The C++ logo, by Jeremy Kratz, licensed under CC0 1.0 Universal

E-Ink photo frame

Notes published the
5 - 6 minutes to read, 1255 words
Categories: assembly photo
Keywords: assembly battery photo power reuse

A digital photo phrame

Contrary to normal photo frames, a digital photo phrame can show multiple pictures.

It is a nice feature, I even have one in the drawer (it is more than 10 years old), and the main reason I’m not fonded is that it consumes electricity the whole time (granted, I did not measure how much).

Considering that I am not staring at it most of the time, keeping it on seems like a waste of energy.

A printed photo on the other hand does not consume anything after being printed.

E-ink photophrames

Turns out, there is a technology that does not consume anything for showing some content: e-ink displays

Using an e-reader for displaying pictures is not a new idea, on the contrary, there are a lot of homemade photo frames.

Some of those even load pictures from the internet, which again, seems wasteful to me. Much easier to load a ton of images once in a while instead of having a device that requires an internet connection, and thus consumes more energy and requires a more complex setup.

Dumb E-ink photohrame

I have a mostly unused Kindle (Wikipedia has a page with all models, very helpful for identifying it), so I’ve decided to put it in a photo frame.

I "unlocked" it years ago, so I am not sure what method I did use.

The Kindle Touch Hacking site on MobileRead Wiki has all the necessary information for unlocking the device.

After unlocking it, one can replace the default screensaver with a custom one.

Again, I do not remember which method I used, but I suppose the current approach should be good for everyone.

Then, it’s just deciding what images to put on the Kindle in the right folder.

Power off the kindle, put it into a frame…​ et voilà.

Works like a dumb photo frame.

Images do not switch, but it also does not consume the battery.

This means I can take it out of the frame after weeks, turn it on, and read a book.

It is surely better than leaving it in the drawer, at least I can look at it, and eventually manually change the picture from time to time (by turning it on and off).

Also having it in a visible location might remind me to take it out and read a book, in the drawer experience shows that it does not happen.

Interactive e-ink photo frame

Similar to the dumb photo frame, the device needs to be unlocked.

Thanks to Kual (the Kindle Unified Applications Launcher), which makes it possible to execute easily external programs, is it trivial to install the alternative ebook reader KOReader, which makes it possible to configure a Kindle device to show a given picture for a given time-frame.

First, disable the screensaver, this can be done by "searching" ~S from the kindle OS, or directly from KOReader. This means that the device will not go to sleep, and consume a lot more energy (as a reference, my device lasts a little more than a week as an interactive photo frame)

Open KOReader and enable the auto-turn page setting and open the first image in the directory with screensaver images.

Also, configure KOReader to open automatically the next file.

I did not see an option for rotating images, thus once it loads the last image in the folder, it won’t change anymore (be sure to add a lot of images).

Personally, I am not changing images more than once a day, so a dozen of images are already enough for nearly a couple of weeks.

Compared with smart devices

I cannot do a reasonable/accurate/complete comparison with some smart photo frames as the one I own is too old (it does not even require an internet connection), but compared with most smart devices, both described setups

  • work offline, they do not require any network

  • do not require creating an account of any sort

  • do not have automatic updates that might remove some functionality

  • the end-user has direct access to the data (the Kindle is recognized as a USB device, no SMTP protocol!)

  • There is no expiration date (except for programming bugs, is the OS for example year 2038-safe?)

  • it is probably as secure as it gets, as the device is air-gapped, either the attacker has physical access, or I need to upload a special handcrafted image to trigger some vulnerability

  • it helps to reduce electronic waste. The alternatives are me buying a new device as a frame, not having a frame, tossing the ebook reader away, giving it to someone else, or leaving it in the drawer till the end of time. Reusing it for something else, without even breaking the original use case, is the best possible outcome. (Actually, it is even better as KOReader improves the reading experience)

Unfortunately, it has some disadvantages compared to some ready-to-use devices.

The first is, that some assembly is required. You have to find a frame that is big enough, something to fill it so that the device does not move, and so on.

The second issue is that the instructions are not always clear (at least not until you have followed them one first time), and you might brick your device.

I cannot remember how I unlocked my device; also the ability to be able to unlock it might depend on the device model and software version.

There are many sources, and it is hard to tell which one is the most accurate (the MobileRead Wiki seems to be the most up-to-date).

There is also no mainstream support, the Kindle might be the most used e-reader, so it is relatively easy to find much information about it, but for other ebook readers, you might not be as lucky.

The last issue is that even once you have a working it is not ready to be used by most people.

I can imagine explaining to my siblings how to use my photo frame, but not to my grandparents. In the first setup (dumb photo frame) she needs to push the power button (for turning it on) and wait until something else appears, and then push the button a second time. With my current setup, the button is not easily reachable (I need to remove it from the frame), and also, why should she need to press the button twice? A better solution would be to add a physical button to the frame that does this job when pushed, but…​ it requires more assembly. Also, what happens when there is not enough power to turn it on again? Just take the ebook out of the frame and recharge it. Again, a more elegant solution would be to be able to recharge it without taking it out of the frame, more assembly is required.

The setup with Koreader is less problematic (except that, as far as I know, pictures do not rotate), but it requires electricity to work. If for some reason the device turns off, one needs to turn it on again, Koreader through KUAL, jump to the image folder (which can be set as the default folder, so this can be skipped), and then click on the first image. Unfortunately, a lot to do compared with some smart devices, after they have been set up the first time, and begin to show pictures after they have been turned on.


Do you want to share your opinion? Or is there an error, some parts that are not clear enough?

You can contact me anytime.