Have you ever wished the back of your phone could be used for more than just getting scratched up by your keys? The folks at Oaxis apparently did, crowdfunding – and now producing – smartphone cases with a second screen built right into the back.
With the ability to view photos, read books, check notifications and more, I was intrigued by the prospect. Could the case be useful for travelers wanting to add extra features to their phones? The company sent out a sample to help me decide.
Features and Specifications
The InkCase i6 is, in essence, a plastic phone case for Apple's iPhone 6 and 6s, with a 4.3” electronic ink screen on the back. The case itself is pretty standard, with a click-in design that provides basic protection but little more. It’s the screen that makes things interesting.
The InkCase connects to the iPhone over Bluetooth, and has its own internal battery. The bottom part of the case is a long, clickable button used mainly to turn it on and off, and there are three navigation buttons just above . It weighs 1.8oz, about the same as a normal phone case.
As with an e-reader, the black and white e-ink screen only uses battery when something changes on the page. This makes it best suited for reading, displaying notifications and similar functions – which, unsurprisingly, is exactly what the InkCase does.
A ‘widgets’ screen shows things like time, weather, upcoming events and reminders, and fitness data . If you use Twitter, it can also show your notifications there.
You can save photos and screenshots to the case, as well as send books and other documents in ePub or text format. Finally, users of the Pocket bookmarking service can also sync several of their latest saved web pages.
Removing the InkCase from its packaging, I was surprised how lightweight it was. That’s often a good thing, but there’s a fine line between ‘light’ and ‘flimsy’ when it comes to phone cases.
I’d be concerned about dropping this case from much of a height, given there’s no protection for either of the screens. On the upside, replacing it would still be much cheaper than replacing your entire phone.
The charger is unique, with a wide magnetized plug that connects to the bottom of the InkCase. The cable isn’t particularly long, and at least on my review sample, the plug didn’t sit completely flat against the case.
It still charged fine, though, and the other end of the cable has a pass-through socket to charge your phone (or any other USB device) at the same time. That’s a useful feature, but in general, unique chargers like this are a hassle for travelers. They’re one more cable to pack, and if they get lost or broken, they’re very hard to replace.
Charging time was quick, at well under an hour from empty to full.
The InkCase’s screen was relatively grainy and quite dim, especially indoors. It’s perfectly usable, but photos don’t look particularly good. Small fonts, like those on the widget screens, are also hard to read.
Setup took a while, requiring downloading the accompanying InkCase app, installing new firmware from a laptop, and restarting both the app and the case. Once that was done, everything worked as expected, but the instructions for doing it could have been clearer.
Navigating the InkCase’s various functions wasn’t difficult, but switching between the touchscreen of the iPhone and the physical buttons of the case took a bit of getting used to. I often found myself tapping the screen rather the buttons below it, even after using the case for a few day. Using the app, on the other hand, was straightforward.
It was easy to select a few photos, crop them to the right size, and send them to the case. I could also take screenshots (of boarding pass barcodes, for instance), and send those as well. That’s useful if your phone runs out of battery, although since you can’t zoom in on the InkCase screen, you’ll need to crop the barcode for it to be large enough for scanning.
The app comes with a small selection of books from Project Gutenberg, and you can add more via iTunes (in ePub or text only, not Kindle, iBooks, or other formats). Text size and alignment can be tweaked via the app.
If you’d like to do a lot of reading without draining your phone’s battery, this is a decent way of doing it, but the small screen size and cumbersome way of adding new books made it less enjoyable than it could have been.
The Pocket integration, however, is much better. After supplying your login details, the app downloads your most recent 20 saved articles, and syncs them with the case. This is a quick way of getting any web page onto the case, from travel info to all those lengthy articles you’ve been saving for a quiet moment.
You’ll lose the images and links, but the text remains easily readable. The app often got stuck trying to sync, but restarting it and/or case kicked things back into life.
The widget screen is useful as far as it goes, with at-a-glance information like time, weather and reminders. With such a small selection of notifications, though, in reality most people will just check the phone lock screen now and then instead. Keeping it in sync also comes at a cost to the case’s battery life.
On that note, I found with moderate use, the InkCase battery typically drained within a day or two. As long as you remember to charge it when you charge your phone, it won’t be a problem, but don’t expect days or weeks of use out of it.
While I liked what Oaxis is trying to do with the InkCase i6, it’s not a travel essential. Given the rigors of the road, the fragile nature of the case and screen are a concern, as is the unique, hard-to-replace charging cable.
Battery life, too, should be better -- te last thing travelers need is another device that needs charging all the time. Both setup and synchronization, too, had some issues.
While there’s some value in each of the various features of the case, none of them are must-haves for travel, and all are quite limited in how they work.
For the $129 asking price, I’d just buy a better phone case, and a portable battery, and use my phone for everything. If I wanted to read in direct sunlight, there’d be enough money left over to buy a Kindle e-reader, which offers a much better experience, both for adding new books, and for reading them.
Overall, the InkCase i6 is a good attempt at adding extra features to an iPhone, but doesn’t quite hit the mark for travelers.