Monday, May 20, 2024
Gadgets

It’s more than an e-reader


If you’ve been waiting for a compact e-reader or tablet with a full-color E Ink display, your wait is over. The new Onyx Boox Tab Mini C is a device that runs Android-based apps and benefits from a colour, 7.8-inch touchscreen display for when black and white E Ink just isn’t cutting it.


From a concept standpoint, the Onyx Boox Tab Mini C offers a lot of potential. However, after several weeks testing it, I also noticed some pretty major drawbacks that were difficult to overlook or work around. Overall, this should be considered more of a really powerful e-reader and digital notepad, as opposed to a fully functional tablet that its Android operating system might suggest – but keep reading for my full review.

Onyx Boox Tab Mini C
The Onyx Boox Tab Mini C can be used ti access social media accounts, but the device is not ideal for displaying photo or video-based content.

Onyx Boox Tab Mini C running the Instagram app

Onyx Boox Tab Mini C

This Android-based device will serve you better as an e-reader and digital notepad with a full-color e-ink display, as opposed to a fully featured tablet.

Pros

  • Lightweight and portable
  • Full-color e-ink display
  • Runs third-party Android apps
  • Impressive battery life
Cons

  • Slow and sluggish operation
  • Pre-installed apps are unintuitive and lack features
  • Expensive

Design

The Onyx Boox Tab Mini C is very much like a Kindle Paperwhite, but with basic, tablet-like features. It’s thin, lightweight, and utilizes an E Ink display. It measures 7.6 x 5.4 x 0.33 inches, has a smooth plastic casing, and weighs just 10.9 ounces (310g). This makes it comfortable to hold in your hands for extended periods.

You also get a full-colour display, which is something Amazon has not yet incorporated into any of its Kindle devices. That said, due to the screen type, the colours displayed are recognisable, but lack sharpness and often look rather dull.

Onyx Boox Tab Mini C running the Audible app.

The Qualcomm Advanced Octa-core CPU is used to run Android 11, alongside 4GB RAM and 64GB of internal storage. There’s Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on-board here, while on the bottom of the device is a single USB Type-C port for charging, with dual (stereo) speakers built-in and a microphone.

It comes with a Boox Magnetic Pen Plus stylus, which can attach to the side of the tablet via magnets when not being used. A magnetic protective case is also included when the tablet is purchased from Onyx’s website.

It’s important to point out that unlike many of the Amazon Kindle e-readers, the Onyx Boox Tab Mini C is not waterproof or even water-resistant. There’s also no memory card slot either, so internal storage can not be upgraded.

Display

The 7.8-inch touchscreen display (with a front light) has a resolution of 1,404 x 1,872 pixels (300ppi) in monochrome, which makes text look sharp and easily readable. When colour is utilised, the display can showcase 4,096 colors, but resolution drops down to just 702 x 936 pixels (150ppi).

Onyx refers to the available colour palette as Kaleodop 3 ePaper Colors. This makes graphics and photos often look pixelated and lacking in detail. Yes, you can view photos and video content on this device, but due to its sluggishness, lack of image quality, and often muted or inaccurate colors, you probably won’t want to. I didn’t enjoy these experiences at all.

For certain applications, like creating handwritten notes using the stylus, annotating text-based PDF files, reading e-books, or listening to audiobooks, the display built into the Onyx Boox Tab Mini C is more than adequate. For these applications, there’s little need to view extremely detailed or vibrant and accurate colours. Black, and even colored text (or text with virtual highlighting), continuously looks sharp and easily readable, even when displayed using tiny font sizes.

One perk to the E Ink display is that it does a nice job eliminating unwanted glare, so it can be used in direct sunlight or in a dark room. I found that anything displayed in colour looks much better in a dimly lit room, as opposed to outdoors, where sunlight washes out the colours even more.

The Onyx Boox Tab Mini C running the Instagram app.

Two of the main issues I had with the Onyx Boox Tab Mini C are the sluggishness of the operating system and the display. You do have access to four different refresh modes and a brightness control slider, but for viewing anything but text and basic graphics, I found this to be insufficient – especially since you can purchase an Apple iPad or another, more established Android-based tablet for about the same price.

At any time when using the e-reader, by tapping on the Settings icon often seen at the bottom of the screen within the dock (as part of the Android OS), sliders appear to adjust Dark Colour Enhancement, Vividness Enhancement, and Colour Brightness.

The refresh mode can be switched between HD, Balanced, Fast, Ultrafast and Regal with a single tap too. By tapping on the More Settings option, it’s then possible to adjust the display’s refresh rate to cut down (but never eliminate) flickering.

The Onyx Boox Tab Mini C running the Kindle app

I found it necessary to tinker with these settings way too often, each time I switched between different applications in order to achieve optimal viewing. This is something I rarely, if ever, need to do when using an Apple iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab tablet, for example.

On the plus side, the E Ink display incorporated into the Onyx Boox Tab Mini C is very easy on the eyes, virtually eliminating eye strain and allowing the unit’s battery to last for a long time between charges.

Pre-installed and third-party applications

This tablet comes preloaded with proprietary notetaking, web browser, calendar, music, gallery, and e-reader apps, among others. However, I quickly found almost all of these lack essential features and provide a slow, unintuitive, and quirky user interface.

What saves this device and makes it viable for some users is its access to the Google Play Store, meaning you have the ability to run third-party Android-based mobile apps.

Once I installed a collection of third-party apps I often use with a tablet, like Kindle, Microsoft OneNote, Google Chrome, Outlook, Facebook, Instagram, and Audible, the capabilities of the Onyx Boox Tab Mini C expanded rather dramatically.

That said, apps that showcase a lot of full-colour graphics, animations or video content did not perform well on this tablet as a result of its slow processor and the low resolution of the colour E Ink display. Based on my experience running various third-party apps, the Boox Tab Mini C performs best as an e-reader, audiobook player, as a digital notepad for composing handwritten notes, and to annotate text-based PDF files, for example. Don’t expect this to step in as a tablet replacement as wel, as it simply isn’t up to the task.

Touchscreen and stylus

If you’re going to purchase the Onyx Boox Tab Mini C instead of any other e-reader, it would probably be for its notetaking, annotating, and on-screen drawing capabilities using the stylus. As mentioned, for any of these tasks, you’ll want to download a third-party app from the Google Play Store, as opposed to relying on the apps that come pre-installed on the device.

The Onyx Boox Tab Mini C with its stylus

The Magnetic Pen Plus stylus is about the same size, weight, and shape as a typical ballpoint pen. It connects to the side of the tablet using magnets, so it’s always ready to be used with any app, without needing any special configuration.

How much control over the appearance of what you write or draw on the screen is dependent on the app you’re using. After testing several third-party notetaking and drawing apps, I found the stylus offers excellent precision. I particularly enjoyed using the tablet to annotate PDF files with handwritten notes and being able to highlight text with a virtual coloured highlighter.

The stylus is comfortable to use, and made handwriting, annotating, or drawing on the screen an absolute pleasure. When an app allows you to switch between virtual writing instruments (such as a ballpoint pen, fountain pen, highlighter, or felt tip marker), and at the same time choose an ink colour and the thickness of the ink strokes, this allowed for the greatest flexibility and accuracy when it came to recreating the experience of writing or drawing on paper.

The Onyx Boox Tab Mini C being used to annotate a PDF file

During my testing, handwriting, annotating text, and drawing on the screen were tasks that made this tablet really shine, allowing it to serve as a reliable digital notepad and editing tool – once again using third-party apps.

Performance

In terms of its speed and the operation of pre-installed apps, unfortunately, I was not impressed. The virtual keyboard that pops up whenever it’s needed is sluggish. Plus, to access letters, numbers, and special characters, you often need to switch between virtual keyboard layouts in a way that’s not at all intuitive. That’s capped off by the smaller size of the device, and by default the virtual keyboard, as touch typing at a high speed is virtually impossible.

So, while you can easily type out a short email message or to-do list item, for example, this is not a device you’d use for extensive word processing. It is far better suited for more passive applications, like reading, streaming music, or annotating text (as opposed to creating it from scratch).

However, I discovered that when switching between screens within the same app, virtually turning the pages of an e-book, or moving between different apps, a lot of distracting flickering is seen.

That said, reading text on the display was a pleasure, and in a pinch, the Boox Tab Mini C could be used to monitor non-video-based social media accounts. When it came to web surfing, once I installed Google Chrome (as opposed to using the pre-installed NeoBrowser), that experience became more enjoyable, faster, and less frustrating.

Using the YouTube app, Netflix, or Amazon Prime Video to view video-based content was possible, but for the reasons I already discussed with regards to the display quality and processor speed, the Boox Tab Mini C could barely handle it. Streaming video quality was absolutely horrendous.

Battery life

Depending on how you use the Onyx Boox Tab Mini C, the internal battery will last for days or weeks. In other words, battery life is considerably longer than a tablet (which might be 10 to 12 hours), but shorter than an e-reader with a monochrome E Ink display (whose battery will often last for weeks or even months).

This tablet can easily be recharged using the supplied USB Type-C cable, although no power adapter is included for plugging the tablet into an electrical outlet to recharge.

Verdict

Priced at $450 / £450, the Onyx Boox Tab Mini C is expensive, and too expensive for what you get with it. While it functions brilliantly in its primary guise of an e-reader, it does not come close to offering the capabilities of a tablet, which you might expect with Android 11 built in.

While the E Ink display reduces or eliminates eye strain, the picture quality, sharpness, brightness, refresh rate, and colour accuracy you miss out on doesn’t make this feel like a great deal,

And while it can handle web surfing, email management, and other very basic tasks that don’t rely on viewing detailed graphics or video, this device is much more of an e-reader on steroids (when used with a third party e-reader app) than it is a fully functional tablet.

For avid readers who are not budget conscious and who are looking for an alternative to an Amazon Kindle owith a full-colour E Ink display, the Onyx Boox Tab Mini C is certainly a viable option. Before deciding to purchase this device though, make sure you plan to use it for tasks that rely on the Tab Mini C’s strengths, so you won’t be frustrated by its weaknesses.



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