Why giant e-ink screens like Boox Note Air’s are my underrated favorite technology

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Dan Ackerman / CNET

It’s not a secret I think E Ink is one of the least used gadget features. Right now it feels especially useful because having glued to screens more than ever for the past year, our exhausted eyeballs need a break. One way to take that break (besides reading a real Dead Tree book) is to read on an e-ink display, which can be easier on the eyes, especially at night.

A fascinating example of this technology that I’ve been using lately is this Onyx Boox Note Air, one of the few larger screens E-ink readers that will appeal to both book readers and note-takers.

E Ink is great for reading in long form and is great for taking notes. It’s a real shame that the only e-ink product most people have ever seen is the Amazon Kindle, a thoroughly specialized device that does one thing really well but has its limitations. The 6 inch screen of the normal Kindle is painfully small (at least at my age). The Kindle oasis is a bit bigger, but even at 7 inches it is quite small. Amazon previously sold a 9.7-inch widescreen Kindle called the Kindle DX, but it was short-lived and expensive, costing $ 490 when it launched in 2009.

The Boox Note Air doesn’t do much to improve the price. At $ 480, it’s still a lot more than a simple iPad or Kindle Oasis. To do this, it combines a 10.3-inch e-ink display with the Android 10 operating system, including the Google Play Store. That gives it an advantage over that Noteworthy 2, a similarly priced 10.3-inch e-ink reader.

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The Kindle app on the Booz Note Air, next to the Kindle Oasis. Note that these screens appear much closer to the naked eye in color temperature.

Dan Ackerman / CNET

Add the most important reading apps

You can download the official Kindle app from the Google Play Store and access your Kindle library on the Boox. This is not possible on the ReMarkable 2 unless you manage to crack the encryption of Amazon files and convert the e-books to PDF. Because of this, it is used more as a note, drawing, and PDF reader.

In addition to the Kindle app, you can run the Kobo and Nook apps on the Boox Note Air, as well as most other e-book apps. I’ve also tried a handful of popular Android apps, including TikTok and YouTube, and I think you could say they technically worked, but the limitations of the E Ink screen, especially its refresh rate, mean most of them won’t read Apps are only proof of concept. It is also noteworthy that if the Boox encounters an error the first time you log into the Google Play Store, follow the advice here, it worked for me.

The Boox Note Air runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 processor, which can also be found in some Amazon Fire HD tablets. It’s fast enough using one of the few apps optimized for e Ink. The other parts of the Boox ecosystem – the menu, the screen responsiveness, the refresh rate – don’t make it look very snappy overall.

But I think that’s okay. A great reading experience should be measured, not rushed.

Reading through the Kindle app on the Boox’s 227 points-per-inch HD screen was a treat, especially when compared to reading on a cramped Kindle or Kindle Oasis screen. The front light has two controls for brightness and color temperature, because without a light source you can’t see an E Ink display in the dark. I prefer the Oasis’ physical back and forth side buttons, but swiping through the pages with my finger was fine on this larger screen.

There’s also a built-in note-taking app that allowed me to use an included pen with surprisingly no lag. I was able to do the same simple freehand sketching that I usually do to test a touchscreen device with a pen, like the Apple Pencil or the Microsoft Surface Pen. The display’s matte coating makes writing and sketching feel like pulling on paper that so many glossy screens are missing. That was through the included Notes app – I had less luck with third-party sketching apps.

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Sketch with the pen provided.

Dan Ackerman / CNET

But ignore almost all other apps

There are many icons and menus and sub-categories in the Boox Note Air’s user interface. I enjoyed the device after getting used to blocking out all visual noise and focusing on what it’s really good at.

Like me, you probably want to read books (through your favorite e-reader app) and maybe sketch with your pen or take notes. That’s all. Everything else is noise. There is a “Store” tab which basically gives you access to free, public domain e-books in the Project Gutenberg style. Thank you I think. Yes, you can try calculating a tip using the calculator app or sending an email using the email app. But all of this will be a lot less frustrating on literally any other device you own.

In contrast to a Kindle, the performance of the wake-from-sleep function varies greatly. Sometimes it’s almost instantly. Leave it overnight or longer and I had to press and hold the power button to wake it up, which was a poor comparison to my Kindle Oasis which could wake up anytime.

Boox included a nice woven case for my sample device that is usually sold separately for $ 40. Together, the tablet, stylus, and case weigh only about 1.5 pounds (680 g), and according to Boox, the battery should last up to four weeks on a single charge. But that will change a lot depending on how much you use the device and what level you have set the built-in light to.

I’ve always wanted a big, simple e-ink screen for reading in the Kindle app and other e-book sources, and now I have one that works really well. It also costs almost as much as a PlayStation 5 or two of Amazon’s 7-inch Kindle Oasis readers. So you have to decide if the bigger screen and Android extras are worth it.



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