e-ink Tablet Experiences (Notebook, Book Reader, Day Page)

I saw a guy today at Starbucks. He had no smartphone, tablet or laptop. He just sat there drinking his coffee. Like a psychopath.
david avocado wolfe

Having used an iPad mini for a few years, I recently switched to a small e-ink tablet (Onyx Nova Air C). It does come with a lot of limitations, e.g., you can forget videos and (most) games, it is slower (display, processor) and there are much fewer options.

In a word, it is just the perfect everyday tablet for me.

I already rarely watch videos and most of the apps I use are productivity apps (e.g., using it for reading and note-taking). And while it was possible to castrate the iPad to remove distractions (e.g., see this posting), it was working against the affordances of the device. After all, why have all that processing power and such a cool screen if you do not use it?

The e-ink tablet on the other hand does not have these affordances. It is made for reading and note-taking and both is possible very well:

  • Reading: The screen is great for reading, esp. when optimized for black and white text. Much less glare even when the front light is activated. Much easier on the eye.
  • Note-taking: The note-taking app is nice, supports PDF templates with multiple pages (putting the PDF-file into the noteTemplate folder). The pen reacts quite fast in that app. Even better, you do not need to pair a pencil or keep it charged. Any supported pen immediately works.
  • Compared to paper: In contrast to a paper notepad, the device is «stiff», which makes writing much easier. And sure, erasing/undo/etc. work very well.
  • Battery Life: One of the main advantages is the longer battery life. Especially when the front light is off. You can practically leave it on for hours on end, which is pretty neat if you use a paper-style calendar and put the device on your work desk.
  • Lightweight: I used a (now more-or-less) waterproof case on my iPad mini, which means the device is always inside that case. Makes the whole thing rather heavy (418g). Given the material of the iPad mini, I think it needs a case to be handled better (making it thicker and less cold to the touch). The e-ink tablet has a similar screen size but weights only 265g (okay, without case). But it does not need an attached case, an external one works fine, as the e-ink tablet feels nicer to the touch. Yeah, cheap plastic beats metal here.
  • Quick access as no password protection necessary: The device has two main use cases: tear off notepad to quickly jot down ideas/notes/sketch and reading books. As such it never contains more than a weeks worth of notes (as I process them once a week) nor any personal or confidential information (also because it is made by a Chinese company, I don’t even use sync). Thus, I do not need password protection which is a game-changer if you want to be able to jot down ideas quickly. (I would never use the iPad mini without password protection, as it contains personal or rather private information. The most the tablet contains are books that you read one-handed.)
  • Pen sticks to device (magnetic!): Akin to the newer Apple tablets, the pen sticks to the side of the device. Very comfortable when carrying the device around (e.g., when you read and take notes on the toilet). I usually put the pen in a leg pocket when I do not need it and the device is in its case.

One downside I have noticed so far is that the calibration seems to be off more easily with the e-ink tablet. I did recalibrate it a few times (off by a millimeter or so, petty, yeah, but I notice it). Also still getting used to Android 11. And while the PDF export of the notepads works (depending on the setting, I use Vector-based PDFs with all Layers), I usually type the text on the computer and use screenshots for sketches (and an USB Stick for transferring the files, given that Android File Transfer on the Mac is a bit strange). Oh, and this is one device that fights you when you are in a hurry. Given the e-ink screen and its naturally slow reactions, you make matters worse when you hurry.

But yeah, overall, a nice device. Would not trust it with anything confidential (Chinese company, no password protection), but works very well for reading and note-taking. Oh, and recently as a day-calendar as well.