E-ink note-taking devices appear to be coming of age. The paper-replacement market niche popularised by the original reMarkable, and reinforced by the impressive reMarkable 2 we reviewed recently, has attracted the attention of some major tech players of late.
Amazon grabbed tech headlines in late 2022 with the release of its Kindle Scribe: the first Kindle e-ink device you can write on. Others, including Huawei and Lenovo, have also released e-ink note taking devices as the sector gains momentum. A growing cohort of users, it seems, want devices to read… and write on… without the eye-fatigue you get with typical LED or OLED displays.
Onyx Boox Note Air 2 Plus e-ink Tablet reviewed
While mainstream players are just getting into this burgeoning niche, the best devices for digital note-taking and paper replacement come from companies with years of e-ink pedigree. The aforementioned reMarkable is probably the best known, along with Ratta and their Supernote devices, and Onyx, with its Boox Note range.
Onyx sent us the most recent incarnation of its Boox Note line, the Note Air 2 Plus for review. After my recent experience with the reMarkable 2, I was intrigued to see what one of that device’s main competitors could offer. The short answer is more… a lot more.
But then if you’ve read that reMarkable 2 review, you’ll realise that, in this space, more isn’t necessarily better.
While the reMarkable 2 successfully pushes the limits of the “less is more” paper-replacement paradigm, Onyx pitches its Boox Note Air 2 Plus (NA2P) at the other end of the functionality spectrum. Instead of offering you a carefully curated selection of limited, but highly-polished tools, the NA2P is a fully fledged Android 11 tablet, with Google Play Store on board, and a mind-boggling array of settings and tweaks available. It is infinitely configurable to suit different workflows and use cases.
The NA2P offers boundless flexibility, but with it comes complexity, and that? could be the device’s Achilles heel for some users.
What is the Boox Note Air 2 Plus
An E-ink/Digital Paper tablet designed around the Android 11 Operating System, the NA2P sports an unspecified Octa-core processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage beneath its eye-friendly monochrome 10.3” e-ink Carta Display.
The NA2P is thin. Not quite as ludicrously thin as the reMarkable 2, but at just 5.8mm thick this is still a svelte device. It feels solid and premium too, thanks to its all aluminium and glass construction. The tablet is also no slouch in the looks department. The aluminium chassis has a classy matte finish in what Onyx calls “Pine Green”, with little orange accents around the edge and back, and an orange Boox logo on the bottom left at the front offering subtle but effective counterpoints.
A minor refresh of the earlier Note Air 2, the Plus adds a larger 3700 maH battery, the pine green colour (replacing crest blue), and internal magnets to support attachment to the new folio case without additional fixings. Otherwise, functionally and spec wise, it’s identical to its sibling.
The NA2P comes bundled with the Onyx Pen Plus passive EMR stylus, which never needs charging or pairing with the device (the Onyx Pen 2 Pro, which adds an eraser function, is a €79 optional accessory). When not in use you can attach the stylus magnetically to the right side of the device… although the attachment isn’t particularly strong, and the stylus can become dislodged a bit too easily. If you’re using the new magnetic folio case, the magnetic closure flap secures the stylus in place… otherwise, you’ll need to be careful if relying solely on the magnets to hold the stylus in place.
Because the NA2P uses a standard Wacom EMR layer for stylus functionality you’re not restricted to Onyx pens; most passive EMR pens should work. I tried it with the reMarkable Marker Plus and the third party Lamy Al Star EMR and both worked fine.
The NA2P’s 3,700 maH battery charges via USB C and can easily power the e-ink device for upwards of 2 weeks with moderate daily use on a single charge, depending on how much you use the adjustable dual-tone front-lights (not backlights — that’s important). Even with heavy daily use you should easily go a week or more between charges. Battery life isn’t an issue.
As with Amazon’s Kindle devices, the front-lights use LEDs around the screen to direct light evenly above the e-ink layer. It means you’re reading using reflected light, rather than light passing through the display directly into your eyes. It means you can use the NA2P for extended periods in low light environments without straining your eyes. Warm and cool front-lights are independently adjustable, so you can find a comfortable balance in any given lighting situation.
The USB C port supports OTG peripherals, and can be used for data transfer between the tablet and your computer. The only negative aspect of the USB C port is the location on the right hand “spine” of the device. If you use a folio cover, it makes the port inaccessible when the cover is closed, forcing you to fold open the cover or remove the device to charge, which is less than ideal.
In terms of connectivity the NA2P supports 2.4 and 5 GHz WiFi and Bluetooth 5.0, so you’re all set for internet access and hooking up peripherals like headphones, speakers, wireless keyboards, etc. There’s also a speaker and microphone built in, so you can listen to audio books, make audio notes or use speech to text input directly on the device if you want to.
Taking Notes on the Boox Note Air 2 Plus
Writing with the included Onyx Pen Plus is quick and responsive. While the official response time is a little shy of that quoted by the reMarkable 2, in real world use, there’s little difference in the perceived response rate between the two. The writing feel on the NA2P is excellent.
As with the reMarkable 2, it’s not quite like writing on paper, but it’s close enough that you soon stop thinking about it. Just like different pens feel different on different paper, how the device feels for you will depend on your writing style, the stylus and the tips/nibs you use. Suffice it to say that writing on the NA2P is comfortable, precise and responsive.
The built-in Notes app is very capable and offers all sorts of tools to help you take down and organise your handwritten notes efficiently. There are five different pen/brush types with a wide range of greyscale/colour options and up to 25 different line widths to choose from. You also have multiple erasers, shapes and lines, selection tools, canvas customisation, layers, templates and more to work with.
If anything it has too many options, and there’s quite a steep learning curve to working with the myriad tools on offer effectively. However, the basics are easy enough, and the rest of it comes with time, perseverance and a little bit of Googling.
You can organise your notes into unlimited notepads, of practically unlimited pages, stored in unlimited nested folders. You can add tags to selected elements on any page, and use those tags to search and filter your information effectively. You can even turn on background conversion of handwriting to allow you to search handwritten notes based on content.
All of your notepads and folders can be synced seamlessly with your Onyx Account (if you choose) and across multiple Boox devices thanks to the 5GB of free cloud storage Onyx provides to every customer.
One thing that was a little surprising is the fact that the Notes app doesn’t support pen tilt functionality. You can’t tilt the pen to shade with the pencil tool like you can on some rival devices, making sketching and doodling more of a challenge. Tilt works on a hardware level, because if you install a third-party drawing app (I tried Krita) it supports tilt just fine (but the app isn’t optimised for e-ink, so overall user experience is horrible).
Hopefully lack of tilt support is something Onyx can address in a firmware update soon.
OneNote and Evernote are apparently optimised for e-ink, and can be easily installed from the Play Store — but it would be great to see more third party note and drawing apps working with e-ink. I guess that’s something we’ll see more of as e-ink note-taking devices move into the mainstream.
Reading and Annotating Ebooks and PDFs on the Boox Note Air 2 Plus
Boox makes some of the best e-readers on the market (I’m in the middle of reviewing their new Leaf 2 e-reader — stay tuned for that), and the NA2P includes all the library and reading functionality you’d expect in a top-of-the-line e-reader. It supports pretty much any ebook file-format you care to mention, and even syncs reading progress between Boox devices (via your Boox account, if you choose to set one up).
Unlike many e-readers, you’re not locked into proprietary formats or e-book ecosystems… with the Boox you can read books in practically any format you like, from multiple sources. The e-ink is easy on the eye, and the 10.3” display is perfectly suited for reading large documents. PDF support in the native reader is particularly good, with reflow support, OCR, and options to choose how zoomed in sections of PDF documents are displayed — making it ideal for reading large-format documents like academic papers, journals, newspaper and magazine articles, etc. The adjustable front lights are great for reading at night or in dimly lit environments too.
The built in reader app supports note-taking directly on ebook and PDF documents, which works really well, even with large scanned PDF files that less powerful devices (like the reMarkable 2) might struggle with.
As with everything else on the device, the default Neo Reader app gives you an almost infinite degree of control over how your ebooks and documents are displayed, with options for fonts, line spacing, paragraph spacing, margins and practically everything else. The default settings work perfectly well, but if you’re so inclined you can adjust things to display exactly the way you want.
If you’re already heavily invested in an ebook ecosystem, like Kindle, Kobo, Google Play Books etc., as a fully-fledged Android tablet the NA2P you can simply install the corresponding app on your Boox device for instant access to your current library. The Kindle app was the first thing I installed on the NA2P, and it works flawlessly.
As an e-reader and annotation device, the Boox NA2P has you more than covered.
Installing Apps on the Note Air 2 Plus
As an open Android 11 based platform, with Google Play Store support out of the box, you can install pretty much any app you like on the NA2P.
Not all of them will work as you might hope though. Inherent limitations of the e-ink display, particularly around refresh rates and ghosting, will render certain apps unusable. Some apps are optimised to work with e-ink devices… most are not. While they will, in theory, install and work, they will look and respond terribly. You won’t, for example, be consuming rich media content or video on an e-ink device out of choice. Similarly, drawing and sketching apps that are not optimised for e-ink will work, but the constant refreshing of the screen will render them mostly unusable.
Boox does offer multiple display modes and optimisations you can customise on an app-by-app basis to make individual apps work better with the e-ink display. In practice these work well for mostly text-based applications. Google Drive, Docs, Sheets and Gmail, for example, work well, and while I won’t be using the NA2P as my main device for any of those soon, it’s handy to have the option in a pinch.
Browsers also work, so if you prefer to read longer web articles on your e-ink screen to save your eyes, you can do that. There’s also a handy Chrome extension that allows you to send web articles directly to your Boox device as PDFs for offline consumption — and that’s probably a better way to go.
The Onyx Boox Note Air 2 Plus: Conclusion
While the Onyx Note Air 2 Plus has a relatively steep learning curve, it is a very capable note-taking, reading, annotation and productivity device that is well built, feels great to use and does so many things well that it’s hard not to recommend. As a reasonably tech-savvy user who likes to tinker and tweak, I’ve been in my element getting to grips with this device over the last few weeks. There’s simply so much to discover.
If you want a simple, polished and straightforward note-taking device that just works to replace your paper notebooks and post-its, the reMarkable 2 is hard to beat. However, if you value flexibility, see the benefits of having access to third-party apps, and relish diving into the settings to make a device your own, then the Onyx Boox Note Air 2 Plus is the better all-rounder.5
For more details visit the Boox Note Air 2/Plus product page here.
The Onyx Note Air 2 Plus is available in a bundle with the standard Onyx Pen Plus and the Magnetic Folio Case for €519.99 via the Boox eurostore website here.
You can also buy the Onyx Note Air 2 Plus via Amazon 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.
See more reviews here.