I've been using various map apps with offline storage on my smartphone(s) for several years now. The main problem with them is the battery drain. I've searched for e-ink devices with GPS but only found a bunch of DIY instructions.

Since Android-based ebook readers and e-ink phones seem to exist, I can only assume that the physical device I need already exists and installing a map app is all I need. Is that true?

  • Running the GPS is what drains the battery on your phone as much, if not more than, using the screen. – csk Jan 16 at 18:25
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    @csk the screen is a major drain even at minimum brightness, and minimum brightness is no good in sunlight. With my screen on (but dim except when I need detail) I get around half the battery life compared to turning the screen off, i.e. the screen is comparable to everything else, including the GPS – Chris H Jan 16 at 18:50
  • Okay, fair enough. With an e-ink reader, wouldn't the display need to constantly refresh to stay updated for the GPS location? And if so, would that negate the battery savings from having an un-illuminated screen? (I'm trying to figure out what the pros and cons of such a device would be. That can be helpful in figuring out what sort of situations it would be useful in, which would tell me what audience/market it might be designed for, which tell me where to shop for it.) – csk Jan 16 at 19:04
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    @csk I imagine having a button for showing my location so the GPS doesn't have to work all the time. What I tend to do now is having my phone completely off and turn it on when I need to know where I am, maybe 5-6 times in a day of walking. – JollyJoker Jan 17 at 6:39
  • @csk a refresh every couple of seconds would be possible; I believe it's also possible to refresh only certain zones of the screen (or it was on my ancient Kindle), but that would require an app that understood the screen technology – Chris H Jan 17 at 16:03

Mobile mapping is optimised for colour, which isn't available on any of the e-ink devices I can find, despite talk of colour e-paper since about 2013. Having played with black and white prints of OpenStreetMap via InkAtlas (and having reproductions of old B&W Ordnance Survey map) I can say that stripping out the colour information is hard, and really degrades the map; the old maps had less information than equivalents at similar scale, but were also less clear.

The reason you can't find a device with a GPS chip is that most e-ink Android devices are designed as e-book readers with some tablet functionality, and not as full-featured tablets or phones. The only device I've seen that definitely has a GPS and E-ink is the HiSense A5, which is apparently very hard to get hold of outside China. HiSense announced a colour version at CES, but it remains to be seen whether you'll be able to get your hands on one.

Trying to add GPS to an existing device is likely to be problematic, as most phones and many tablets already have a chip on board. This means that there's not much of a market for add-on devices, and they're unlikely to be fully supported

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    BTW I also use offline mapping on a phone, as a bike computer; the sunlight readability of e-ink would be a big advantage as well. When I navigate on my phone while hiking, it's easy to turn the screen on only when needed, but when I need to see the map on the bike I often need both hands on the bars, and certainly couldn't unlock the screen. – Chris H Jan 16 at 14:18
  • Russian made Yota phone also have dual e-ink display. Company is in bad shape so get one on amazon before it is gone? – Bogdan Jan 17 at 15:22
  • @Bogdan now that's an interesting idea - a primary LED screen and a secondary e-ink. I wonder what app compatibility is like for the second screen: the description on Amazon suggests it's (mainly) for notifications. Also with both being touchscreens interference from touching the back screen might be an issue – Chris H Jan 17 at 16:02
  • AFAIK, they do have some reading and wall paper app and that's about it. It is not designed to work as a kindle with GPS (which could be a niche item for all the guys out there in Siberia). The battery life is 2 days max on energy saver mode. I am surprised that there is no company thought a ham radio with e-ink gps will be a nice item for trekkers. – Bogdan Jan 20 at 22:32

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