December 5, 2022

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Onyx Boox Nova Air C review: Color e-ink on an ambitious tablet

Onyx Boox Nova Air C review: Color e-ink on an ambitious tablet

Some people use chamomile tea, others use breathing exercises, but for me, the most reliable approach to falling asleep quickly is to avoid screens before bed. However, doing so actually requires some creativity if I want to keep up with the news online. My current system includes saving articles in Read Later Instapaper, which sends a daily summary to my Kindle every evening. But it is an extreme method where often the articles are not formatted properly and sometimes they do not appear at all.

I can switch to Kobo, who offers Native integration with the rival Pocket Read Later appbut the Onyx Box Nova Air C It offers a more exciting alternative. Unlike the Kindle or Kobo, the E Ink screen is capable of displaying colors, and it runs a modified version of Android that allows you to download and run a variety of applications beyond reading e-books. It opens the door to many reading later apps as well as full-fledged word processors and third-party note-taking software. It even includes a pen for handwritten notes.

in $420It’s pricey compared to Amazon’s Kindle, which often costs well under $200. But that price brings you closer to an Android tablet than an e-reader. It’s a shame that the full package doesn’t deliver on the full promise.

The Onyx Boox Nova Air C is a modest device, with large bezels around its 7.8-inch screen and an overall plastic build. The power button is on the top left, while the USB-C port is on the bottom along with a pair of speakers facing downward. It’s almost as bad as I expected, but it’s better than nothing. (Not included in Amazon’s Kindles for years.) Internally, the Nova Air C is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 662 processor combined with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage.

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The main attraction here is the E Ink color screen. The Nova Air C is equipped with E Ink’s Kaleido Plus display, which uses a color filter layer on top of a typical E Ink panel to render 4,096 colors. This approach comes with some obvious drawbacks. For starters, the monitor can’t display color content at the same black and white resolution, so while the screen reaches 1404 x 1872 in black and white (300 dpi), it is limited to 468 x 624 (100 dpi) when showing color. Even so, colors are more muted than what you get even from a cheap LCD panel, whose color gamut can be counted in the millions – not in the thousands. My ex-colleague Sam Byford described the colors on a similar kaleidoscope pocket book color Like “a newspaper that vanished over the course of a few days,” which seemed like a very apt description of the Nova Air C.

Book covers (shown here in the Kindle app) particularly benefit from added color.

The monitor may have difficulty handling complex color images.

However, even a basic color is better than no color at all. Nova Air C colors may look faded and low-resolution, but the core of the image remains – unlike Kindle, where color photos look broken. I was almost like using a kaleidoscopic screen to watch a foreign movie with subtitles; You miss out on a lot of subtlety, but you can still basically understand what you’re looking at.

I briefly tried watching the video on the Nova Air C screen via YouTube, but I don’t recommend it. Content looks incredibly choppy thanks to the screen’s low refresh rate, colors look washed out, and there’s a great deal of ghosting. You can see what happens in a pinch, but I’d rather watch the video literally on any other screen.

Despite the color, the tablet retains the advantages of the E Ink screen. I had no problem reading the Nova Air C in bright sunlight, and with a small increase in screen brightness, I was also able to read it in low light before bed without eye strain. The battery life is just as impressive as any other e-reader. I’ve been using the tablet on and off for 2 months better, and its battery level is still 55 percent.

However, part of the reason for this impressive life is likely due to the Nova Air C’s robust power management settings, which, by default, sees the tablet completely turned off if you haven’t used it for just 15 minutes. This could mean waiting about 27 seconds for the tablet to turn on each time you want to use it. I’d suggest adjusting the “power failure timeout” in the settings for a day or even two days, which will allow the laptop to wake up in a few seconds when you want to use it. But be prepared to sacrifice a little battery life for this increase in responsiveness.

Taking notes is easy on the built in app.

Booting from a full shutdown can take some time.

The highlight of the Onyx Boox Nova Air C is the built-in note-taking app. Handwriting notes look great with the included stylus, with pen strokes appearing on screen almost instantaneously and 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity providing plenty of versatility. There are a variety of different brush styles and colors, and the program can try to copy your handwriting into typed text and even emojis.

Character recognition worked well in limited cases but struggled with long passages. Once written, it’s easy to export notes to a PDF or PNG file by simply scanning the QR code with your smartphone or sharing it to another app on your tablet. All of this makes the Nova Air C a great handy note-taking device.

But trying to use the tablet like a traditional e-reader is more complicated, and you’ll have to jump through more loops than competing devices like the Kindle. Although the Nova Air C technically comes with a “store” built in, in practice it seemed to be filled with mainly public domain work, and I couldn’t find any recent books I would have liked to read.

This leaves you with a few other options. You can download e-books from anywhere else on the internet and then Transfer it to your tabletIt supports a good range of file types, including PDF, ePub, TXT, RTF, and MOBI. But when I actually purchased an ePUB from eBooks.com and tried to upload it to Nova Air C, I found out that it doesn’t support Adobe DRM that the store uses. (The only DRM the e-reader supports is China-focused JD DRM.)

Fortunately, Onyx uses a heavily modified version of Android 11 as software on the Nova Air C, which means you’re not limited to using the built-in software. You can download and install most apps from the Play Store as if you were using any other Android tablet, including, basically, Amazon’s Kindle app. Setting up Google Play Services on the device is a bit of a weird process that requires you to do it Hop through a couple of weird hoops. But once I was built, it was relatively easy to take advantage of my pre-existing Kindle library. While I was there, I downloaded two more Android apps: Instapaper to read all the web articles I select to read later over the course of my day; obsidian for taking notes; and Comixology for reading comics.

It is entirely possible to download the Kindle app and use it along with other Android apps.

When the text is monochrome, the text is nice and accurate.

This is what I hoped would be the superpower of Nova Air C: the ability to download and install any Android apps I wanted.

Take notes. The Nova Air 2 comes with a decent blogging app that works very well with the stylus. But it works less well for typed notes, which is what you might want to do if you have a Bluetooth keyboard to pair with your tablet.

So, instead, you downloaded a note-taking app obsidian. It worked well, as it allowed me to write notes much faster than I could write them by hand. And unlike using my laptop or phone, I can happily do it late at night without having to look at a bright screen. You can use any word processing or note-taking program you can think of – as long as it has an Android app. It is also possible to download alternative stylus compatible apps, but my experience was a bit poor. OneNote worked well, but INKredible felt sluggish with the Onyx stylus.

I was also able to get Instapaper up and running with minimal hassle. I had full access to all my saved articles and was ready for me to read them without having to go through the difficult syncing process that Instapaper’s Kindle integration required. Comixology worked well for reading comics, but the screen was so low on resolution and small that it felt like I was getting the most out of the experience.

But, pretty quickly, I started having issues with these apps that were clearly never designed with e-ink screens in mind. You can control apps on the Nova Air C with a combination of taps and swipes, just as you would on any other Android tablet. But the E Ink display is so much less responsive than the 60Hz LCD or OLED screens found on most other Android devices that it’s hard to “feel” your way in each app. You cannot swipe halfway to check what a full swipe might do; You have to totally commit and I hope you got it right.

Things look a lot better when you start using the physical buttons to control the tablet, which is made possible by Onyx’s Nova Air Magnetic case. Not only does this add a protective cover to the tablet, but it also includes a pair of physical volume buttons, which many reading-focused Android apps allow you to reset page-turning controls. If you are going to get the Nova Air C, I highly recommend getting this case. It’s sold separately from the tablet for $59.99, which makes it a bit pricey given its necessity.

Optional pouch and pen included.

The 7.8 inch screen looks like a nice size.

I had high hopes for the Onyx Boox Nova Air C. I wanted her to be able to do everything: read books; read articles online; And it acts as a repository for all my notes — all in a form factor that I can happily use late at night without eye strain.

And yes, she can actually do all of those things. But the more I demanded from the tablet, the more I felt the E Ink screen squeak under pressure. E-ink panels are more than responsive enough to read books with software designed specifically with them in mind. But put an app designed for a 60Hz touch screen, and it can be hard to use. Packing so much functionality means that the Nova Air C struggles to match the simple Kindle when it comes to simply being able to open it up and start reading right away. You have to choose the app, and maybe the book first.

I wanted a lot of the Nova Air C, and at $450, I think it’s reasonable to expect it. Kindles from Amazon cost almost half what Onyx orders, and you can even get a replacement e-reader with it PocketBook Color Screen for $234. Or, if your priorities are less about getting an E Ink screen and more about getting tablet functionality, you can get an iPad Mini with an 8.3-inch screen for $499 or a base-tier iPad with a 10.2-inch screen for $329. None of these devices will tick all the boxes. But, again, Nova Air C didn’t.

Photo by John Porter/The Verge