I’ve been an avid eink consumer since 2009, when I got my first kindle.
But to summarize why I went with another brand and will never go back to Kindle:
- Screen size. Kindles are have 6-inch screens except for the Oasis which is slightly larger. This is a great size for carrying around in your pocket, but not ideal for reading at home. And pretty much useless for reading PDFs or anything that is trying to display code. The Nova Pro’s 7.8-inch screen improves upon that markedly.
- Kindle supports:
- AZW3, AZW, TXT, PDF, MOBI, PRC natively (plus AAX for Audible audiobooks). Anything else needs to be converted.
- Boox devices natively support:
- PDF, ePub, MOBI, Doc, Docx, Docm, TXT, DjVu, FB2, HTML, CHM, AZW, AZW3, FBZ, ODT,PRC, RTF, SXW, TRC , JPG, PNG, BMP, TIFF, CBR, CBZ. Not to mention audio formats such WAV, MP3 and probably several others.
- The big one here is ePub. This is pretty much the defacto standard for ebooks outside the Kindle universe. So the fact that Amazon decided not to natively support it just shows how much the Kindle is not a general purpose ereader, but a device for purchasing and consuming Amazon content.
- Kindle supports:
- Applications. Beyond reading books, the Kindle has a web browser. Boox devices are Android devices and you can install pretty much any app from the Google Play Store. I say this one with some caution. An eink device is not a general use tablet and your experience with most apps will not be great. I mainly use it for additional reading and file management/syncing applications. More on this below.
- The Stylus. Being able to annotate any book directly with the stylus and write notes and sketch in the standalone notes app is fantastic.
- The User Interface. A double edged sword here.
- The Boox main UI is a list or grid of the content on your device, which is great. There are all kinds of ways to view, sort, filter and organize your library on the device. You also have your notes, apps, settings, storage, etc. While you are in a book, there are options to do just about anything imaginable. An almost overwhelming array of settings, formatting and flow options, navigation, lists of annotations, notes, highlights, TOC, even various split views with different uses. But you can also make all those go away and have absolutely nothing but your book’s text visible. It’s all about choice, but some might find all the settings too confusing.
- The Kindle UI is super minimal. Pretty minimal customization of anything and a settings menu. But what bothers me more is that the main Kindle UI has evolved to become an Amazon storefront. The latest default UI will show you the latest 2-3 books you’ve read, but most of the page shows other books in the Kindle store you might want to buy. And this is even if you’ve paid extra to opt out of “special offers” advertising.
- To generalize, if you’re a Mac or iOS fan, you might like the Kindle’s minimal UI better. If you’re a Windows, Android, or even worse, a Linux user (like me), the Boox UI might be heaven.
Boox Note Air
So I’ve loved my Boox Nova Pro for two and a half years now. I’ve read well over 100 books on it. While I’ve enjoyed the 7.8-inch screen, I started eyeing the larger Note Air model with its 10.3-inch screen, and finally went forth and purchased one several weeks ago. Since lockdown, I’ve mostly been reading at home, so the portability aspect was less of an issue. I absolutely love this new device. It’s a great size for technical/code books or PDFs, as well as manga or comics. And just for general reading purposes, having a large screen full of text without needing to turn the page quite as often is great.
Also, the note taking experience on the larger screen is so much better. I’m using it quite a bit during meetings and interviews to take handwritten notes. It’s really very useful for that purpose. It’s also great for sketching out ideas for creative code projects or working out trig, algebra or other math or geometry problems.
The size is also not bad for taking on the train when I’m doing my once-a-week office commute. No worse than the iPads or other tablets a lot of people are using.
But it’s not quite as good for carrying around in other situations. Even the Nova Pro is not pocket-able. So I wound up often sticking my Kindle Paperwhite in my pocket when I went out to walk the dog. On weekends, she’ll walk for a mile or so and then find somewhere comfortable to lie down for a while and watch the people or dogs that go by for 20 minutes or so. This led to the …
The Poke 3 is the Onyx Boox 6-inch model.
Why I bought this:
First, it has the exact same size screen as Kindle (6-inch) but is significantly smaller and even more pocket-able.
All the other great Boox features mentioned, minus the note taking ability. That’s fine with me. I really only use this on the go, or maybe reading in bed, since it’s so light and easy to hold.
So yes, I now have four working eink ereader devices. A bit crazy, I know. But I’m really down to just the Poke 3 and Note Air in daily use. As I said, the Poke 3 is good to throw in my pocket when I’m on the go. If I have a few minutes to spare, I can read a page or two of my current book. The Note Air is for home reading, research, studying, note taking, planning, etc.
At this point, the Nova Pro is pretty much out of commission. It works fine, but it’s slow in comparison to the newer devices. And is stuck on Android 6, where the new ones are on Android 10. But mostly because of its middle-of-the-road form factor. It’s a great compromise if you only have one device. It’s the best of both worlds, but it’s also the worst of both worlds if you have both a 6-inch and a 10.3-inch model. I’ll probably end up giving the Nova Pro away to some friend of family member who I know will appreciate it.
Software / Workflow
As I said, I don’t think of these devices as general use Android tablets, in spite of the fact that they can run pretty much any Android app. Most of the apps I use are specifically for getting reading content on the device and managing that content. The apps I use:
- Dropbox. I can throw any random file on my Dropbox and grab it from the device.
- Goodreads. For keeping track of what books I’ve read, am reading and want to read, reviewing, etc.
- Pocket. I can add any web page to Pocket and read it later on the device.
- Solid Explorer. Just another file manager that’s a bit better than the built in one.
- Dropsync (aka Autosync for Dropbox). I’ll dive into this one more below.
Other apps I’ve used in the past include the Kindle Android app, and other third party reader apps such as Moon Reader. A lot of people say they prefer Moon Reader to the built in reader app. It’s a matter of preference. I like the built in one.
You can install other proprietary apps like Google Books, Kobo, Nook, etc. if your content is locked in those ecosystems.
As for games, I think some simple games on the level of Sudoku, crosswords, logic or word puzzles might give a good experience on eink devices, but I haven’t tried any. I’d avoid any fast moving, animated, reflex-dependent games though.
People often ask about video. And yes, you can view animations and even Youtube videos in the browser on eink devices. You can even install the Youtube or other video apps. The videos do play and to be honest, I was surprised at how much it didn’t suck. If I was in a pinch and had to watch some video and only had my ereader with me, it would work. But I’m usually nearby multiple other devices that would provide a much better viewing experience and would almost always default to those.
This is the tool I use to manage the content on these devices. I keep all my books in a folder in my Dropbox account. Dropsync allows you to sync that folder with a folder on your device. There are various sync options. I use two-way mirroring so any change I make on the device or the cloud gets picked up in both directions. When I get a new book, I add it to the Dropbox books folder and sync my two active Boox devices and everything is the same in all locations. If I decide to delete a book, I can delete it anywhere and eventually it will go away in all.
Pocket is a great app for saving a web page to be read later on the device (or anywhere for that matter). But I find myself using a different method these days.
I use Firefox. It has a built in “Reader View” button that does a function available in a lot of third-party apps including Pocket – stripping out all the ads and banners and other crap and just showing you the text and main images of the article itself. I’m don’t know if Chrome has something similar, but I know there are extensions that will do the same thing. I click on the button and then print the page. The print function defaults to saving as a PDF. I save the PDF to an “Articles” directory in my Dropbox. And I added a sync job to Dropsync to sync that folder with my devices as well as my main books folder.
It’s a couple of extra clicks and a manual sync, but I like that I now have a standalone PDF on my device that I can use with the built-in reader app. I can annotate it, bookmark it, manage it in the device’s library, etc. as opposed to being stuck in the Pocket app UI.
Thoughts on Color Eink
Cool, but not for me. Onyx has a Nova Pro color model. I think it would be great for color manga / comics, but not much else, and I don’t read a lot of that. Color notes would be OK, but not something I’d go out of my way to get. For me, the simplicity of black and white (or grayscale in fact) is perfect for my reading and note taking tasks.
Sciencey Stuff about Eink
There’s lots of discussion about eye strain and blue light and its affects on your brain and your sleep patterns. These are used to claim that eink is much healthier for you. I don’t pay much attention to those. People will point to studies, but you can find a study that “proves” whatever you believe these days. Show me multiple studies that have been peer reviewed and reliably replicated by multiple independent teams and I’ll start to listen.
In terms of blue light being harmful, I highly doubt that your traditional screens are burning your retinas out with blue light. You get way more blue-wavelength light from five minutes in the sun than you’ll get all day from your iPad. I’m somewhat more likely to believe that blue light could disrupt your sleep habits if you get a lot of it late at night, but I’m still skeptical of that too. If you’re watching TV or playing on your PS4 or XBox from 8-11pm, I don’t think that switching from an iPad to eink for that last 30 minutes of bedtime reading is going to make a huge difference in your sleep patterns.
I personally still like reading on eink way better than on a traditional tablet or phone screen though. I can be comfortable and remain focused way longer. Whether there’s science behind that, which applies to everyone, or whether it’s just my preference, I don’t know and don’t worry about.
Eink as a Monitor
Since the Boox devices support Bluetooth, you can hook up a mouse and keyboard and use the tablet as a sort of black and white computer.
Apparently, you can even use the larger Boox devices as external monitors for a computer. I haven’t tried this on the Note Air as I hear it’s a bit hacky. But it’s an officially supported feature on the 13-inch models.
In fact, Onyx has come out with a dedicated 25-inch eink monitor, the Mira Pro.
I am not sure who the target market for these are. They are not cheap. Maybe editors, writers, anyone who deals with 100% text all day? Fascinating, but not any conceivable wish list of mine.
I only have experience with Kindles and Boox devices. And I’m very happy with all the Boox devices I have. I can’t speak to devices like the Likebook, Sony’s readers, Kobo devices, etc.
The Remarkable 2 seems to be pretty popular these days, but from all of what I read, it’s really a great note taking device that is able to display ebook files. Whereas the Boox devices are primarily great reading devices that have the ability to take notes. The latter fits my needs way more. Just do your research before making a decision.
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