DURING QUARANTINE last spring, eager to do more than leave an increasingly permanent indent in my couch, I started going on picnics. As companions went, only my iPad seemed safe. But apart from moments when the sun slipped behind the clouds, the screen’s glare limited my ability to doomscroll, read a novel or finish the writing assignments that are my actual job. And even if fully charged when I left the house, the battery soon dwindled to depletion.
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In need of better company for my outings, I bought an Onyx Boox Nova2, one of a new generation of E Ink tablets that strive to combine the best features of existing devices. E Ink screens—unlike those of LCD-based iPads—rely on actual pigment to produce images as sharp (and well-suited to the sun) as a physical book. And while you might already be familiar with the tech if you’ve ever used an
Kindle, the functionality of the newest E Ink tablets far outpaces the old e-reader you’ve got stashed in your nightstand.
Kindles are used strictly for reading, but these new tablets let you surf the web or respond to work emails without leaving your lawn chair. They often include high-tech styluses designed to feel more like a pen writing on paper than a piece of plastic skimming across slick glass. And, thanks to the Onyx’s vigorous battery life, I went whole weeks without worrying where my charger might be.
In my new role as an E Ink expert, I’ve been fielding questions from friends who are torn between skepticism and curiosity when it comes to these devices. Here, four typical queries.
Q: My husband is a compulsive note-taker. His real books end up cluttered with Post-its. Could an e-reader help?
A: The new, touch-screen PocketBook Inkpad Color combines iPad-like bells and whistles with the Kindle’s glare-free and text-forward experience. It beats Kindles by letting your husband make notes directly on the virtual “page” and consume graphic novels in all their
glory the way an iPad can. But it borrows some of the most compelling features of a Kindle—a matte screen and eye-friendly absence of blue light—to beat the Apple tablet when it comes to replicating the experience of thumbing through a physical book. Plus, the PocketBook can hold up to 600 books and supports 17 different ebook formats (as opposed to the Kindle’s six)—including the Mobi format Amazon uses and the Epub format used by most other digital book stores. But be warned: Before your husband can make his cherished notes, you’ll have to buy him a capacitive stylus like the $50 Adonit Dash 3.
Q: All my journals are a mess of to-do lists and meeting notes. But somehow I doubt any tablet could keep me more organized.
A: While Kindles aren’t equipped with notetaking tech and writing on an iPad feels more like writing on glass than in your trusty spiral bound, the ReMarkable 2 E Ink tablet was engineered to offer an experience akin to jotting notes in a paper notebook. The device has a black-and-white, 10.3-inch screen that’s matte instead of glossy, and comes with a stylus (for an extra $49) that experiences haptic feedback when you drag it. The tablet lets you organize your chicken scratch into easy-to-parse lists and upload them to the cloud and your phone or computer. (Certain iPad apps can translate handwriting to text by taking a photo of your notes, but they’re prone to transcription errors.) The ReMarkable also supports both PDF and Epub files and is Wi-Fi-enabled for emailing. But you’ll need to convert Word Documents before viewing them and, with no optional backlight, you’ll need to find your own light if you’re in a dark room.
Q: I use my iPad mainly for reading and emailing but I hate how often I have to charge it. Persuade me one of these would be better.
A: Unlike an iPad, E Ink doesn’t rely on energy-sapping LEDs. That means many can last for weeks between charges, even when they’re being used every day from 9 to 5. The new, Wi-Fi-enabled Onyx Boox Nova3 Color has a 7.8-inch color E Ink display that’s not quite as vivid as an iPad’s LCD one, but comes with little of the battery angst often associated with iPad ownership. Even when you turn on the optional backlight for reading in the dark, the Bluetooth-enabled device can still last a week or longer between charges.
Q: Can an E Ink device replace my laptop?
A: E Ink is great when you want to focus on words, whether you’re reading a book, taking notes during a meeting or responding to an email from your sunny backyard. But unlike iPads, which come close to mimicking laptops when you pair them with a Bluetooth keyboard, E Ink devices are best viewed as a supplementary WFH tool. For instance, you can hook the huge, 13.3-inch Max Lumi up as a display for your computer to escape the headache-inducing blue light iPads and laptops give off, but you’ll still need an ordinary LCD monitor around to hop into Zoom meetings or stream videos. The Lumi’s a great choice for focusing on the detailed memo you’re reviewing (only one app can be open at a time), but it isn’t a one-stop shop.
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