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 Nova3 Color was released in 2021. Here in Singapore, it's sold by ILUHO on Shopee and Lazada for around SGD 588 (~US 435). Price varies depending on promotion. This is more expensive than many Android tablets and iPads so in this review I'll help you find out whether this is worth your money.
By the way, this e-Reader has similarities to the Onyx Boox Nova Air I've reviewed recently so some parts of that review may be repeated here.
These are the items included in the box:
- Onyx Boox Nova3 Color
- 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 stylus has a plastic triangular body with matte textured surface. It's quite comfortable to hold
There's an eraser button at the back but no side button. There's an extrusion at the back for use with the flip-cover case.
The stylus uses Wacom technology and supports 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity. Pen nib is textured with a pleasant paper-like writing experience. There's no movement to the pen nib.
Design of the Onyx Boox Nova3 Color looks functional but dated and reminds me of Android tablets from years ago. The display is an E Ink Kaleido Plus color 7.8-inch display. The design is compact and can be held on one hand. Weight is just 265g.
Here's the list of specifications:
- Screen: E Ink Kaleido Plus, 7,8", 4096 colors, touchscreen
- Resolution 1872x1404 (300 PPI), 100 PPI in color mode with the SNOW Field function
- Pen: 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity, with eraser
- CPU: Octa-core
- RAM: 3GB (LPDDR4X)
- ROM: 32GB (eMMC)
- OS: Android 10
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi (2.4GHz + 5GHz) + BT 5.0
- Light: MOON light
- Port: USB Type-C (support OTG)
- Speaker: Built-in dual speakers
- Mic: yes
- Earphone: USB-C earphone jack
- Battery: 3150mAh Polymer Li-on
- Dimensions: 197.3 × 137 × 7.7 mm
- Weight: 265g
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 low gloss matte textured surface which is quite susceptible to fingerprints. The set of tiny holes are for the speakers. Volume is loud enough but audio quality sounds quite flat, and since it's back-facing it sounds like someone's talking to you but not looking at you. There are no physical volume buttons.
That's the physical home button and below's the USB-C charging port.
The free flip-cover case included by the seller ILUHO has good build quality and offers good protection. By the side is a pen holder. The extrusion at the back of the pen prevents the pen from sliding through the holder.
The cover texture looks like some sort of canvas and it looks and feels nice. There's auto-wake and sleep functionality.
A matte screen protector is already applied. I'm not sure why they used a matte screen protector because the actual display already has a matte textured surface. There's no way for the textured pen tip to scratch the display. And the flip cover will protect the front.
On a scale out of 5, the sharpness of the e-Ink looks like a 4 to me. Contrast of text against the background looks alright. You can make the text much dark through settings.
Text is not as sharp compared to the Onyx Boox Nova Air I've reviewed earlier even though both e-Readers use the same resolution 1874 x 1404 at 300 PPI.
Perhaps the sharpness is affected by the colour resolution which is just 468 x 624 with 100 ppi. The e-Ink may not be sharp but at least there's no noticeable pixelation. However for the colour display, you can see the colour matrix grid when you look close enough.
There are only 4096 colours supported and the colours look kinda washed out.
Maybe that's how colours are supposed to look on e-Ink displays?
No matter how vibrant the pictures or colours of the source is, the colours are going to look muted on this e-Reader.
It's difficult for me to judge the quality of the colour e-Ink because this is the first product I've used that has colour e-Ink. As much as how normal e-Ink can look like actual print and paper, colour e-Ink is nowhere close to looking like printed pictures on paper.
Note that matte screen protectors also affect image and visual quality. I've seen reviews on other Youtube channel and displays on their units look more vibrant compared to what I'm seeing. I can't remove the matte screen protector since it's a review unit I have to return.
The lighting technology is called MOON light. The lighting looks neutral to cool. Unfortunately, there's no warm light setting.
You can configure slider bars at the left or right edge of the display to adjust the brightness very quickly. The lighting looks quite even to me with no distracting glow at the edges.
This is an e-Reader so battery life can last for weeks if you're just reading. You can expect shorter battery life when using the internet with Wifi constantly on. Battery capacity is 3150 mAh.
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.
There are coloured inks to use but the colours are muted.
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. The ghosting or image retention will create the illusion that the video is flickering too. Video watching experience is not good.
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.
Since the OS is Android 10, 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.
It's an e-Reader with an e-Ink canvas so there will be ghosting. You can actually choose how frequently to do a full-page refresh to remove ghosting or image retention.
Overall reading experience is good. But personally I still prefer black and white e-Ink for the sharpness.
The default eReader app is actually NeoReader. If it can't open the file you have. 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.
For reading features such as changing the font, line spacing, dictionary, markup, etc, all that will depend on the eReader app you use.
The Onyx Boox Nova3 Color feels like a first generation device to me. The e-Ink e-Reading experience is satisfactory. It's just the colour reproduction isn't quite there yet. Colours are limited, muted and contrast isn't that good. There's definitely a lot to improve on the colours.
Having Android OS on this e-Reader makes it so versatile. Whatever feature you can think of that isn't on the e-Reader, you can probably find an app for that. And since you can install any e-Book store, there's no limit to the books you can read.
Lastly there's the price which is SGD 588. It's quite pricey because for the same price you can get an Android tablet or iPad which will look and perform better. The main selling point here is the e-Ink display of course. You can decide whether this is worth your money.
Between this and the Onyx Boox Nova Air I reviewed recently, I would go for the Nova Air without second thoughts if my goal is just to read books.
Pros and cons at a glance
+ Solid build quality
+ Compact and lightweight
+ Pen included
+ Many note taking features
+ Great handwriting experience
+ Android OS is extremely versatile
+ Has Google Play Store
+ Good battery life
- Dated design
- No auto-rotation
- No volume buttons
- No buttons on pen
- Tablet speed dictated by e-Ink refresh rate
- e-Ink text could be sharper
- Limited to 4096 colours
- Muted colours and contrast