Esquire E-Ink cover hacking? – take apart photos and more…

Craft & Design
Esquire E-Ink cover hacking? – take apart photos and more…

2841094178 Bbb2322Fef B
2841098098 0464675B14 B
2840262813 6F830Ef9F0 B
I picked up the Esquire E-ink’ed cover today and took a bunch of high res photos, you can find them here… a couple of the the low res ones are above.

For the makers out there:

  • It has a programming header, 5-pin ISP.
  • It has a Microchip PIC 12f629 which is flash programmable, 8 pin.
  • It has 6 lithium coin cell CR2016s, 3 volts each.
  • There are 2 e-ink screens with flex connections (these are pricey connections). It looks like it was made to be reprogrammed and different screens.
  • The top screen 11 segments, the bottom has 3.
  • It was design 06/04/2008.
  • The PCB was made by Forewin (Chinese firm?).
  • Half thickness, 2 layer board (FR4).

Special thanks to Limor Fried for e-ink tinkering.

I think someone out there will likely reflash the PIC and make the segments go on / off at different time and perhaps put other displays on it, there’s a little bit of hacking to be had but not that much really.

And here’s my opinion, I know a lot media folks & tech sites are pooping on this cover – but someone needed to start somewhere, I’m glad there’s an E-Ink cover in existence, it’s clear it’s going to be decades until it’s something that very common, or if the Kindle will just end up being a uni-magazine.

My quick video…

And last up, here’s a video of what the cover looks like in action…

39 thoughts on “Esquire E-Ink cover hacking? – take apart photos and more…

  1. NotoriousBRK says:

    I thought that e-ink was supposed to be more dynamic? This looks more like some static images and LCD shutters.

    It’s a neat cover, and I don’t mean to sounds overly harsh, I just thought that e-ink was more “cool” than this.

  2. Anonymous says:

    e-ink is anything but dynamic… the entire screen (or segments I guess… depending on how the backend electronics are set up) need to be flashed black and then white in order to clear the screen. The nice thing about e-ink is that it doesn’t consume any power to hold a fixed state.

    Does anyone know how much this magazine will go for on newsstands? If it’s < $25, I might try to find one just to tinker with the display. Then again, since it's limited release, I could see it going for more.

  3. Phillip Torrone says:

    –it’s $5.99 – so it’s worth it for tinkering.
    –you can uplug the displays and they stay “lit” up, that’s how e-ink works.
    –i know folks aren’t going to like this, but i collect e-ink things and happen to work for a magazine, so it was a fun 1 hour of time to play with this.
    –a fun project would be to add other displays with other segments or just mod this one to only blink NOW NOW NOW or something.

  4. just mike says:

    FYI, I had also taken some close-up photos of the e-ink capsules:

  5. Captain Vegetable says:

    Is the e-ink panel a real matrix display, or just big pre-defined cells that turn on and off?

  6. Phillip Torrone says:


  7. Simon says:

    I don’t know why but that seems incredibly like 70s ‘future’ technology to me. The kind of thing you’d see in some sci-fi film as a taste of things in the future. Makes me think of Space 1999!

    I wonder if they are available here in NZ? I’d love one to play with.

  8. Simon says:

    Oh, it’s also nice to see they seem to want people to try hacking them.


  9. Marc de Vinck says:

    I picked 1 (OK 2) up at my local Borders, and they had more.

  10. Carson says:

    Ok, it’s fairly neat, but what happens when you’re done with that magazine; it’s a lot easier to dispose of paper than to throw away a circuit board and some batteries. Maybe it’d be reusable in the future…

  11. Anonymous says:

    wow, okay… I totally didn’t realize these were cells. I thought it was actually a pixel matrix that would display interesting things while sitting on your coffee table. I guess the color should have thrown me off. This is basically useless, and I honestly don’t see why they’re making such a big deal out of it. The Esquire guys want a copy to go to the Smithsonian!? It’s nothing but a blinking pattern!

    A _real_ “21st century gimmick” would be something like this using a real (matrix) display, with some sort of cellular chip and a deal with a cellphone company. They’d send the magazine updates or headlines or something every morning for a month. THAT would be futuristic. This is blinking lights.

    – 2:22 pm from above

  12. Anonymous says:

    It’s a big deal because it is a new and interesting use of technology. It’s a start and everything has to start somewhere. Make is a heavily tech orientated site so something like this is going to be worth reading to those of us interested in technology and with enough imagination to see where this might go.

    Read this ( and see how it might compare to this situation. I am sure when those first hand tinted pictures came out people said ‘is that all, it’s not real, it’s a gimmick, we need full colour’ and so on. But it was a start.

    I don’t know if it is me getting old and grumpy (I’m 35) but lately I have noticed on many of the sites I go to comments from people who call something useless or pointless if THEY don’t see they personally don’t have a use or see the point of it.

    It will be interesting to see where this technology goes (if anywhere). I remember when I was a kid that holograms were the big thing and there were magazines coming out with a hologram on the front cover. Actually that was National Geographic back in 1984!


  13. maushammer says:

    Awesome job, pt & limor! I rushed out and bought one. Here’s what I’ve found about the schematic:

    ISP Pinout:
    Pin 1: VDD
    Pin 2: GND
    Pin 3: VPP
    Pin 4: pin 6 (ICSPCLK)
    Pin 5: pin 7 (ICSPDAT)

    PIC 12F629
    Pin 1: VDD [3 volts]
    Pin 2: not used
    Pin 3: not used
    Pin 4: VPP/MCLR and S1
    Pin 5: goes to R5/Q3/R6
    Pin 6: goes to R3/Q2/R4
    Pin 7: goes to R1/Q1/R2
    Pin 8: GND

    S1 (the unpopulated switch) is connected to pin 4, which is a reset pin… but it can also be programmed as an input. It acts like a reset, though.

    Battery 6 powers the microcontroller only. (3 volts)
    Batteries 1-5 generate 14.86 volts – available at C3
    … I wonder which power supply will run out — battery 6, or batteries 1-5.
    Q1-3, R1-6 convert 0-3 volts from the CPU to 0-15 volts for the high-voltage drivers (U2 & U3).

    U2 & U3: HEF4094BT – 8 stage shift-and-store bus register
    Pin 3 is the clock – 30 Hz – it’s slow because the Q1-3 voltage translator is slow.
    Pin 2 is the data – varies depending which segments need to be lit
    Pin 1 is the strobe – 2.7 Hz – allows all the outputs to switch simultaneously.

  14. rgbphil says:

    Can you tell us if the eink film can be de-laminated from the backplane? Is the eink film got the segments or just the backplane.

    That way you could make a PCB with your own segments and re-use the eink. Particularly if the voltage require to flip the capsules is only 15V. I’m thinking of some seven segment (or some sort of alpha segment) displays could be achievable if the eink film is not segmented and separable.

    Also….anyone seen these mags in Australia yet???

  15. Scott M says:

    I’m glad that this is on the blog. But I agree that the implementation itself is underwhelming.

    Esquire doesn’t make use of any of the special properties of E-ink, except for the fact it is low power enough to make a blinking display for as long as the magazine is on the shelf.

    It’s aimed at the technologically ignorant to make a flashy cover and sell more magazines, not really demonstrating the capabilities of a new technology.

  16. uhm uhm says:

    can you cut the display in pieces of 5mm x 5mm and create a real matrix display?

  17. a says:

    I have had a E-ink GSM phone for quite a while: The Motofone F3.

    It is really light and thin , i like the look better than my similar Motorola SLVR, and best of all you can get it for about 30 dollars.

    Don’t expect all the features of more expensive phones, but it certainly is very nice to use as a talk and text phone (although texting on the display is a bit rough).

    Just be sure to get the version that works with your local GSM frequencies, it is only dual-band.

  18. David Murray says:

    Man.. you just wrecked my day. I had been planning to get one of these and see if I could interface the thing to a computer and use it as a display panel. But now you are telling me it is not a matrix… what a rip!

  19. Venn says:

    This sucks because it is so poorly implemented. Not because we want better technology but because they did so little with the tech they had to work with. That’s a lot of money and hype to hang on such a banal product.

    It is honest, perhaps: “this is the future.” Yes, blinking pos/neg is one future but they could have been much more bold. This is the future of every shit magazine that doesn’t bother to hire good designers and typographers. Soon we’ll see this crap everywhere on every news stand, clamouring for our attention and making us nostalgic for the days when most of our environment was static. The angst will be misplaced though. It will be the fault of an army of ignorant monkeys with the capacity to foist blinking headlines at us. “Queen Dies,” “OJ on the run” … whatever. We were doomed a long time ago.

    Certainly it is a first step. It is just a shame that they fell flat on their ass with this. I hope they fire their design team.

  20. Dave says:

    Yes, it’s cells and doesn’t limitless possibilities, but it is SIX BUCKS. not bad for what is definitely a gimmick. But hey, 6 bucks for two eink displays to play around with. You even get a magazine/toilet paper with it!

  21. Vincent Ambrosio says:

    Boy was I mistaken in getting my hopes up for this thing. I was under the impression that, aside from the low power consumption, the main benefit for e-ink is that it’s a matrix of tiny cells that can be displayed as either black or white dots. Not huge chunks of black and white. I’m pretty sure a Timex watch uses a smaller battery and can pull off the same functionality that Esquire used with their e-ink implementation.

    Ford could have saved a lof of money had they just poped on down to the $.99 store and bought a bunch of blinking watches. Some quick math would indicate that they’d only have to spend $100,000 on watches instead of the higher cost of e-ink.

    What irks me also is that Esquire originally said that there would be moving words on the cover. As far as I can tell, nothing moves. It’s all blinks. Have we regressed 15 years and started all over with the html tag?

  22. samurai1200 says:

    welcome, everyone, to the age of GREEN, where we recycle and do not waste.

  23. dale says:

    Never been able to cut up E-INK screens before ($$$) so its definitely worth $6 to get a feel for the technology. They are surprising robust.
    Although not as exciting as this could have been with a true dot matrix the ability to cut the screens could mean an unlimited scope of low-fi hacking. Scalpels, hot glue, card board and some long awaited technology.

  24. blooflame says:

    The material itself is a bunch of tiny “pixels” of e-ink. It’s the backplane which determines whether or not it’s a segmented display – you can read all about it at e-ink’s site (

    Obviously, the circuitry and software to drive a few segments is a lot cheaper than to drive a full active-matrix display, so that’s what Esquire chose to do.

  25. stiv. pamerois. says:

    I started poking at mine, in an attempt to drive the displays using another microcontroller and perhaps put a mask over it to make it display something more useful. I ended up connecting it to my oscilloscope to get the electrical characteristics of the displayand making some SVGs of the segments, in order to facilitate any mask making:

    The display is rather simple: it has a front, common transparent electrode and individual electrodes for the segments. You pass +15v between the common and the segment electrode in order to get the display to change state. If you reverse the polarity, you reverse the colors.

  26. rgbphil says:

    Hi Stiv,

    Thanks for pulling the thing apart.

    Good news that the top transparent electrode is common.

    Can you remove the rear segment electrodes? That would mean a PCB could be attached with an arbitary segment scheme for your own displays.

    As a quick test, you should be able to connect the front common to one side of a power supply and use a wire to ‘draw’ your own patterns by dragging a wire around the back.

    I wish I could give this a go, but don’t have a copy of the magazine in Australia.


  27. stiv. pamerois. says:

    rgbphil: I’d love to take it apart more, but judging by what dale did above, it’s probably not usable after dissection. See for a comment on the subject.

    I suspect that one would need to either very carefully cut the existing electrodes into smaller ones while still sandwiched with the E-Ink particles or to collect + reapply them to another surface in order to swap out the segment electrodes with something more interesting.

  28. Leo says:

    You EEs will probably know this… would it have been such a cost increase to have at least a part of the display be a segmented display that would scroll text??? Of course you know that the NEXT e-ink display magazine cover will have some sort of scrolling text, even if it sacrifices battery life…

    This technology also reminded me of the cells that where used in polaroid cartridges… a flat cell that was large surface area… those two techs combined (of course the polaroid tech has probably progressed) along with some circuits printed on flexible media will probably be the next evolution…

    and if you really want to go ‘out there’ what about adding a solar cell to this concept?

  29. Regor says:

    The display is segmented and I don’t see anyway to remove the backplane without destroying the display.

    Has anyone had any luck cutting the segments into smaller segments?

    In theory this should work and the Ford ad provides some large segments. However, I haven’t been able to figure out how to get the required voltage through the top layer of plastic in the backplane.

  30. dale says:

    What I wanted to illustrate is the benefits a different board configuration would give – especially if the board were meant to be hack-able, which is by definition – to be used for another purpose.

    or you can download the pdf version

    Comments are welcome

  31. epotter says:

    I was expirimenting with the displays last night. As maushammer and stiv pointed out, with 15v you can toggle the color of each segment. What I noticed is that it takes a short but observable length of time for the color to go from completely white to completey black or vice versa. If you don’t apply power for long enough, you get shades of gray.

    So my plan is to use the ford display to disply three percentages. Black = 100%, white = 0%, shades of gray for all the intermediate values.

    I’ll report back on how this goes.

  32. chris says:

    One interesting thing that I don’t see people talking about too much is how flexible the displays are. You can literally bend them in half without breaking them.

    I did show the cover to my family who all marvelled at it but essentially said, “Oh, so it’s a calculator screen?” I wish Esquire made the displays a little sexier.

  33. Matt says:

    Well, despite the shortcomings described above, it’s still very possible to hack into the screen quite easily, bypassing all the onboard circuitry. That’s a good thing because that means you can take it as a standalone, and run it off an Arduino without the big, bulky PCB it came on. Here’s some source code, and pictures of how I did it, if you’re interested:

  34. Alvaro Flores Tafur says:

    Hey!, I just bought the Esquire magazine at the Atlanta airport yesterday and now, it doesnt work, the e-ink is not flashing, dont know what it could be… :S any thoughts?

  35. Anonymous says:

    Does anyone know if there are heavy metals used in the e-ink process?

  36. Jared J. H. Catapano says:

    This epaper and e-ink technology is blowing my mind. The future is going to be pretty damn cool–

    -Jared J. H. Catapano

  37. Detroit says:

    I worked on the design for the Ford ad. We did what we could with it- the technology was not explained fully by (because it wasn’t fully UNDERSTOOD by) Esquire to us when we bought the ad space. The options are on/off, and the segment sizes had to be large. To make white, we had to do an overlay on the piece. Nothing turned out like we’d intended, and nobody was more disappointed than us. I’d love to see what others can do with the tech, but I haven’t seen any hacked ones yet. Also- the battery power was upped at our, ahem, demand… so the cover should be able to do more for longer (though by now you’ll have to replace the batteries).

  38. Jan Szumiec says:

    Any idea who makes the display?

Comments are closed.

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

current: @adafruit - previous: MAKE, popular science, hackaday, engadget, fallon, braincraft ... howtoons, 2600...

View more articles by Phillip Torrone