the reality when using one of Amazon’s readers, this seems a good a time as any for a brief rundown of the different ebook formats, and a look at how we got into this mess in the first place.
Regular readers will likely remember the Inkplate, an open hardware electronic paper development board that combines an ESP32 with a recycled Kindle screen. With meticulous documentation and full-featured support libraries for both the Arduino IDE and MicroPython, the Inkplate makes it exceptionally easy for hackers and makers to write their own code for the high-quality epaper display.
For one thing, [Guy] has taken full advantage of the ESP32 microcontroller at the heart of the Inkplate and implemented a web server that lets you manage the reader’s library from your browser. This allows books in EPUB v2 and v3 formats to be uploaded and saved on the Inkplate’s SD card without any special software. There’s currently support for JPG, PNG, BMP, and GIF images, as well as embedded TTF and OTF fonts.
As of this writing EPub-InkPlate supports both the six and ten inch Inkplate variants, and uses the touch pads on the side of the screen for navigation. While it’s on the wishlist for the final 1.3 release, the project currently doesn’t support the Inkplate 6PLUS; which uses the backlit and touch compatible displays pulled from Kindle Paperwhites. With shipments the new 6PLUS model reportedly going out in November, hopefully it won’t be long before its enhanced features are supported.
With the rising popularity of ebooks, it’s more important than ever that we have open hardware and software readers that work on our terms. While they may never compete with the Kindle in terms of units sold, we’re eager to see projects like EPub-InkPlate and the Open Book from [Joey Castillo] mature to the point that they’re a valid option for mainstream users who don’t want to live under Amazon’s thumb.
These days paper is being phased out whenever possible, and while we’re still far from being a completely digital society, the last decade or two has seen a huge reduction in the amount of paper the average person deals with on a daily basis. At the very least, we seem a lot closer to a future without the printed page than we are flying cars or any of the other concepts we generally associate with the far-flung future.
That said, there’s still something undeniably appealing about reading on paper. The idea of squirting ink on a piece of thin wood might seem increasingly archaic to us, but it sure does look nice when you hold it in your hand. Which is exactly why so much effort has been put into recreating the look of printed paper in electronic form; we all love the experience of paper, but the traditional execution doesn’t align itself particularly well with modern sensibilities.
Of course electronic “eReaders”, most notably the Kindle line from Amazon, have gone a long way towards making this a reality. At least for reading books, anyway. But what about magazines, newspapers, or even the lowly notebook we keep by the bench to jot down measurements or ideas? A PDF datasheet, with graphics where the grey tones matter? Being able to carry a whole bookshelf worth of novels in your bag is incredible, but despite what science fiction has promised us since 2001: A Space Odyssey, we’re still consuming plenty of media off of dead trees.
But that might be changing soon. This year will see the release of two tablets that promise to deliver an experience much closer to reading and writing on traditional paper than anything we’ve seen previously. They certainly aren’t cheap, and it’s too early to tell how much is just hype, but these devices could end up being an important step towards the paperless future we’ve been dreaming of.
It’s hard to beat the fidelity and durability of printed text on paper. But the e-paper display gets pretty close, and if you couple it will great design and dependable features, you might just prefer an e-reader over a bookshelf full of paperbacks. What if the deal is sweetened by making it Open Hardware? The Open Book Project rises to that challenge and has just been named the winner of the Take Flight with Feather contest.
This e-reader will now find its way into the wild, with a small manufacturing run to be put into stock by Digi-Key who sponsored this contest. Let’s take a closer look at the Open Book, as well as the five other top entries.
On the whole, hackers aren’t overly fond of other people telling them what they can and cannot do with the hardware or software they’ve purchased. Unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more difficult to avoid DRM and other Draconian rules and limitations as time goes on. Digital “eBooks” and the devices that are used to view them are often the subject of such scrutiny, which is why [Joey Castillo] has made it his mission to develop a open hardware eReader that truly belongs to the user.
[Joey] has been working on what he calls the “The Open Book Project” for a few months now, and he’s just recently announced that the first reader has been successfully assembled and powered up. As is usually the case, a few hardware issues were identified with this initial prototype. But it sounds like the device was largely functional, and only a few relatively minor tweaks to the board layout and components should be necessary before the hardware is ready for the masses.
If you’re feeling a bit of déjà vu seeing this, don’t worry. The Open Book Project has taken a somewhat circuitous path to get to this first prototype, and [Joey] had previously developed and built the “eBook Feather Wing”. While they look very similar, that earlier incarnation required an Adafruit Feather to operate and was used to help refine the firmware and design concepts that would go into the final hardware.
The Open Book is powered by a ATSAMD51N19A processor with a GD25Q16 2MB flash chip to hold the CircuitPython code, and a microSD slot to store the actual book files. It also features support for audio output via a standard 3.5 mm headset jack, an RGB status LED, and expansion ports that tap into the I2C interface for adding whatever other hardware you can dream up.
One of the most interesting aspects of this Creative Commons licensed reader is the extensive self documentation [Joey] has included on the silkscreen. Every major component on the back of the PCB has a small description of its purpose and in some cases even a breakdown of the pin assignments. The idea being that it not only makes the device easier to assemble and debug, but that it can also explain to the curious user what everything on the board does and why it’s necessary. It’s a concept that makes perfect sense given the goals of the Open Book Project, and something that we frankly would love to see more of.
[Marc Juul] presented his work on a FOSS operating system for older-model Kindles at HOPE XII as a way to avoid Orwellian monitoring of the user’s reading habits, so it’s interesting to see somebody take this idea to the next level with completely libre reader hardware. Unfortunately none of this addresses the limited availability of DRM-free eBooks, but one step at a time.