Onyx Boox Note Air review 1/2 : hardware (english version)
The Nova 3 color incredibly disappointed me, so I sent it back and ordered a Note Air instead. This is the same kind of e-reader / tablet but with a big 10" screen and without color.
As I prefer to speak about a device I like, I had to review this new non color e-reader.
This is hands down the best built e-reader I have ever used. It's made of aluminium and glass and the only plastic parts are the orange lines housing the Wifi and Bluetooth antenas. The case is perfectly rigid and nothing moves under the fingers pressure, nothing squeaks either.
|No raised border, all the surface is even and made of matte glass|
There is only one button, on the left side. It's the power button with a small LED as a charging indicator. All the navigation is done with the touch screen and it works just fine. On the same side you will find a USB C port with On-The-Go capability where you can plug a USB C thumb drive (or use a small adapter) for file transfert. There are holes for the speaker and the microphone too.
|Side of the device showing speaker, mic, USB and power button|
As always design is a matter of taste. I absolutely love this two colors scheme, deep metal blue and bright orange touches. The slate is extremely thin and almost square with a margin on the side to let you handle it. Sides and corners are slightly rounded but not too much. This doesn't give an excessively soft and uninspired design common on most tablets. All the surface, handle included, is covered with a large plate of textured matte glass, with no border, nothing recessed and nothig sticking out. That's magnificent and it really feels premium.
|A classy and original design|
Handling, size and weight
On big e-readers, a handle on the side is more practical because it lets you maintain the device without covering part of the screen with your fingers. Screen rotation, automatic or manual, let you choose on what side you prefer to place this handle. On the right may be more convenient for left handed users, for example.
Having a tablet so thin is a blessing for note taking, this is much more comfortable. It gives an even more premium look to the device because we usually don't see tablets as thin as 5,8mm on all of their surface.
|Note Air & iPad Air|
The Note Air is a bit heavier than smaller e-readers made of plastic. It could somewhat disappoint people used to smaller devices or those with a wrist condition. However, at 420g, it's definitively not heavy at all. A big manga (perfect editions) can weight 400g and a hard cover comic can easily reach 1kg. 420g is perfectly normal and even very moderate for a book of this size. The bigger, the heavier, this is common sense.
|Manga perfect edition : 405g / Note Air : 420g / Donald comic : 997g|
The e- ink panel is 10,3" which is not so common for an e-reader and gives a very comfortable space. It's a bit more than an A5 format (a bit wider). As for e- ink quality this is the state-of-the art tech with a carta display. Definition is the same than on 7,8" models, making "pixels" a bit larger with a 227 dpi resolution instead of 300 dpi on 7,8 "displays. This relatively lower precision of the screen doesn't make a difference at all and doesn't balance the real estate gain offered by a 10,3" display. Anyway, with a larger tablet you usually tend to place it naturally a bit farther from your eyes.
|The Note Air is twice the screen real estate of a 7,8" device|
For note taking, this size is much better, giving you the feeling you are writing on a real notebook.
For reading novels, you could think it is quite useless except for those with bad sigh, but this size allows you to read on a 2 pages layout, which feels nice because it look much closer to a real paper book.
|You can show 2 pages side by side|
For mangas this is a game changer, definitively. This screen is exactly the size of a perfect edition (Kanzenban) and gives you a much better reading experience. You can even comfortably read the smallest texts and enjoy tiny details.
|Same size as a perfect edition manga|
Same for comics, it's absolutely better, 7,8"was too small anyway. However most comics are larger and even this rather big screen can feel a bit small from time to time.
Like for its other products (except the nova 3 color) Onyx Boox use an excellent frontlight system built on 2 sets of LEDs, the first one is cold white and the second one is very warm, amber. You can adapt as you want the level of each set to get a light more or less warm depending on the time of the day and the ambient light. Of course, each set can be off too. This is perfect because the amber LEDs doesn't emmit blue light which is so bad for your eyes and your sleep.
|Amber frontlight above and cold white under|
That being said, this e-ink pannel is as clear as possible with actual tech and you will need the frontlight only in dark conditions. Under usual light for work or for reading, you won't probably need it much.
Besides color temperature, the light is very even on the Note Air, no light leak, no cloudy background, on the contrary of the Kobo Forma, for example. This may seem of little importance but this kind of small detail can become annoying when you spend hours reading on a device...
The Note Air comes with an EMR stylus, the kind used on Wacom tablets. It simply works without battery and without charging and that's a lot more practical than the Apple Pencil which is completely unpractical in my opinion. It's pressure sensitive and is pleasant to use thanks to its thickness and texture. The tip is sharp and precise. There is no button or eraser. Older Onyx Boox devices had a thinner stylus with buttons but were less comfortable to use. The new one has less friction on the screen, which gives a not so good paper feeling but tend to make the pencil course smoother and faster.
|The stylus is so comfortable I wanna write many many names !|
The stylus has magnets to let you attach it on the right side of the tablet or on the handle on the left. Place it on this handle and the tablet will enter in sleep mode, remove it and it will wake up the device. This seems to be a good idea. Unfortunately it's completely ruined by the magnets that are too weaks to keep the stylus safely in place. You will better keep it in a separate case.
|The stylus barely stays in place on the side|
I have used the Note Air for only 2 weeks but the battery life is clearly very good, significantly better than on an iPad. Depending on your use, you should be able to run it for a week without charging. Of course, if you leave WIFI and bluetooth on all the time and have continuous mail and social networks sync ... you will use more energy.
Processing performance is rarely essential on an e-reader. Quite often, the slow e-ink display serves as an excuse to use very slow and outdated hardware on this category of devices. For reading text, that's fine but things tend to get ugly if you wanna read mangas and comics in high definition. In this case you may have to reduce the image size on a computer before sending the files to the device, like it's often the case on my PocketBook InkPad 3.
Fortunately there is no such thing on the Note Air as it's powered by a middle range Snapdragon SOC, with a reasonably good performance. The Note Air will display High definition CBR and CBZ without slowing down. Same if you open huge PDF files. All resizing and formatting actions will be fast. Changing fonts or even their size will be as fast.This is very satisfying if you compare with a common e-reader like the InkPad 3 which can take a while for this kind of basic operation.