Review: Boox Note Air3 C e-Ink tablet

Review unit provided by Onyx

The Onyx Boox Note Air3 C is a 10.3-inch e-Ink e-reader tablet with many upgrades over the previous model, the Onyx Boox Note Air2 Plus. Shown below are the key differences between the two models, and the new Boox Tab Ultra C Pro which was also released in October 2023.

Note Air2 Plus Note Air3 C Tab Ultra C Pro
Category E-ink tablet E-ink tablet E-ink tablet PC
Display 10.3-inch monochrome screen Colour screen Colour screen
Resolution 1404 x 1872, 227 PPI BW: 1860 x 2480 (300 PPI), Colour: 930 x 1240 (150PPI) BW: 1860 x 2480 (300 PPI), Colour: 930 x 1240 (150PPI)
Processor 1.8Ghz octa-core CPU 2.8Ghz octa-core CPU 2.8Ghz octa-core CPU
Refresh tech NA Boox Super Refresh Technology Boox Super Refresh Technology
OS Android 11 Android 12 Android 12
Micro SD card slot No Yes Yes
RAM and storage 4GB + 64GB 4GB + 64GB 6GB + 128GB
Battery capacity 3700 mAh 3700 mAh 4600 mAh
Keyboard support NA NA Boox magnetic keyboard/td>
Thickness 5.8mm 5.8mm 6.6mm
Weight 445g 430g 450g
Price From USD 449.99 From USD 499.99 From USD 649.99

The main upgrade is the 150 PPI colour support from the Kaleido 3 screen and BW resolution has increased from 227 PPI to 300 PPI. So visuals are now sharper and there's colour.

Bottom line

The Onyx Boox Note Air3 C is a beautiful e-Ink tablet with solid build quality. The addition of colours is a nice bonus. This tablet is quite responsive by e-Ink tablet standards and web browsing is actually usable. The 10.3-inch display is suitable for reading PDFs, comics and magazines compared to 8-inch tablets. There's Google Play Store so you can install your own e-book store apps to access your existing e-books. Battery life is decent.

The colours aren't as vibrant compared to what I was expecting so perhaps that's the limit of e-ink colour technology currently. The e-Ink gray surface is kinda dark so increasing the brightness will improve reading experience significantly. The USB-C charging port is located in a place where you have to open the case for charging.

Things included

  • Tablet
  • USB-A to USB-C charging cable
  • Pen with cap
  • User guide
  • Warranty guide


The magnetic flip case protects the front and back of the tablet, but not the sides. There's auto-wake and sleep function.


The flip case is quite thin but well made. There's a magnetic flap that prevents the pen from falling off from the side, and can go behind the folded cover. The flip case does add some weight to the tablet but you can always remove it easily to use the tablet alone.

Design


6.7-inch phone beside the 10.3-inch e-Ink display


The tablet is quite thin at 5.8mm and it weighs 430g. The power button has a fingerprint sensor which works effectively and is fast enough.


On the side with the thicker bezels, there's the USB-C charging port, microSD card slot and two stereo speakers with low volume and hollow sound. There's no 3.5mm audio jack so to listen to audio books, it's best to use wireless earphones for best audio quality.

Due to where the USB-C port is, the flip case has to be opened for charging.


The bezels are thin except for the one thicker side for your hand to hold. There are no physical page flip buttons so you'll have to rely on the touchscreen to flip pages.

The Onyx Boox Note Air3 C uses a 10.3-inch display with Kaleido 3 technology which supports 16 levels of grayscale (300PPI) and 4096 colours (150PPI). There's also this E Ink ComfortGaze feature to reduce blue light.

Most e-Ink tablets are around 8-inches because they are more compact, and more importantly more affordable. Reading PDFs, comics and magazines is better on a larger 10.3 inch display because text can be presented larger, hence easier to read. If you don't read PDFs, comics or magazines often, there's no compelling reason to get a larger display.

Another advantage of the larger display is you can place the Android navigation bar below with 5 shortcuts instead of using the swipe gestures.


The display has BW resolution of 1860 x 2480 with 300 PPI and 150 PPI for colour resolution.


If you're just reading text, an 8-inch display is more than big enough. A 10.3-inch display can show larger text and is good for those with poor eyesight.

The gray canvas looks kinda dark to me when reading indoors. I often increase display brightness to 50-75% to improve contrast when indoors. If your room is bright, e.g.with sunlight streaming in, then the gray canvas shouldn't be an issue. Using higher brightness will drain battery faster, but battery life is good even with the extra brightness.


This display is so big you can hold it horizontally (there's auto rotate) and display 2 columns of text.


300 PPI text is sharp and looks great. Reading experience is very satisfying.

You can install dictionaries as well.


Shown above is the e-Ink Kaleido 3 display against LCD. Obviously e-Ink cannot reproduce colours like LCD displays. The selling point of e-Ink displays is they are more comfortable to eyes for reading, especially for long periods of time. Reading on e-Ink canvas is not very different from reading on paper.

Kaleido 3 is also said to have faster response time. When using a web browser, the scrolling animation is quite smooth and responsive, relatively speaking compared to older e-Ink technology. Even Amazon Kindle app's annoying page flip animation looks alright.


Web pages can load fast so I actually don't mind browsing the web (for reading purposes) with this tablet. The larger 10.3-inch screen is about to display webpages quite well, and the text is big. The experience will be still better with reading text than viewing images due to the limited colour support and contrast. Gray coloured checkboxes and radio buttons will not show. Tabs will reload often due to lack of RAM or how RAM is allocated. Cannot change the UI scaling.


To access, the e-Ink settings, you can set a shortcut to swipe up from the bottom, or swipe from the top right to show the control panel.

The refresh modes available are:

  • HD - Good display effect, suitable for general text reading
  • Balanced - With slightly heavier ghosting, suitable for thumbing through documents
  • Fast - With slight detail loss, suitable for browsing websites
  • Ultrafast - With heavy detail loss, suitable for playing videos
  • Regal - Minimal ghosting, slightly flickering on dark backgrounds, suitable for light-coloured backgrounds

Reach refresh mode is a compromise between page refresh speed vs amount of ghosting.

The best refresh mode in my opinion is Balanced with slight ghosting and reasonably fast page refresh speed.

Full-page refresh frequency is located under Settings -> System Display and not under the e-ink settings.


Here's a look how colour comics look at default settings: 30% dark colour enhancement, 0% vividness enhancement, 0% colour brightness.


This is with 30% dark colour enhancement, 100% vividness enhancement, 0% colour brightness.


This is with 30% dark colour enhancement, 100% vividness enhancement, 100% colour brightness.

The visual difference when increasing both vividness and colour brightness to 100% isn't that noticeable unless you have two tablets side by side to compare.


This is with 100% dark colour enhancement, 100% vividness enhancement, 100% colour brightness.

Increasing dark colour enhancement produces a visible difference but it's not for the better.

The best way to make the colours look better is keep the default settings and increase the front light brightness.

Obviously having colours is better than having no colours. So despite the limited colour support, the addition of colours does improve the satisfaction of reading colour comics or magazines. Hopefully the colour technology can improve soon.

If you don't read comics or magazines, then you won't benefit much from a colour display.

Front light


The front light is quite even. To adjust the front light, you can swipe down from the top right for the slider controls. Or you can go into the settings to set invisible virtual sliders on screen on the sides if you change the lights often.


This is how the warm light looks.

General performance

This tablet runs on Android 12 and has 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage. The processor is listed as Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 from the CPU-Z app.

Overall performance is quite smooth. Obviously it's not responsive compared to LCD tablets due to the e-Ink refresh rate and response time, but for e-Ink tablets it's quite responsive. Apps are able to open fast, multi-tasking is smooth, and even web browsing is manageable.

When I used the web browser for the first time, my first thought was "this is not bad" instead of "I think I better use my other tablet".

Software and OS

Onyx is running their own UI on top of Android 12 and it's a minimalist UI without much features. It's also good to see there isn't much isn't any bloatware. Nice.


These are the tabs on the home screen:

  • Library - Categorise and shows you the files on storage
  • Store - Access copyright free books (old)
  • Notes - For note taking
  • Storage - Another way to view your files
  • Apps - Shows all the apps you've installed
  • Settings - Self explanatory


Just like most Android tablets, you can swipe down from the top right to access the control panel. Here you can access the E Ink Centre to adjust colour and page settings, and adjust brightness among other settings.


The Nav Ball feature is very useful, You can move the Nav Ball anywhere on the screen, press it and 9 customisable shortcuts will appear. I use this all the time. I use to go to the home screen instead of swiping up from the bottom of the display.


Google Play Store is included and this is a key selling feature.

With Google Play Store, you can install your own e-book stores and access your existing e-books. You can install cloud storage apps to access your e-books from the cloud. You can install your own web browsers, note taking and drawing apps.

The default reader app NeoReader v3 is quite capable but if there are e-book formats you cannot open, you can install other e-book readers.

Having Google Play Store makes this tablet so versatile.

Note taking performance


The included pen has a nice matte surface, grooves on the body, and a good grip. The pen is not powered by battery and does not require pairing to work with the tablet. There is no side button and no eraser on the back.

The pen is almost cylindrical except for a flat side that attaches magnetically to the side of the tablet.

The pen uses Wacom EMR technology so this tablet can be used with other pens that use Wacom EMR tech too, e.g. Samsung S Pen.


The pen supports tilt, pressure sensitivity and palm rejection. Pen tip is quite firm and has minimal to no movement.


Shown above is the S Pen nib and Boox pen nib. The length is similar but the S Pen nib has a smaller head.


When the S Pen nib is placed inside the Boox pen, the nib protrudes out more and has movement when writing, and can appear to bend when pressed slightly, and hence more prone to breaking.

The Boox pen is great. However, the pen nibs are textured and may wear down faster on the textured display. To replace pen nibs, I recommend you research how much the replacement pen nibs are vs getting another Wacom EMR pen with more durable pen nibs.


Writing performance is satisfying. The display is laminated with almost no gap between the line and the pen tip. The display is matte textured so there's extra tactile experience when writing with the textured pen tip. Palm rejection works well for apps that support palm rejection. You can rest your palm on the display to write without fear of introducing stray strokes.

If you use the default note taking app, there's almost no latency which is quite incredible.


How colour swatches look with Microsoft OneNote


Microsoft OneNote also has similar latency performance, BUT the experience is different. When writing, the lines will be thin first and the line style will only update after a period of in activity.


For example, if you choose a thick pen, you can write fast and see what you're writing (thin line), the actual thick line will appear later.

Microsoft OneNote is the only third party note taking app that has improved latency. The other apps I've tested with lousy latency are Squid, Bamboo Paper, Inkredible and GoodNotes. That's even if you have enabled ultrafast page refresh.

Drawing performance


Latency with drawing apps is bad. This tablet is not suitable for drawing unless you use the default note taking app for that.


Cursor tracking is accurate. There are no gaps and no overshooting when joining lines.


There's tilt support, and the pencil texture from the default note taking app looks good.


The default note taking app actually has pretty good drawing performance and support for pressure sensitivity.


The sketch above was drawn on location while I was having lunch. I was able to get the lines to appear the way I expect them to. The main limitation to drawing is the limited drawing tools.


The anti-glare on the matte textured display is excellent when used under direct sunlight. Unlike other matte textured surface, this anti-glare does not diffuse reflections to make the whole display glaring and blindingly bright.


The lines and fills created are vectors. You can export your art as PNG, vector PDF or image PDF.

Conclusion

The Onyx Boox Note Air3 C is an e-ink tablet that looks good, has solid build quality, and rather responsive performance. Reading experience is satisfying on the 10.3-inch display. Page refresh is quite fast and ghosting isn't much of an issue.

This e-ink e-reader is ideal for those who often read PDFs, comics and magazines because the larger display can display text at larger sizes. The addition of colour also make reading coloured pages more enjoyable.

Google Play Store is a huge selling point.

The downsides or limitations would be the less than ideal audio quality from speakers, and I wish the colours are more vibrant. We'll probably have to wait for Kaleido4 for that and who knows how long that will take.

Pros and cons at a glance
+ Clean and simple design
+ Solid build quality
+ Larger 10.3-inch display is better for reading PDFs , magazines, comics
+ Matte textured surface for tactile writing experience
+ Anti-glare is excellent under direct sunlight
+ Visuals are sharp with 300 PPI for BW and 150 PPI for colour
+ MicroSD card slot
+ Power button with fingerprint unlock
+ Pen included
+ Pen is not battery powered
+ Pen supports tilt, pressure and palm rejection
+ Overall performance quite responsive
+ Page flips are quite fast
+ Minimal ghosting
+ Good writing experience
+ Google Play Store included
+ Navigation ball and shortcuts are very useful
+ No bloatware included
+ Rather even front light
+ 8 to 10 hours battery life
- e-ink canvas gray is kinda dark
- Colours could be more vibrant
- No physical shortcut buttons, no volume buttons
- Pen has no side button, no eraser
- Speaker has low volume and sounds hollow
- No 3.5mm audio jack
- Flip case has to be opened for charging

Availability

You can buy the Boox Note Air3 C from Boox online store.

From Singapore? You can buy it on Shopee SG.

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