Scott Hanselman

The quiet rise of E Ink Tablets and Infinite Paper Note Takers - reMarkable 2 vs Onyx Boox Note Air

June 08, 2021 Comment on this post [16] Posted in Reviews
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Onyx Boox Note AirThere's something happening in the E Ink space, somewhat quietly, but consistently. It's going to be interesting to see if it's a fad or if E Ink tablets are here to stay. I love my Amazon Kindle and I love its E Ink display. I'd say 90% of my reading in the last 5 years has been on a Kindle with E Ink. They are bright in direct sunlight, and the newer ones have color temperature settings. The starter Kindle is about $90 and you'll often find sales.

For mostly static content like books or magazines, E Ink is an amazing paper-like technology. We seem to be putting a huge amount of technology and work into creating displays to replace paper. First the look, and most recently the feel of writing on paper. These one page digital devices promise to act as Infinite Paper.

E Ink is easier on the eyes than OLED and iPads and the like. How does it work? The simple explanation is that there's tiny capsules of negatively charged black pigment and positively charged white pigment. We can apply negative or positive charge and the black or the white pigments will jump to the top. It's kind of like an Etch a Sketch, except with electricity rather than a surface covered in aluminum powder. These displays are as close to paper as you can get, today, digitally.

This week I did a LIVE Review of three really interesting "E Ink" tablets on my YouTube.

  • The reMarkable 2 - This is the second-gen reMarkable. It's a dedicated and distraction-free note taker. It has no browser, no apps to speak of, but an enthusiastic community of hackers and 3rd party projects. This device is NOT an iPad and if your first thought is, "but I have an iPad" then this isn't for you. However, if you like Moleskine notebooks and have filled many a year and your shelves are filled with many years' worth, then take a good look. This 10.3 inch unlit screen is the best device for taking notes, reading PDFs, and...taking notes. It's incredibly well built, feels high quality, is light but substantial, it doesn't warp or feel cheap. If you pair it with a their Marker Plus that includes an eraser, the feeling is top notch. It has a great Desktop App that also has a Beta "Live View" feature where you can share your screen in Teams or Zoom and see what you're writing on your reMarkable. There's so much potential here if they'd open up the APIs and integrate into things like OneNote, Teams, etc. I'd love to see someone be able to connect two of these and write as a shared whiteboard!
    -  One small downer, I did drop a Marker and it landed just right and broke off not just the tip (no big deal, it comes with a dozen replacements) but also the tiny hole the tip goes into (not replaceable). So, treat the pens with reverence.
  • Onyx Boox Note Air - This could pass for the reMarkable from a distance, but it's actually an Android 10 devices that can have Google Play added. Also 10.3" and E Ink but adds a backlight, this hybrid device is a note taker and PDF viewer until you are suddenly installing Microsoft Office or Netflix. The surreal part is that what the device thinks its displaying doesn't always jive with what is being displayed. For example, it's a black and white device, so some shading and subtleties are lost...but they are there, in video memory. That means you can easily share this Android Device's screen to your TV or monitor and it's...Android! There is some ghosting which is a feature, not a bug, but the Onyx Boox Note Air has a surprisingly large array of basically "ghosting display choices" that allow you to select the right balance between ghosting and eventual consistency. It takes a moment to figure out but it's quite good when dialed in. Combine the Note Air with a Bluetooth Keyboard and you've got an E Ink Word Processor. If you have $500 and can't decide between a reMarkable and a Boox Note Air, it comes down to the fact that the Note Air is Android. You're getting more functionality, if slightly less software policy. As a note taker, the polish of the reMarkable 2 is the winner. But the Note Air is the best general purpose E Ink Tablet.
    • Boox Nova3 ColorOnyx Boox Nova3 Color - This device is just 7.8" but has a color Kaleido Plus E Ink screen. COLOR E Ink is really something to see. Do check out my video review on YouTube - here's a link right to the color parts. It's not a rich deep marker type color, it's a muted older comic book type color...but it works. It adds something, and reading comics on it in Comixology is magical, albeit with some ghosting. This device is also Android so consider it a 2 inch smaller version of the Note Air. It's the "color iPad Mini" to the Note Air's "black and white iPad Pro."

reMarkable 2

Later this month I'll take a look at Supernote which already has a enthusiastic community and promises to have a rich API for 3rd parties to explore and expand.

E Ink and "E Paper" are becoming more prominent on sites like Kickstarter and IndieGogo. This India-based company called paperd.ink is creating a low power E-paper development board. The rise of inexpensive E-paper/E Ink displays along with ESP32s with WiFi is creating tiny low power computers that blur the user's perception of what a Microcontroller can do.

What are your thoughts and opinions about E Ink? Will your next tablet be an E Ink display?

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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June 14, 2021 11:30
I need vs or vs code on a device with e-ink so that I can properly work in the garden.
Jp
June 14, 2021 13:30
This would be great if I could ever read what I write. I made my 2nd grade teacher cry regularly.
June 14, 2021 15:41
Scott,

Watching your YouTube video now.

Does the remarkable allow for writing on a PDF template? Looking at some PDF planner templates which to replace some paper planners.

June 14, 2021 16:52
Scott, I find your articles super useful and detailed. On these e-ink devices, are there any options for flipping the UI for lefties? I see most tools have a tool bar on the left, but that’s exactly where I would rest my hand while writing… any option to move those tools to any of the other edges would address the 10% of us who are left handed. I am particularly interested in the reMarkable2, but would be turned off if it didn’t have UI that addresses lefties. Thanks!
June 14, 2021 18:39
I love the idea behind The Light Phone to create an E Ink phone. There are still a few apps and experiences missing, but I find the E Ink medium forces both the users and the designers to slow down and be very intentional about how a phone ought to be used.

A coworker once told me that the reason Star Wars Episodes 4 thru 6 were so good is because they were so constrained--it forced them to find innovative and creative ways to tell their story.
June 15, 2021 11:03
Given your page is popular with software enthusiasts, it's worth mentioning (if you didn't know already) that Onyx have been called out a number of times for violating the GPL by refusing to release or provide their source code. To some people it matters enough that they choose not to use the Boox because of it. Even Amazon provide Kindle/Fire source downloads.
JBK
June 15, 2021 11:04
I bought the Boox Note Air some months ago, and I'm really happy with it. The only major downside is that it is constantly phoning home to China (for legitimate purposes like syncing notes, their book store etc, but also for tracking). However, you can easily root the device and install a firewall onto it, see this blog post for more.
June 15, 2021 11:24
I've thought for a long time that the reMarkable would make an excellent classroom TExtercise book. Imagine a student who could have ALL their work on a single, lightweight, durable, non-distracting, power-sipping device. Pass PDFs to and from the teacher as worksheets for marking... Ideal.

I just wish the company developing it would open source the OS to make it available for other apps to use... I know there's an Arch port for it, but that seems like overkill somehow.
June 15, 2021 15:36
@Jp , That has been my dream since they came out with E-Ink!
June 15, 2021 18:25
Have you taken notes on an iPad using an Apple Pencil? I'm curious how the experience with the reMarkable compares...
June 15, 2021 23:22
Have been using the Onyx devices for years. They run Android which opens up a lot of opportunities, like terms, office, etc but they also use standard Wacom EMR for pen input, so using an after market pen, like Staedtler or Lang is easy or share with other Wacom devices like a One display. It is a whiteboard, external monitor, my go-to for writing docs AFK, and with the Nova color and Krita even an art sketch pad.
June 16, 2021 15:48
In a similar vein, I'm looking forward to Kobo's release of the "Elipsa" on June 24. The hardware looks very much like the Remarkable 2, and Kobo is billing the device as an ebook reader + notepad. I expect it will not be quite as open as the Remarkable or Onyx.
June 16, 2021 20:12
Similar to Q about iPad + Apple Pencil; I'm wondering if anyone can compare experience of eInk devices to Surface Go + Surface Pencil.
June 16, 2021 20:13
Absolute necessity to me for any of these devices, is share-ability (like whiteboard) into Teams & other meeting tools.
June 16, 2021 20:20
I'm excited about these new devices. I LOVE e-ink, but really like full-size page, & hadn't been able to get that w most e-readers. Still have my Kindle DX (9.7"), & like the readability (but navigation controls are kinda klutzy).
June 17, 2021 9:09
Remarkable 2 is billed as a distraction free note taker. It does not have apps, a web browser or pop-ups. Instead, it focuses on two things really well, freehand drawing and editing PDF files. It has one of the most advanced note taking experiences, and is basically even with the Note Air.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.