InkCase i7 Plus brings a second screen to Apple's flagship iPhone

What's better than the screen on an 7 Plus? Two screens! The idea behind the InkCase i7 Plus from Oaxis is to provide your phone with protection and a second screen on the back of the case. That screen uses e-ink technology to provide a beautiful grayscale image without the need for backlighting, so it can display photos, ebooks, your favorite RSS fees, or even information widgets. The InkCase i7 Plus is currently on Kickstarter and has already more than doubled its funding goal, so you can expect to get one in August of 2017 if you support the campaign. 

Design

I tested a prototype InkCase i7 Plus and was impressed with the design. The case is quite protective, using Bubble Pro shock protection. The great thing about the i7 Plus case? It's IP67 waterproof, so although it contains electronics to display the second screen and "talk" to the iPhone 7 Plus, you can splash it with water or even drop it in a lake temporarily without fear of hurting the phone or the case. 

The paper-white e-ink display of the InkCase i7 Plus, showing the e-reader app in the bright Colorado sunshine. Photo ©2017, Steven Sande

The paper-white e-ink display of the InkCase i7 Plus, showing the e-reader app in the bright Colorado sunshine. Photo ©2017, Steven Sande

Unlike the iPhone's usual display, the e-ink screen is perfect for reading in bright sunlight. That makes it usable for reading ebooks or stored web pages when you're enjoying the great outdoors. It's a 5.2-inch display with a resolution of 540 x 960 pixels at 217 dpi, and the case has a weight of just 80 grams (2.82 ounces). On the side of the case there's a power button, while three touch buttons on the bottom of the screen allow navigation through media on the device. 

The InkCase i7 Plus uses Bluetooth 4.0 BLE to communicate with the free InkCase app. That app provides the ability to pull in photos and convert them to the grayscale required for display, set up widgets, download ebooks and more. At the present time the ebooks include ePub and txt formatted documents; Oaxis is reportedly working on PDF compatibility.

Recharging of the InkCase i7 Plus is done with a provided USB cable that has a magnetic link so that it snaps right to the correct terminals on the bottom of the case. One charge is good for 5 days of standby usage; just to be safe I recharged the case every day, which took about 2 hours.

Visible in bright sunlight? Absolutely! Photo ©2017, Steven Sande

Visible in bright sunlight? Absolutely! Photo ©2017, Steven Sande

Function

This isn't the first InkCase that I've tried, having reviewed one a few years ago for TUAW. The quality and function of the new case is lightyears beyond the earlier cases, and the addition of the touch buttons on the display make it easy to navigate through multiple screens while the older models had to be entirely updated through the iPhone app.

The display is not backlit so it's difficult to read in dim conditions. But take it out into bright sunlight and that's where it really shines. When displaying black text on a paper white background, it's perfect for reading and can really replace having to have an Amazon Kindle with you for reading around the pool. 

Pairing is done through the app rather than through the Bluetooth settings, and once the case is powered up (press the side button for five seconds) it briefly displays a 4-character hexadecimal code that identifies the device. That device number shows up in the app when you search for the device, and pairing is instantaneous. 

The case is quite stiff, and if you're the type who likes to try a lot of different cases, then this probably isn't for you. It takes some effort to take the InkCase off of the iPhone once it's installed, and you're warned to not bend it in order to avoid damaging the e-ink display. 

Black cats look great on an e-ink display! Photo ©2017, Steven Sande

Black cats look great on an e-ink display! Photo ©2017, Steven Sande

The touch buttons on the display are different from the multi-touch display of the iPhone and take a little getting used to, but I found that once I realized how I needed to tap them, I was able to navigate quite easily. A double-tap on the central "Menu/Enter Button" displays a small menu bar of icons that show photos, ebooks, reader lists, or widgets. Once one of those icons is selected, tapping once on the Menu Button shows other options, which are selected by tapping the left or right touch buttons to highlight an option, then tapping the Menu Button to select it.

The InkCase display is actually quite cool; you can display one of a number of your favorite photos, download and read ePubs, and (through a Paper account) look at RSS feeds. The widgets are also quite useful, as you can display your daily Reminders or weekly calendar on the back of your iPhone 7 Plus and even see how you're doing with your activity goals through integration with the Health app.

One of the widgets, showing calendar appointments and current weather. Photo ©2017, Steven Sande

One of the widgets, showing calendar appointments and current weather. Photo ©2017, Steven Sande

The photos in this post show just how nice the display is in full sunlight, and the second screen is very handy. Whether that extra display is worth the eventual US$159 price tag or the Kickstarter discounted price of $99 is up to the user. 

Conclusion

Compared to earlier InkCases, the InkCase i7 Plus shows a lot of improvement in both the display, the usability, and the accompanying app. The InkCase i7 Plus definitely offers protection for your iPhone 7 Plus, and the second screen is definitely icing on the cake! If you're thinking about getting one, get it during the Kickstarter to get the $60 "discount" before the InkCase i7 Plus goes to regular retail pricing.

Apple World Today Rating (out of 5 stars): ★★★★★