Bigger can be better. Onyx has long made a name in the niche world of large-format E Ink tablets, providing big-screen devices to people who want to read pages that look too cramped on Kindles and Kobos. The $549.99 Onyx Boox Note2 is the best tablet the company has released yet, running full Android 9 with working Google Play support and solid app compatibility. For reading bigger documents, E Ink web browsing, or taking notes, it’s absolutely worthy of our Editors’ Choice for large-format e-readers.
Design and Features
The Boox Note2 is a slim, light tablet at 9.84 by 7.0 by 0.27 inches (HWD) and 13.33 ounces. It’s black plastic, and the flat-front E Ink screen has a sizable bezel around it.
On the front, there’s a Back button with a fingerprint scanner built into it (it looks like a Home button, which kept tripping me up). There’s a power button on top, and a single USB-C port on the bottom. There’s also a built-in speaker, although it’s small and tinny. For the best audio quality, use Bluetooth headphones. Unlike the latest Kindles and Kobos, the Note 2 isn’t waterproof.
The 10.3-inch, 227ppi E Ink Mobius Carta display has 1,872-by-1,404 resolution. It’s the same panel—the E Ink VB3300-KCA—as in the ReMarkable tablet, the Sony DPT-CP1, and the original Onyx Boox Note. E Ink says that this module has 16 gray levels and a 450ms refresh rate.
The tablet is very slim
It’s a commodity screen panel, but Onyx has added plenty of tricks. One is a tunable, color-changing front light, ranging in many available steps from blue to yellow. But Onyx’s real secret sauce is its four refresh modes, which trade refresh speed for ghosting. In the tablet’s default mode, it works pretty much like any Kindle or Kobo. Kick it up to the third mode, and scrolling in web and news apps becomes much smoother without much annoying ghosting.
Let’s talk a little about size. An 8.5-by-11 page has a 13.9-inch diagonal, so it’s represented with best fidelity on an even bigger e-reader, like the 13.3-inch Onyx Boox Max 3. But I looked at several letter-sized PDFs on this tablet, and they all look great if you’re holding it close up; they can stand to be reduced a little, frankly. A 7.8-inch screen, on the other hand, is too small. The one big exception I’d call out is sheet music, which really needs the 13.3-inch screen to be viewable on a music stand.
The Boox Note2 connects to the internet via 2.4GHz or 5GHz Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi performance looked fine when using Ookla’s Speedtest.net (note: Ookla is owned by Ziff Davis, PCMag.com’s parent company), but felt very slow when I was actually downloading files. Range is just fine, though, at the usual 100 feet or so from the router.
The Kindle app runs very well here
The Note2 has a 4,300mAh battery that I couldn’t successfully run down in testing. From 100 percent, I flipped through 200 pages of an EPUB file and 75 pages of a PDF, and it still showed 100 percent. 100 pages of book reading got it down to 99 percent. The web browser is a heavier power draw, at about 10 web pages per one percent of battery. Light comics and web usage over the next four days got me down to 89 percent. Your backlight level usage is definitely key, of course—a higher backlight will mean higher battery usage—but the battery life here is excellent.
One reason it’s so good, by the way, is that the tablet turns off Wi-Fi and all background processes when it goes into sleep mode. This is a great battery saver, but it’s also annoying; every time you wake the tablet up, you have to manually turn the Wi-Fi back on. Onyx said it’s supposed to turn back on automatically, but that wasn’t my experience.
A Capable Android Tablet
Under the hood, this is a solid midrange Android 9.0 tablet. It uses a 2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor and scored 4011 on the PCMark 2.0 Work benchmarks, above low-end tablets like the 2018 Samsung Galaxy Tab A (3268), but not up to current midrange phones like the Motorola Moto G7 (6181). There’s 3.5GB of accessible RAM, and 52GB of available storage. There’s no microSD card slot, but the USB port supports on-the-go storage mode, so you can plug in a USB-C memory stick or even a hard drive if you feel like it.
The Boox Note 2 runs most Android apps
I don’t think the Note2 will ever get an update to Android 10, but Android 9 is still a huge jump over the original Note, which was running Android 6 and had started to become incompatible with third-party apps. The way Android works, app makers don’t assume that many devices will get upgraded, so I think this tablet still has about three years of app compatibility left in it.
Onyx lays down its own very basic UI on top of Android, with five main panes: your library, the Onyx book store, an Onyx notes app, a file manager, apps, and settings.
The library pane shows all of the readable files Onyx finds on the device. The built-in reading app handles a wide range of formats. CBR, DOC, EPUB, HTML, MOBI, PDF, RTF, text, and a bunch of other file types are compatible. It doesn’t support Kindle DRM or Overdrive library books, but as the tablet also runs the Kindle, Kobo, Nook, Libby, and other reading apps, you can just open those files in their relevant native apps. Pages load and display quickly, even complex PDFs, and you can easily pinch to zoom or use the included stylus to annotate documents.
The Onyx book store doesn’t have much of a selection
The less said about Onyx’s own app and book stores, the better. The book store is a jumble sale of random public domain works, while the app store has a handful of key apps, most notably Kindle, that appear to have been scraped from apkpure.com (the presence of a “Sumsang Internet Browser” is especially funny). Since the tablet supports Google Play and major book stores just fine, you don’t need to worry.
The Onyx tablet line lives in an odd gray area of Google Play. Onyx told me a while ago that there’s no way its tablets can be certified for Google Play because E Ink screens don’t support a video playback spec Google requires. But this isn’t like with Amazon or Huawei tablets, where Google is actively trying to keep them out. With the Onyx tablet, to activate Google Play just requires a few taps in Settings, and then it’s good to go.
The Play store was stable and compatible in testing, and almost all of the apps I tried worked. News apps including CNN, The Guardian, The New York Times, and The Washington Post; the Marvel and Marvel Unlimited comics apps; and Dropbox, Microsoft Excel, and OneDrive all worked well.
I did find a few apps with errors you should know about. The VIZ Manga app still magnifies its panels too large to view properly. Stylus-based sketching apps have too much latency; if you want to use the stylus, you need to do so in Onyx’s own notes app, which is specially programmed to reduce the latency.
The note-taking app can export to PDF or PNG
The note-taking app works with the included Wacom stylus. You can scribble notes with various brush widths and even colors (blue, green, and red), create new pages just by swiping, and export your notes to PDF or PNG. The stylus supports 4,096 levels of pressure, and it shows in line width. There’s some latency—I don’t think I would want to use this to actually draw with, artistically—but it’s fine for taking notes. Note that there’s nowhere to store the sylus, so you’ll need to keep a close eye on it.
The tablet even works as a secondary E Ink display for your PC, using your Wi-Fi network and a free app called Spacedesk (unlike with the Max3, you can’t connect the tablet using an HDMI cable). Frame rates are very low, so anything moving around is jerky. But it works well as a relatively static panel to show reference material.
The tablet works as a secondary display for a Windows PC
This Boox Hits All the Marks
At $549, the Onyx Boox Note2 doesn’t compete with smaller-format e-readers. It does compete with, and crushes, the Sony DPT-CP1 and more obscure devices like the Pocketbook InkPad X. The combination of full Android 9.0 with working Google Play, and a slim E Ink tablet with long battery life make the Note2 a terrific multipurpose reader for anyone who works with large-format documents. The DPT-CP1, which can only read PDFs, hardly compares.
Onyx also sells the 13.3-inch Max 3, at $859, and the 7.8-inch Nova 2 for $339. The Nova 2 packs similar power (and the same screen resolution for a higher pixel density) into a smaller body, but especially if you intend to read 8.5-by-11 documents, you want a larger device. That makes the Onyx Book Note2 our Editor’s Choice for large-format e-readers.
Onyx Boox Note2 Specs
|Operating System||Android 9.0|
|Dimensions||9.84 by 7 by .27 inches|
|Screen Size||10.3 inches|
|Screen Resolution||1,872 by 1,404 pixels|
|Screen Pixels Per Inch||227 ppi|
|CPU||Qualcomm Snapdragon 625|
|Storage Capacity||64 GB|
|Book Formats||PDF, TXT, CBR, CBZ, EPUB, RTF, HTML, MOBI|
|Screen Lighting||Color Shifting|