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CES 2021: Why this new Android tablet is great news for comic book fans

TCL NXTPAPER
(Image credit: TCL)

The TCL NXTPAPER was officially announced at CES 2021, and it’s an interesting piece of tech in its own right: the first electronic ink-like device with a color screen, a combination that’s both easier on the eyes over long periods and is a bit more battery-friendly than traditional tablets with LCD screens. All that adds up to what could be the best device yet… for reading comics.

Comics, comic books, ‘the funny pages,’ sequential art – they’re a seminal part of the modern media landscape, and the source material for the superhero film genre that’s dominated cinemas for the last decade-plus. And yet, reading digital versions of comics has been a righteous pain: given their full-page A4-size format (roughly the dimensions of ruled paper), they don’t really fit on the screens of modern phones or computers. 

Conversely, they’re great to read on tablets, which offer the best screen area for reading complete pages at a time, as comics were intended to be read. (Well, technically two pages at a time for those wide spreads, but digital beggars can’t be choosers.) Yet draining a powerful tablet’s battery to read static pages feels like overkill akin to taking a sportscar to the grocery store. 

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The ereader for comics?

The TCL NXTPAPER tablet could be a better solution to reading digital comics, in the same way that ereaders are a far more efficient way to read digital books. Part of this is battery: the NXTPAPER display tech, which TCL debuted at IFA 2020, is “more than 65% more power-efficient than a typical LCD,” according to a press release

We expect that the NXTPAPER’s 5,500mAh battery could last a lot longer than other modern tablets when it comes to displaying single pages, especially since its ‘standby time’ will keep it powered for 400 hours, or just over 16 days if left unattended. It won’t last much longer when playing video, and should only last around 11 hours when streaming shows over WiFi. Static images, however, should take serious advantage of the screen’s efficiency.

But the NXTPAPER’s best asset is a subtle one: its eponymous electronic ink-like technology makes its display allegedly very easy on the eyes, and TCL claims the screen emits zero blue light or flicker. In short, comics readers will be able to churn through issue after issue, trade paperback after trade paperback, and their eyes shouldn’t get nearly as tired as they would staring at a traditional tablet. Nor will it keep them awake longer as there isn’t any blue light.

Heck, it could even display comics truer to they look on real pages, given the NXTPAPER's screen, which TCL describes as 'paper-like' – suggesting it's a bit more textured and less glossy than the reflective glass atop bright LCD displays on most of today's tablets.

There is an enormous caveat here: the NXTPAPER tech, like a lot of early e-ink ereaders, has no backlight. Thus, it relies entirely on atmospheric light, and as any 80s or 90s kid scrambling for nearby illumination to play their Nintendo Game Boy at night can attest, this is a tall order in some circumstances. TCL has pledged to include a standalone light with each purchase of a NXTPAPER that clips to it and runs off its battery, but this is essentially a problem modern devices solved long ago.

TCL NXTPAPER

(Image credit: TCL)

NXTPAPER: a home reading champion?

If you’re reading comics in the digital age, however, there’s a good chance you’re doing so in your home, mainlining trade paperbacks from ComiXology or Marvel Unlimited, and the NXTPAPER seems like it could be a great companion to those who read their favorite funny pages on a mobile device – whether on the go (in well-lit transit) or nestled at home. 

And it should be said that the NXTPAPER is a respectable tablet in its own right, with an 8.8-inch HD IPS (1440 x 1080) display with 60Hz refresh rate – enough to watch YouTube videos or a show here and there. It also packs an 8MP rear camera and 5MP front camera, 64GB of storage (expandable to 256GB with a microSD card up to 256GB) and 4GB of RAM. It runs Android 10, which is fine, if not impressive.

The TCL NXTPAPER isn’t as cheap as an ereader – it’ll go on sale globally for €349 (around $424 / £313 / AU$549) in April 2021 – but at that price, you could seriously stack it up against the Apple iPad and other mainstream tablets to weigh your needs. We’ve yet to hear exact prices or a release date for the US, UK or Australia.

Given comics fans’ digital comics options are awkwardly reading it on their computer, draining the battery on their tablet, or struggling to see it on their smartphones, the TCL NXTPAPER is an intriguing fourth choice. It’s a device that’s aimed at students, but could just as easily benefit the comics fan poring through their Wednesday stack auto-downloaded to their ComiXology account.