Today’s Tech Acquisition: Onyx Boox Nova 2

I’ve been wanting to get a new e-ink book reader lately, but the problem with doing that is, since most e-ink readers are tied into one book-selling ecosystem or another, you pretty much have to choose which retailer you read in e-ink from, whilst everyone else you have ebooks with, you read on a regular glowy screen. I had a Nook reader for a while and it was good, but there were some things I had on Kindle I couldn’t get on it, and so on. It’s frustrating.

Then over the weekend I read this review of the Onyx Boox Nova 2, which is not only an ebook reader, but is an actual bonafide tablet running Android software — older Android software, to be sure, but new enough that every ebook app from every retailer works on it perfectly well. And as a bonus, as an actual Android tablet, you can use it for other things as well. It’s not just an ebook reader, and it’s not tied into a single bookseller ecosystem.

I got it and spend most of the afternoon fiddling with it and it’s… doing what I wanted it to, perfectly well indeed. I have my Kindle and Nook and Google Books apps up and running on it, and they’re presenting text in the way e-ink readers present text, without eyestrain, which I appreciate. There is backlighting, so one can read it in less-than-perfect lighting, and the thing has 300 dots per inch resolution, which for e-ink really is more than sufficient. It’s only monochrome, but I knew that going in, so I’m not exactly disappointed. Strictly as an ebook reader, which is what I wanted, I’m satisfied and happy with the purchase.

As a tablet, it’s a very fine ebook reader. By which I mean to say, yes, in fact, you can use it for anything that has static text and pictures and it will do just fine, as long as you can deal with the fact that e-ink refresh rates are laggy as hell and that as a result scrolling is a thing you do mostly by feel (it has various settings to try to minimize lag while scrolling, but, yeah. The thing about a dancing pig, etc). If you’re trying to watch video, well, I don’t know what to tell you other than I admire your ambition. It will play music and podcasts just fine (I downloaded Spotify on it), although you’ll need USB-C headphones for that. No camera as well. It has a stylus to take notes with; I suspect I’ll lose that presently, as I do with most phone/tablet styli.

Other notes: You have to jump through some hoops to get Google to admit it’s a device that Google can do things on; I had to download new firmware and then go into the settings to have Google verify the tablet. So don’t give this to anyone who is completely hopeless techwise, unless you’re willing to spend an hour or so helping them to set it up (the thing comes with its own sideload-ish store, which feels sketchy). The thing is soft-touch plastic, which feels nice and is reasonably light, but the thing picks up fingerprints like you wouldn’t believe; I wiped it down to take the picture above. Battery life is fabulous because it’s e-ink. The manufacturer is Chinese, so if you’re paranoid about Chinese tech, maybe sit this one out (clearly I’m not all that paranoid).

Otherwise: Hey a universal ebook reader (well, almost, Apple Books is probably not happening)! Which in a pinch you can use as a tablet if you have a need for such a thing. That’s how I’ll be using it, and for that, it seems to be working just fine.

— JS

39 Comments on “Today’s Tech Acquisition: Onyx Boox Nova 2”

  1. Pity it’s not easy to set up — Tammy might like that as an eBook reader, given her iPad sometimes gives her eyestrain.

    Apple Books made its own bed, and now must sleep in it. If they’d been more open from the start, they might be a major eBook destination — but they weren’t, and the Kindle and Nook apps operate just fine as readers on iOS, thank you.

  2. Do you use any generic ebook reading software on Android? I’ve been a big fan of Moon+ combined with Calibre to make sure every ebook I paid for won’t expire one day.

  3. timliebe:

    It’s not difficult to set up, you just have to know what to do, and the tablet’s instructions for how to do that are not exactly clearly marked (I found out accidentally, by opening up the pre-loaded browser, which has the manufacturer help page set up as the home page). Once I had instructions it was mostly downloading and pressing buttons. So not difficult, but also very not intuitive at all.

  4. I’ve been using Calibre with the built-in reader, @Gary Bunker. I tried Moon and the built-in software was better, IMO. Moon does work though, like Scalzi said, it’s Android. The only limitation is it’s e-paper, so video and other apps that like to refresh a lot won’t work perfectly.

  5. My next ebook reader won’t be a kindle. I think I should wait until I unfortunately break the current one before picking up one of the Onyx ones.

    What do you think of the 7.8″ screen as opposed to the normal 6″ screens that are on most readers?

  6. I’ve had various Nooks and Fires (wanted to say “crannies”) over the years. Wanted a tablet a bit larger than a Nook, and that could run Android apps easily.

    Ended up with a Lenovo Tab M10 HD 10.1″ Tablet, Android 9.0, (here https://amzn.to/319A7os ) for $199. Added extra memory to it – had some little memory cards lurking about the house that needed a home.

    Generally pleased with it. Just use it for reading, mostly Kindle books, but also installed the various other apps and use it for that also. Reading is fine in B&W, colors are OK. Don’t use it to stream videos, although it would be sufficient for that. Also use it to check out web sites I develop to make sure that the sites look OK on smaller screens.

    Overall, pleased with my tablet purchase. Congrats on your new toy.

  7. Not sure if you’re one to read comics at all, but if you are I’d love to know how marvel unlimited (or any other legal comic app) performs on this device.

  8. This might be more of a comment on how bored I am without seeing much of the outside world, but I’ve been trying to guess the authorship of Whatever posts (read to me by my mostly male-sounding but androgynous-to-me-now screenreader). So far the easiest way has been through comma use. JS posts usually have fewer. You threw me for a loop today, but once I read “older Android software, to be sure” I felt pretty confident that this was a bona fide JS creation.*

    * Really “Tech Acquisition” should have been my clue, but I decided not to judge a blog by its title.

  9. My Kobo reads pretty much everything, and I’m fairly happy with its native app. I sideload everything off my desktop, which is where all my content lives. There are one or two books it hiccups on but the rest of the hundreds of books work just beautifully.

    I am hoping that “unchained” reading devices make a comeback, so that it eventually becomes possible to purchase ebooks that don’t require a major retailer’s “app” to read them, just a basic reading too. I would love to be able to purchase an e-book from any source, download it to my computer’s Books library, and then sideload it off my computer to my dedicated e-ink reader.

    So far I have been limited to legal freebies, semi-legal freebies, and painfully scanned/corrected/typed/converted versions of books I love so much I read them over and over. I read very little new fiction for that reason, other than the actual woodpulp artifacts I get from the library.

    (Which brings me to another complaint – the multiplicity and complexity of library “apps” and the difficulty of using them on any device other than an Apple or Android tablet. I haven’t found any that are compatible with my Kobo e-ink reader yet.)

    I long for the return of the days when you could buy a book and read it anywhere you wanted, never worrying that it would mysteriously vanish from your shelves or become unreadable overnight. It should be possible somehow, some way, for the digital universe to make that experience possible again in digital form.

    I want “The Last Emperox,” I log on to any purveyor of e-books without worrying whether I have a compatible ‘app’ or a branded reader or an implanted DRM recognition system or whatever. Just “see book, want book, buy book, download book, load download onto reader, read.” And have it there forever, and when my reading device becomes old and scuzzy from being carried about and read all the time everywhere, I can buy a new device, go back to the computer, load my Books library onto it, and go right back to reading.

    That would be bliss. Bliss, I tell you.

    I would probably go broke buying books, but it would be worth it.

  10. My current ereader is a Kobo Forma which I love for its Overdrive and Pocket integration. But that one is tempting.

  11. uleaguehub: I do that with Calibre on my Windows 10 PC: Buy a book where it’s available, download to PC using the appropriate app, import into Calibre, save to my library as an epub and sync to my ereader (currently Cool Reader on a Samsung Nook tablet).

  12. How fortuitous, I was just thinking of buying an ereader this weekend.

    Have you tried it with books from outside the usual ecosystems – freebies, web originals, Project Gutenberg, etc?

  13. Guess I’m in a minority here. I have a four year old Kindle Voyage that I’m quite happy with. It’s lightweight, the screen looks good even to my seventy-year-old eyes, and battery life is measured in weeks.

    I do buy an occasional Kindle book from Amazon, but most of my ebooks come from free sources such as Project Gutenberg and the Baen Free Library. I keep them in RTF format, because that makes it easy for me to correct typos–I hate typos! I get them to my Kindle using the Send To Kindle macOS app, which is a control click away.

    Of course the Kindle syncs with my iPad Mini and iPhone, so I can switch devices at will and it’ll keep my place in whatever I’m reading. I’m sure other ereader systems do the same. Just sayin’…whether buying, downloading, or reading books, my old Kindle makes the process about as frictionless as I could imagine.

  14. I’m glad that you are enjoying it. I purchased mine for the exact same reason to be a convergence device for Amazon and BN. I’v purchased books from Valancourt Books, and those loaded well, and read great.

    Thanks for being awesome.

  15. I’ve had three nooks over the course of about 10 years, and this looks like it was made for me. I did not want to be locked into Amazon’s system for books, and I wanted an eReader with e-ink. Unfortunately, being outside of the Amazon ecosystem means checking out a library book is damn near impossible, as the Libby app works with tablets or through Amazon. Otherwise, there are about 15 steps you have to go through, including making sure a bunch of other apps are installed on your desktop, signing in to that thing, sideloading it and… I have yet to figure it out. Basically, they assume you have a Kindle or you want to read on a tablet. I will definitely keep this in mind for when my current nook goes kaput.

  16. I’ve been thinking on getting one for a while, as my ebook buying habits are moving away from Amazon. I’m not quite ready to replace my perfectly working Kindle, but once that thing dies… (There’s also the thing that my library supports most readers, except for Kindles, because of DRM reasons. fun!)

  17. My eyesight is such that the screen size you have would be unhelpful. I went to the Boox site to see if they had anything bigger. Lo and behold, they have a 13.3″ tablet. A little too rich for my blood right this minute, but Christmas/birthday will be here before too long.

    I’m now on my second Kindle Fire, and I’ve decided that, since they run their own OS, not Android, I’m not a big fan. I like the 10.1″ screen size, but I wouldn’t do a Kindle device again, so I’m just as happy to see the 13.3″ Boox.

  18. Although I use e-ink for reading books, I have a Kindle HD10 tablet. It *is* running Android, just an Amazon-curated version. It took me less than 30 minutes to get the Google Play Store installed, and after that it is more or less an Android device. The layout of the front screens remain Amazon’s design, but it now runs any Android app.

    Google something like “Install google play on fire tablet” for fairly easy instructions. No rooting necessary.

  19. Thanks, John. I keep looking at Onyx and almost bought one. I actually think that’s a bit too big, but can live with it.

    Like Timill, I keep all my books in Calibre and sync to a Kobo. Which is Not Technically Legal for _any_ books purchased from Amazon (with or without DRM) or any DRM-encumbered books.

    I’m a bit perplexed about people saying their public libraries force them to use Kindle, or any particular reader. Libby was specifically mentioned, which is Overdrive, and used by both of my public libraries, but Overdrive works with Nook and Kobo as well (I don’t do it, but my wife downloads library books all the time)

  20. The first e-reader I got, 10 1/2 years ago, was a Nook. I was an early enough adopter that I was able to loan it to the Washington Post’s tech reviewer for his review. When it became clear that Amazon was going to crush B&N like a bug I moved to the Kindle. Had to break the DRM on the Nook books, which was easy with Calibre and, well, you’ll have to google for the hack. Hope you have the credit card number you bought the books with.

    I still use Calibre for sideloading the old nook books as well as books from Gutenberg.

  21. I love e-ink! And I would love a slightly larger format than my old Kindle or Kobo, for when a book has a diagram or map I want to look at, and for big type at night with my glasses off. I’ll be following now reviews of these independent devices.

    I have a six year-old kindle and a five-year old Kobo that I got when my kindle broke and before it got fixed. The Kobo sat in a drawer for four years until I dusted it off this spring when I had the time and motivation to see about weaning myself from Amazon. It charged right up, and plugging it into my computer with Kobo app updated its firmware and now it works great wirelessly. I always check the Kobo store from my local bookstore website before buying any kindle books (I assume the store benefits when I go through them rather than directly). But sometimes the Kobo is WAY more expensive than the kindle, and not everything is available.

  22. If you have MacOS Sierra, there’s a crack program that will break Apple DRM and turn their books in to regular epubs, then you can turn them in to anything you want. That’s what I’ve been doing for years. Sadly they made changes and that program does not work – yet – post-Sierra. Thus, I will always have a laptop or VM running Sierra.

  23. TBH, this is the first article I’ve read recently that I was COMPLETELY wrong about who wrote this piece…within the first paragraph I was, oh this is ~AMS all the way….(I should have noticed the reference to the Nook, as not sure A would even remember those existed)….Nothing against how it was composed at all, it was a “lite” review of the new ereader that I just assumed ~AMS wrote & had her “voice” in my head as I read it….it’s fun to guess & be surprised. Totally liking this new co-author format! (FYI, I’ve been reading this blog since ~2011-ish)…Keep it up!

  24. I picked up a BOOX Note Pro about a year ago. Same idea, but bigger (~10″ screen), and slightly older innards. It’s really nice. The built-in reader is actually quite good, and if you weren’t aware, you can use the stylus to annotate books. I think it’s the same kind of stylus as is used by the Wacom Bamboo (not Intuos) drawing tablets.

    Like others have mentioned, Calibre works well for maintaining a library of ebooks all in once place, and making sure your device has all of them, even if you bought them from different sources.

    Something I’ve found the Note Pro really useful for is recipes. Find a recipe app that works well with it and you have a convenient recipe book when you’re cooking.

  25. Great, an opportunity to ask this question! Did anyone have issues reading The Last Emperox on an e-ink reader? The bit where I assume it was white text on a black background was a real chore to read on my nook as it rendered as completely black boxes. I couldn’t figure a way to override the formatting other than highlighting each word which isn’t that easy to do

  26. I bought the same boox nova pro last summer. I absolutely LOVE it. I do wish it had a color e-ink screen (I hear that’s coming next year) but other than that, It’s perfect for all the things I typically do on a tablet. It works with Libby (overdrive library books), Kindle, Kobo, and every other storefront/reader I’ve tossed at it. I can set the text size to something larger to ease my eyes when I’m tired. I can control the temperature of the side lighting so it doesn’t go yellow enough to make me sick or blue enough to make my eyes hurt in the dark. I can listen to music with my bluetooth headphones. I can check and respond to email. And I have a portable folding bluetooth keyboard that lets me use it with a text editor for basic writing sessions or extended emails.If I want to watch video I’m generally looking for something larger than a tablet screen anyway. My brain doesn’t process tiny images.
    I’m in IT so I have a lot of computers and gadgets and I think this was my best tech purchase of the last few years. I won’t hesitate to buy another when the color e-ink version hits if it’s affordable.

  27. “[Deleted because off-topic and, also, no one gives a shit, dude — JS]”

    Huh. I thought someone was really THAT upset about you switching to Onyx.

  28. Three days after I purchase a new kindle I read this. It hits a lot of the same spots for me. The only thing that keeps me from weeping too much is the link in there about a color e-ink iteration possibly coming. That would be the ultimate get.

  29. I buy my books from Amazon, remove the DRM and sideload them with Calibre onto my Nook and Kobo. I like the freedom of being able to get books from where ever I want and read them on whatever device I like.

    But then, I’m a nerd who likes doing this with their free time. It’s not for everyone, I admit.

  30. I’m curious. Why could you not install the Kindle app on the Nook? Is it because the Android version was too old?

    Frankly, when I buy ebooks I immediately use Calibre to put it in a de-DRMed standard format and then convert to what I need. I’m not trying to cheat anybody. I pay for what I read and I don’t share it. But I also refuse to be locked into a single ecosystem and have to repurchase everything if I ever decide to change to a new device or if my current device manufacturer goes belly up. It’s my book. It isn’t somebody elses book that they’re letting me use. And if it is then the price needs to be a lot lower. Which in turn is why, despite Amazon’s blandishments, I still mainly use paper books, especially scientific reference books, which are torture in an ebook format.

  31. My nook is an eReader, NOT a tablet, so I can’t add apps to it. Using Overdrive means I have to load the book onto a computer that has Adobe Digital Editions installed PLUS some sort of Android File Transfer reader (because I only have a Mac machine) and then side-load. This is all too much “installation of this” here and “transfer this” there, ESPECIALLY when the nook is capable of reading the ePub format. Why the “middle-man” computer has to be able to read the format, AND have a special sekrit decoding key for the file when all I’m asking it to do is just move the thing onto my device is ultimately frustrating. I’ll admit, if I wanted to download more crap onto my machines and take a few extra minutes out of my day, it would be just that easy. But the whole thing just pisses me off, and so the next eReader I buy will be something like this Onyx thing, where I can install the Overdrive and Libby apps and NOT be forced to read my books off my social media machine.

  32. I read this yesterday and this morning discovered that my old, Galaxy Tab tablet had finally gone to the great recycle bin in the sky. The old battery finally charged one too many times and has expanded dangerously, popping the screen loose. Definitely double-plus un-good.

    As others have shared, I’m a long-time Nook user, but that particular tech seems to be quietly slipping away this year. I started with a Nook HD+, which I rooted to make a more full-featured tablet. Then, I upgraded to a Nook Galaxy Tab (not the one which died overnight), and I’ve been very pleased with it. One feature I liked was the ability to insert an SD memory chip to expand storage and sideload a little easier. Is that a feature on the Boox Nova 2?

    I saw they had a limited version of the Poke in color at one point, though it’s now sold out, and I’m hoping they come out with either the Nova or the Note in color. It may be a “must buy” if they do.

    I’d really be interested in how it works for you in a month or two. I find that after the initial excitement of the fresh toy wears off, I have a better sense of the overall quality of the purchase