The new Leaf 2 e-reader from Onyx Boox is a sleek, capable 7” e-ink reading device with physical page-turn buttons and support for a wide variety of ebook formats. It’s also very configurable and flexible thanks to its Android 11 operating system.
Onyx Boox Leaf 2 E-reader reviewed
Because it runs Android, and supports the Google Play Store (you need to enable it via the settings), you can install any Android reading app on the device (Kindle, Kobo, etc.), giving you seamless access to content across different platforms. It’s also easy to transfer content from multiple sources to the device, either via the free Onyx cloud service, or directly using a USB-C cable, after which they will appear in the native library view, and open in the Onyx Neo Reader app.
The Leaf 2 is thin (c. 6mm) and light (c. 180g), and at just 156 x 137 mm it has a very small footprint for a 7” e-reader, making it extremely portable. Under the hood it has a quad-core Qualcomm processor, 2GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. Should you need more there’s an SD Card Slot that can accommodate up to an additional 512GB. Charging, file-transfer and OTG peripherals are catered for with an industry standard USB C port, and there’s WiFi (2.4 & 5GHz) on board, as well as Bluetooth 5 support, speakers and a microphone.
Battery life is good — with the 2,000mAh battery operating up to 26 days between charges according to Onyx — although as an android device, that will depend on the apps you install and use, and on how often you have connectivity options like WiFi and Bluetooth enabled.
The black plastic body of the Leaf 2 feels solid and well put together, giving the unit a quality feel. The Leaf 2 comes in 2 “flavours” — the black model, which I tested, comes with a flush, glass covered screen, while the white model comes with a slightly recessed, but exposed, e-ink screen without the protective glass layer. That, in theory, should mean less glare and crisper visuals, at the potential expense of robustness (although I have to say I didn’t have any problems with glare or display clarity on the black model I tested).
The design itself is typical of contemporary premium e-reading devices. It’s a sleek black rectangle with slightly curved edges and a wider “spine” on one side of the display, which houses one of the stand-out features of the Leaf 2: physical page-turn buttons. The wide spine makes it easy to clutch the reader in one hand without accidentally activating the touch screen, and the built-in G-Sensor means the display rotates automatically to accommodate the device’s orientation. And yes, by default the page turn buttons also switch when you rotate the device — which is great to see.
One thing the Leaf 2 lacks is a waterproof rating… which is a shame, as unlike some of the competition, you’ll need to be careful with it on the beach or by the pool, and probably won’t be reading with it in the bath.
Reading on the Leaf 2
Whether you’re reading in the native reading app, or one of the many other Android reading apps (As well as the native Neo Reader, I tested the Amazon Kindle app, library lending app BorrowBox, and the Libby ap for magazines), the 300ppi e-ink Carta display of the Leaf 2 delivers crisp, high contrast letters that can rival any e-reader on the market. Image quality in e-magazine and PDF files is also very good (albeit B&W only on the e-ink display).
Built-in front-lights that can be independently configured for cool and warm light let you dial in the colour temperature to suit your needs, and make it possible to read easily at night without eye strain. At the opposite end of the lighting spectrum, the anti-glare characteristics of the e-ink display make it perfectly legible, even in direct sunlight.
While the default settings offer excellent reading performance out of the box, as with other Boox devices, the Leaf 2 offers an extreme degree of customisation, so if you’re that way inclined, you can tweak and tinker with the display settings to get your content looking exactly the way you want it too.
For the most part though, I was happy with the defaults.
The page turn buttons are a boon for those who want a more tactile and convenient way to turn pages one-handed. A simple tap or swipe on either side of the touchscreen works just as well. The page-turn buttons can also be configured to change the way they behave both by default and within individual apps (as dedicated page turn buttons, or emulating volume buttons — which map to page-turn functionality in many Android reading apps). You can also assign a long-press of each button as a shortcut to an array of key features (screenshot, rotation, previous and next chapters and more).
Some reviewers bemoan the fact that there is no gap between the page-turn buttons. To be honest, I never found this an issue: in fact I found the side-by side rocker layout more intuitive. I simply had to slide my thumb up or down to switch direction, rather than hunting around for a separate button.
EBooks from Anywhere
One of the biggest plus-points for the Leaf 2 is that you can get your e-reading content from literally anywhere. Wherever the source, and whatever the format, chances are you’ll be able to read it on the Onyx Boox Leaf 2, either in the native Neo Reader App, or via a third party Android app for whichever proprietary ebook ecosystem you favour. It also handles PDF files surprisingly well for a small-screen device, with a very handy “Article” display mode that lets you tell the reader how to portion up the page and paginate between the different sections.
Other apps and functionality
While the Leaf 2 is primarily a reading device, and it accomplishes that task superbly, thanks to its Android operating system it also lets you do much more than just read.
While you likely won’t want to install games and video apps on any e-ink device, the bluetooth connectivity and built in speakers make the Leaf 2 a decent device for playing audio books, podcasts and other audio content (you can even stream music playlists via your favourite streaming app). You can browse the web with the native Neo Browser, or using your Android browser of choice, browse and read documents from your Google Drive, Dropbox or OneDrive account, even check your email… and much more besides.
One thing to bear in mind though is that the Leaf 2’s specs reflect its core function as a reading device. They are more than fit for purpose in that use-case, but performance in more demanding apps won’t blow you away, and despite Boox offering multiple refresh modes optimised for different content types, there’s no getting around the refresh limitations of an e-ink display for anything other than text-based content.
That said, the ability to install apps on your e-reader is a bit of a novelty, and I found a number of apps that worked surprisingly well on a small e-ink display, so it’s definitely worth trying a few.
The Onyx Boox Leaf 2 is a capable premium e-reader that’s versatile and highly configurable thanks to its Android 11 based OS, and is perfect for those who don’t like being locked into a particular reading platform.
If you’re already heavily invested in an ebook ecosystem like Amazon’s Kindle or the Rakuten Kobo, for example, one of their dedicated e-readers is perhaps the more compelling proposition. If, on the other hand, you value choice, flexibility and the freedom to aggregate content from multiple sources on a single, portable e-reading device, then the Leaf 2 from Onyx Boox is going to be hard to beat.
For more details visit the Boox Leaf 2 product page here.
The Onyx Leaf 2 is available in a bundle including the device and a cover for €239.99 via the Boox eurostore website here.
About the Author
Calvin Jones is an author and online content specialist based in West Cork Ireland. Alongside his writing projects, he runs Ireland’s Wildlife, helps business clients improve their websites and reviews the latest tech gadgets.
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