Review unit on loan from Singapore-based retailer ILUHO
Onyx Boox or Boox is an eReader produced by Onyx International Inc, based in China. Versatility is the main selling point of Onyx Boox eReaders since their e-Ink tablets use Android OS and there's Google Play Store.
Onyx Boox Nova Air was released in late 2021. Here in Singapore, it's sold by ILUHO on Shopee and Lazada for around SGD 515 (~USD 350 on Amazon). Price varies depending on promotion. This is more pricy compared to the Kobo eReaders I've reviewed recently, and also the base model iPad 10.2 (2020). Hopefully after this review you'll know whether this eReader is for you.
By the way, this e-Reader has similarities to the Onyx Boox Nova3 Color I've reviewed recently so some parts of that review may be repeated here.
These are the items included in the box:
- Onyx Boox Nova Air
- Stylus pen
- USB-A to USB-C cable
- Screen protector (applied)
- Quick start guide
- Warranty sheet
There's no power charger. You can use your phone charger or computer to charge the eReader.
The included pen looks and feels great, and has excellent build quality. It has magnets for attaching to the side of the tablet, but that's not going to prevent the pen from being knocked off.
The pen is not powered by battery so no charging is required. There are no physical buttons, so no shortcuts.
The pen supports 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity. Pen nib replacements are not included and are sold separately (SGD 18.50 for five).
The Onyx Boox Nova Air is a beautiful 7.8-inch eReader with excellent build quality and a premium feel. The design is compact and can be held on one hand. Weight is just 235g.
Here's the list of specifications:
- Screen: 7.8" HD e-Ink Carta Screen with AG glass flat cover-lens
- Resolution: 1872x1404 Carta (300 ppi)
- Touch: BOOX Pen Stylus touch (4096 levels of pressure sensitivity) + capacitive touch
- CPU: Updated Octa-core
- RAM: 3GB (LPDDR4X)
- ROM: 32GB (eMMC)
- OS: Android 10
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi (2.4GHz + 5GHz) + BT 5.0
- Light: Warm and cold
- Port: USB Type-C (support OTG)
- Speaker: Built-in dual speakers
- Mic: yes
- Earphone: USB-C earphone jack
- Battery: 2000mAh Polymer Li-on
- Battery Life: Up to 26 days (standby mode)
- Dimensions: 194 x 136.5 x 6.3 mm
- Weight: ≤235g
File formats supported at TXT, HTML, RTF, FB2, FB2.zip, DOC, DOCX, PRC, MOBI, CHM, EPUB, JPG, PNG, GIF, BMP, PDF, DjVu, MP3, WAV, CBR, CBZ.
The back has a splattered ink design with a glossy metal bottom where you can find two speakers and the USB-C port.
Audio quality from the speakers is serviceable, just not that loud. If you want to listen to audio books, I highly recommend using earphones, either Bluetooth earphones or get a 3.5mm to USB-C adapter if you're using wired earphones. There are no physical volume buttons by the way.
There's a three pin POGO connector on the left side which works with the magnetic case which has physical buttons for turning pages and auto-wake function. The case is SGD 69.90 (~USD 59.99).
It may be cheaper to get a sleeve. Actually I don't think this tablet requires a case if you're just using it at home. I place it between my other books when I'm done reading.
I can't tell if there's a matte screen protect applied. Anyway, the display has a nice texture to write on, and the anti-glare doesn't look too aggressive. The matte surface doesn't affect image quality in any noticeable manner.
This tablet has its own UI on top of Android 10. I'm not sure if the Android version can be updated (probably not) but firmware can be.
These are the six different sections under the UI and here's what they can do:
1. Library: This will filter all the files from your internal storage to show only the eBooks.
2. Store: The Onyx Boox eBook store is limited to just DRM-free (and old) books so variety is extremely limited.
3. Notes: The note taking features are extensive with many tools and functionality. Note taking is quite responsive for an e-Ink tablet. Overall writing experience is good thanks to the accuracy of the pen and texture of the surface. This is one of the main selling points for this tablet if you're into taking notes.
4. Storage: This will show all the file types saved on internal storage. The library only shows you eBook formats, e.g. PDF, CHM, CBZ. To transfer files, you have to do it via cable connection or wirelessly via the BooxDrop app within the Apps section.
Transferring files from your computer is simple. Just enter the link provided by the tablet into your computer's web browser and it will connect to the tablet. Alternatively there's a QR code you can scan to connect. You can then upload or download stuff to or from your tablet. Transfer speed is determined by your home network speed.
5. Apps: This is where all the apps are. Think of it as your phone or tablet home screen with all the apps.
Google Play Store is available but not enabled by default. You have to enable Google Play Store via the App Management menu, then bind the Boox tablet to your Google account (requires sign in of course).
With Google Play Store you can install your own eReader apps such as Kindle, Libby, OverDrive, Kobo, etc. You can install Youtube also, and watch videos in black and white with severe ghosting – not recommended of course.
6. Settings: Self explanatory. The more important settings here may be the gesture controls. You can choose to swipe up and down on the sides of the tablet to adjust settings, such as volume, brightness, etc. There's Full Refresh Frequency which is how often the page should redraw itself to remove ghosting. The higher the number, the more ghosting lines and images you'll see from your previous pages. Full page refresh is slower compared to small area refresh.
Cool thing about the Nova Air is it's an Android tablet so you get some of the Android features such as swipe down control setting. You can also use finger gestures to go back, call up the active apps screen, or return to home page.
Keyboard typing is quite responsive, relatively speaking compared to other e-Readers.
There's this moveable ball button with customisable shortcuts. For example, you can refresh the screen manually to remove ghosting, screenshot, go to active app screen, double tap to return to home, and more. Very useful.
The text looks sharp on the e-Ink display and has good contrast. Resolution is 1874 x 1404 at 300 PPI.
For reading features such as changing the font, line spacing, dictionary, markup, etc, all that will depend on the eReader app you use.
The default eReader app is actually NeoReader. File formats supported are PDF, PPT, EPUB, TXT, DJVU, HTML, RTF, FB2, DOC, MOBI, CHM and more. You can install any app you want to open any file.
With NeoReader, you can markup with the pen and the markup will try to follow the text even with changes to font size or line spacing, however the markup may get some misalignment with extreme changes to the text.
Lighting is quite even for the most part.
The top has a bit more glow but it's minor issue.
Colour temperature of the light can be adjusted too.
Battery life is something I wasn't able to test properly with my limited time with this eReader. In theory, if you're just reading, battery life should last for weeks. If you have the wifi on and doing internet stuff, battery life will be shorter obviously. The battery 2000 mAh so it charges quite fast.
The Onyx Boox Nova Air is a beautiful and well made eReader that feels like a premium product.
Versatility is the selling point since it's an Android tablet. Having Google Play Store means whatever feature you need, you can probably find an app for it.
For reading purposes, text on the e-Ink looks sharp. You can install any eReader so you'll have access to countless books. And since there's Libby and OverDrive, if you can find your local library in those two apps, you don't even have to buy books since you can just borrow them. Overall reading experience on this tablet is pleasant and enjoyable.
Here are some downsides. There's no auto rotate but it's not really an issue since I'm using it as an eReader mostly in portrait orientation. Audio quality is alright but volume isn't loud enough. There are no volume buttons.
The Nova Air should be treated primarily as an e-Ink device rather than an Android tablet. The overall speed is dictated by the refresh rate of the display. It's an e-Ink tablet it will not appear to run as fast as a coloured Android tablet even with a capable processor.
It's slightly pricey but it's a good eReader. You can decide whether it's worth your money.
Pros and cons at a glance
+ Beautiful design
+ Solid build quality
+ Premium feel
+ Compact and lightweight
+ Pen included
+ Many note taking features
+ Great handwriting experience
+ Sharp e-Ink quality
+ Android OS is extremely versatile
+ Has Google Play Store
+ Good battery life
- Low audio volume
- No auto-rotation
- No volume buttons
- No buttons on pen
- Tablet speed dictated by e-Ink refresh rate
- Pricey case