Onyx Boox Note Air - e-ink tablet with Wacom EMR

Discussion in 'eReaders' started by JoeS, Jan 16, 2021.

  1. JoeS

    JoeS I'm all ears Senior Member

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    After a few years with the pretty awesome Sony DPT-RP1 I decided to try a more powerful but smaller e-ink tablet, the Boox Note Air (10.3” screen size). There’s a lot to say, so I’ll just use this post to jot down some impressions, and I’ll probably update it as I learn more.

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    TL;DR: quite nice device, but lots of UI quirks so definitely a bit of a learning curve.

    Tips right off the bat for prospective and current owners:
    Check the Reddit Boox section.
    Check Voya’s YouTube channel “My Deep Guide”.

    Hardware:
    - very slick looking, unfortunately also slick feeling. Quite slippery
    - pretty dense, probably due to the glass front, metal case and sizable battery
    - pretty good writing feel even without screen protector
    - included pen doesn’t have an eraser button anywhere (wtf), but the eraser on standard Wacom EMR pens works. My X61 tablet pen works perfectly :)
    - USB-C. Nice!
    - backlight with adjustable blue/yellow balance.
    - no raised edges, entire front face is perfectly flat including the bezel
    - practical asymmetric design with single ‘long edge’ wide bezel. Becomes a pleasing symmetric ‘lower bezel’ when mounting it in the optional Bluetooth keyboard.
    - when mounted in the Bluetooth keyboard, you can’t reach the power button. D’Oh!
    - autorotation works well
    - there’s no biometrics, so get ready to use a PIN. Pretty unfortunate, because since this runs full android, you’re 99% likely to connect to some services that are private (e.g. email, google docs, OneDrive, etc.) so many people will want to password protect their Boox. The Note 3 does have a fingerprint reader, lower weight, more memory, more RAM, but doesn’t have the cool and practical asymmetric design. Tricky..
    - shows as external drive when plugged into PC, so you can easily drag and drop PDFs (you hear that, Sony?)
    - Pretty great battery life. A bit too early to tell, but I’d say easily a full day even going crazy using various apps and WiFi.

    Software:
    - Full Android 10, but hidden behind pretty non-intuitive UI/UX mess. I mean, it’s powerful and highly customizable, but it seems pretty ‘thrown together’, with settings ALL over the place in sub menu after sub menu. More on this later. Probably. :D


    Edit: if you’re having trouble deciding whether to get a Note 3 or Note Air, here’s a handy comparison table. Important point: Note Air has smooth glass front, Note 3 had a more ‘gritty’ plastic front, so presumably these might feel different. OTOH, see here for a helpful and to the point comparison video that concludes that there’s no significant difference between the experience with the Air and the Note 2 and 3.

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    Last edited: Jan 16, 2021
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  2. Marty

    Marty Pen Pro - Senior Member Senior Member

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    Could you comment on the inking experience and the best apps for note-taking and drawing?

    How does pen response compare with EMR on PC? Eg. diagonal jitter, fast-hatch hooking, fast-circle vectoring, and handwriting fidelity on small loops ("e", "o", "s").

    Compared with OneNote, what are the limitations in the built note-taking software? (Text-searching, PDF-import, overall snappiness, etc) Any stuff that the Android software does better?
     
  3. JoeS

    JoeS I'm all ears Senior Member

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    Ooh boy, that’s a lot of homework! Best app for PDF annotation so far: built in Neoreader. It’s fast and with pressure sensitive ink. You can use several built in ‘colors’ that show in color when viewing the files on a PC. Downside: no quick way to switch between different pen types, there’s only the active pen, and you ‘redefine it’ to change it, so e.g. “change to highlighter, change the color of the highlighter”. Can’t save a bunch of pens into a toolbar it seems.

    Writing experience: I’d say ‘true Wacom’. No fishhooks, pretty fast response in Neoreader. The screen is too slippery for my taste though.

    Diagonal lines (fast or slow) using a physical ruler come out pretty darned straight, really no significant staircasing to speak of. The slowly drawn diagonal line comes out maybe sliiightly wobbly compared to a fast line. It does do a ‘preview’ followed by a ‘render’ for all new text, but the end result looks good.

    Vectoring when drawing circles: I cannot get the dang thing to vector AT ALL, even as I circle like a crazy person. Again, this is in Neoreader, using the default pen setting, haven’t tried wide brushes. Pretty impressive.

    Confession time: I don’t take notes all that often. :eek: I mostly do markup on PDFs. Writing on OneNote Android is atrociously slow, just totally unusable, due to lack of optimization for e-ink. It’s a no-go. Other inking / writing apps from the Play Store are similarly terrible, so you’d better like the built in apps! I think the built in notes app is pretty full featured, even supporting layers, but I haven’t used it.
     
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  4. dellaster

    dellaster Non-Creative Plebe Senior Member

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    They probably feel the same because they both have glass on the front. The Note 3 might be flexible plastic, but it’s covered by anti-glare glass.

    The Mobius flexible screen with AG glass flat cover-lens can render the pen-to-paper writing feeling and glare-free view.
    https://www.boox.com/note3/

    And curses, @JoeS. I’m getting serious temptation for one of these. Last year’s 5 months of outdoor Kindle Paperwhite use during my motorcycle camping tour proved the value of e-ink, and this summer it looks I’ll be hosting for 3 months at a sunny National Park in Texas. A 10” Boox would be great not only when reading outside as I make myself visibly available for campers, but it could handily carry all the park brochures, trail maps, and rules. The campground map PDF could be annotated with vehicle & other info then erased for the next one. Etc.

    It’s possible to do it all with my iPad mini 5, if squint in the sun, hold it just right for others’ viewing, preferably in the shade, and recharge it during lunch ‘cause the battery level drops like a rock outdoors... It’s not fun.

    Yeah, I’m in the pre-buy rationalizations stage. :p
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2021
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  5. JoeS

    JoeS I'm all ears Senior Member

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    The second best stage, right after the post splurge stage. :D

    It's quite a good tablet, two things though:
    - if I were to be using this in the great outdoors I'd probably prefer something with a more grippy case, and perhaps less dense. The Note 3 might be better for totin' purposes. The Air feels perhaps more appropriate for "at a table right outside Starbucks" type outdoors.
    - the fact that it is a full tablet does really drive home the point how much e-ink is not like an LCD. The low redraw speed while auto rotating, scrolling etc is very noticeable.

    But: I love that it does everything. I just dumped a bunch of epub files on it via USB-C cable to my X1 Tablet, and they open super quickly in Neoreader. Looks great! My DPT-RP1 wouldn't touch anything but PDF, so this is a massive improvement.

    Also great, I still had two generic Wacom EMR stili from way back when, and unlike the Apple pencil with its $5 replacement tips, each of these came with like ten replacement tips. I found a tip type that feels and sounds like a far sharpie on paper. Pretty satisfying :)
     
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2021
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  6. dellaster

    dellaster Non-Creative Plebe Senior Member

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    Thanks for the tip!

    Pre-buy rationalization failed. It’s all too likely they’ll give me an enclosed clipboard, like the previous National Park I volunteered at, with a supply of relevant brochures & maps & a printed out campsite occupancy sheet that I need to turn in daily. The Boox would end up as just a very nice e-reader, for me, and while I would love to have one it wouldn’t justify the very high price. I already have a Kindle Paperwhite for e-reading outdoors and indoors the iPad mini 5 does everything well.
     
  7. JoeS

    JoeS I'm all ears Senior Member

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    Don't worry about it, usually rationalizations just need some time to truly sink in! :p
     
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  8. dellaster

    dellaster Non-Creative Plebe Senior Member

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    ... Or they need to come at me from a different angle. I can’t justify $500 or $600 for the Air or Note3, respectively (with case+tax), if they end up just being e-book readers. But $400 for the Nova3? It would actually work better for ebooks since I know a 9.7” e-ink tablet is too large for my taste: I owned a Kindle DX and always used the 6” Kindle instead. I eventually gave the DX to a friend since it was gathering dust.

    Right now I almost always use my iPad mini 5 7.9” instead of my Kindle 6” despite preferring e-ink. The mini’s size is perfect with Kindle app; the Kindle Paperwhite’s text is too cramped (they need a 3.5 text size—to me, 4 is too large and 3 too small, in any font I like, on the Paperwhite). I have been sorely tempted by the 7” Kindle Oasis for the size and color temp adjustments. And for a tolerable chunk more $$ than the Oasis I can get the iPad mini size (7.8”), e-ink, 300dpi, color temperature adjustment, Android 10, USB-C, and an EMR pen that has an eraser on the end. Too bad that there’s no silo, but there’s a pen holder in the case.

    I ordered from Amazon with the Ayotu case and a USB C to SD card adapter. $401.88 with California tax, free shipping. I should have it in hand Friday.

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    Last edited: Jan 17, 2021
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  9. JoeS

    JoeS I'm all ears Senior Member

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    That was fast!! :eek: Congrats, looking forward to hearing your first impressions.

    Posted from my Boox Note Air in Edge Android :)
     
  10. dellaster

    dellaster Non-Creative Plebe Senior Member

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    Well, added justification and need for speed is that it’s my birthday next week. ;)
     
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