The Nova Air 2 is a dedicated multipurpose writing tablet. It is purely designed for taking notes, freehand drawing, drafting and editing PDF files. Onyx has some of the best writing systems in the game and constantly refine the experience to give cutting edge tools for professionals who need something more capable than a Remarkable or Supernote.
How is this a tablet, even though it has an E INK screen? It does more than drawing, it ships with Android and 11 and Google Play preinstalled. You do not have to do any funny workarounds to get started, you just enter your GMAIL address and password and millions of free and paid apps are at your disposal. This gives unapparelled customization and freedom to craft your own experience. Want to read manga, books or listen to audiobooks, podcasts or music? You can do this. It even handles streaming video pretty well. You don’t get the same kind of framerate as you would on an LCD or LED tablet, but this is the best you are going to get with an e-paper screen.
The Onyx Boox Nova Air 2 features a 7.8-inch E INK Carta HD display panel with a resolution of 1872×1404 with 300 PPI. The overall color scheme is a stone grey on the front and body of the device. The screen is flush with the bezel and protected by a layer of glass. It is not a fingerprint magnet, which impressed me. However, with the glass based screen, it did pick up some glare from the sun and bright overhead track lighting. I am used to this sort of thing though, since I use an iPad Pro has my daily driver, so it is not that big of a deal. A typical tablet, such as my iPad has a backlit display, which means the light is shinning directly into your eyes. Modern e-readers and e-notes have a front-lit display. There is a series of 32 white and amber LED lights that are positioned alongside the bezel and shine light evenly across the screen under a gel layer. This ensures that light distribution is even and there is no dead spots where light is not showing. You have a slider bar in the E INK control center and settings menu where you can control the brightness of the screen and turn on both cool and warm lighting, or combine the two together. If you don’t want the light on at all, you can shut them off competely.
Underneath the hood is a Qualcomm octa-core 662 CPU, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. Sadly, there is no SD card on this model, so you cannot expand your storage further and have to rely on the Boox cloud storage to offload any digital content. This is a WIFI chip on the Nova Air 2, so you can surf the internet and access apps that have connectivity. Bluetooth 5.0 is available for those of you that want to pair wireless keyboards or accessories. It is even possible to pair wireless headphones or earbuds to listen to audiobooks or music. However, it does have a nice pair of stereo speakers if you don’t want to go the headphone route. There is a USB-C port which is used for charging your device to a PC/MAC or wall charger. It is powered by the same battery as the Leaf 2 employs, a respectable 2000 mAh battery. There is also a mic for audio dictation, audio notes or communication apps such as Discord, WhatsApp etc. The dimensions are 194x136x6.3 and weighs 235g.
The retail packing as an all-black card stock. There is a cut-out of the tablet on the front, along with the name of the product. On the sides, is the Onyx Boox name and on the back of it is a bunch of tech specs in a myriad of languages. Inside the case is a tool that opens up the SD card and a USB-C cable, in addition to a quick start guide and warranty. It also comes with the Boox Pen 2 Plus, it is great pen, easy to hold and has some great grip, but does not have an eraser.
The Note Air 2 ships with Android 11 and has the Google Play Store preinstalled. So users can just sign-in with their Gmail account and have full access to millions of free and paid apps. There is a stock reading app that ships with this model, that is really good for sideloaded content. Users from all over the world can use this tablet, since it supports dozens of languages. Reading eBooks is also a big draw of the Air 2, and has official support for PDF, DJVU, AZW, AZW3, DOC, DOCX, EPUB, FB2, FBZ, HTML, MOBI, ODT, PRC, RTF, SXW, TRC, TXT, CHM and PPT.
The Nova Air 2 does not have a stock vanilla Android 11 experience, instead it is utilizing Boox OS, which is basically a skinned version of Android. They have their own unique Launcher, which makes it ideal for E INK screens. There are tons of features that come directly from Android, such as pull-down notifications, and pull-down options, such as Bluetooth, WIFI, Airplane mode. There are numerous options to screencast content from your device to another, adjust the volume, take a screenshot or adjust the front-lit display and color temperature system. I like the screen recording option.
The E INK Control Center has recently got a redesign and is tremendously useful for fine tuning the entire Leaf experience. The E INK Control Center allows you to adjust the refresh rate with four different options, each one gradually increases the performance of the e-Reader, at the expense of resolution. The least fast ones are good for zipping through manga and PDF files, which the fastest ones are great for Android apps with animations or streaming music. There are also global contrast settings which will make everything darker, but contrast can also be manually adjusted on a per app basis. So, you can have the Kindle app have darker fonts, which makes things readable or if an app has light fonts, you can darken them. and contrast settings not only for the system but also for the current app you are using. The app optimization settings are easier to access.
What makes this tablet capable of more than just writing or reading is the various speed modes you can employ that tremendously improves the performance. This is important if you intend on playing games that have lots of animations or use e-reading apps that were designed for smartphones, such really nice page turns. Maybe you want to make scrolling around on the Play Store more fluid and ditto with browsing the web. The default mode is reading mode, this provides a very clean experience, great for reading eBooks, changing settings or drawing. A2 mode is good for editing PDF files, this option subtly degrades image quality, with a boost to performance. Speed mode is an elevated form of A2, it is good for surfing the internet, accessing the Play Store or playing complex animations in apps, such as the animated page turns in Kobo or Overdrive Libby. X-Mode is ideal for really upping the framerate, so you can play games or watch YouTube videos. Some of the different modes have their drawbacks, such as ghosting on the screen, there is a drop down option to refresh the entire screen to remove it.
The main home screen has a persistent radial dial, which when clicked on, provides a number of shortcuts. There are six default ones, from launching individual apps or doing a full page refresh. It can be positioned anywhere you want, or disabled entirely. The dials can be customized and do different things, anything from launching apps to various system settings. If you find yourself jumping between different menus to access the same things, you can link them to the dial to save time
On the main home screen there are a number of UI elements that make it easy to zip around. The navigation bar is on the right side and is persistent. It includes links to your library, bookstore, apps, file browser, notes and settings. Books is where all of your sideloaded content will be or books you download from the Onyx Store. The bookstore does not really have bestsellers or content from major publishers, instead most of it is royalty free content. File manager gives you a view of everything you have copied over to your device, such as sideloaded books, apps, PDF files or pictures. Notes, is where the main note taking app is and apps is where Google Play, all your preinstalled apps are located. You will likely visit this section the most to launch all of your favorites.
Onyx has really refined the concept providing a multimedia tablet experience on an E INK screen and also providing a robust note taking experience. The Nova Air 2 is not a one trick pony, that just does one or two things really well, but can do a bunch of different things. It is ideal for people who want more out of an e-reader, but they want to take notes, use Google Play apps and get higher performance. I really like the split screen view, so you can work on two different things at the same time, this includes books, notes, apps, drawings etc.
Drawing and Writing
One of the best things about the Onyx Boox Nova Air 2 is the sheer amount of features they have added to the writing experience. Similar to the Remarkable 2 and Supernote, there are layers. This allows you to for example use layer 1 as some grass, layer 2 the sky and layer 3 a house. When you are on layer 3, and decide you want to erase something, it will not affect layer 1 or 2, which really makes the Air shine has a tool for artists, game designers, and other professions.
When you want to draw something there is a slew of pens and pencils, and even other tools like a mechanical pencil and highlighter, fountain pen, paint brush, ballpoint pen or text. There is also line thickness settings to get thinner or thicker lines, but don’t forget, the Air 2 has pressure sensitivity too. You can select black, grey, medium grey, light grey, white, red, green and blue. The colors will not show on accurately on the E INK display, because the Nova Air 2 has a B&W display, and not color. If you want to draw in RGB you can simply export your notes/drawings as a PNG or PDF file and copy it it to your PC/MAC. Once it is opened on your computer, you can view the document in full color. This is useful for teachers who are grading students material.
The Nova Air basically allows you to export notes to your PC/MAC in PNG or PDF and also from your PC/MAC to your computer. But what else can it do? You can screencast whatever is on your Note 3 directly to your PC. This is useful during meetings or to show people what you have been working on, rather than crowding around the e-reader. Onyx also has a companion app Android and they are working on an IOS version. This is optional to use. It lets you sync everything on the Nova 3 to your smartphone or from your smartphone to the Note. Onyx also provides 1GB of cloud storage for everything stored in their own cloud. You only need to use the companion app if you want smartphone integration.
There are a few important features worth mentioning. Documents can have 500 pages on them, so you can have extensive notes. I also like being able to save your favorite pen settings to the top UI, so you can select each one by tapping your finger on it, or with the stylus. For example, Pen 1 can have a pencil with thick lines and be back. Pen 2 can be a highlighter with RED and thin lines, Pen 3 can be a brush with super thick lines. I also like how you can import in pictures from Dropbox or Google Drive right into the notes and resize them in a note, and also edit them too.
Over time, Onyx has really made their note taking system just as good or better than most of the writing tablets on the market. They are always issuing new firmware updates every couple of months and adding in new features, enhancements and fixing bugs. They really listen to their audience and cater to them. This has made their writing experience full of unique things, that their competition simply cannot match.
The Onyx Boox Nova Air 2 is slightly larger than the Leaf 2, which is a dedicated e-reader. The Leaf 2 has a 7-inch screen, while the Nova Air 2 has a 7.8-inch screen. This makes the Air 2 great at reading eBooks, since more text can fit on the screen at once. This is great for people who need the extra screen real estate not only for books, but also for other content such as comics or manga.
The e-reading experience starts with the stock app called Neoreader, this is where you can sideload in all of your own content and begin reading with a ton of options for font sizes, font-type, alignment, line spacing and margins. It supports PRC, RTF, Doc, Text, DJVU, PDF, Mobi, FB2, EPUB, CBR and CBZ. Having CBZ and CBR support is great for sideloading in Manga files, since this is the most popular format found online. However, Amazon delivers manga in AZW3 and Kobo/Google and deliver it via EPUB. If you install apps such as VIZ or various manga apps, you don’t really need to worry about formats.
As a rule of thumb, the Neoreader app is ideal if you download royalty free books form the Onyx Boox Store or if you have an extensive collection of eBooks, or manga on your PC and MAC, and don’t mind sideloading. Onyx is a great brand if you want to develop your own collection and manually load them, into every new e-reader that you purchase. It even supports loading in content from cloud storage providers if you are the type of person who has their books offloaded to Google Drive or Dropbox.
I believe the Nova Air 2 really shines when you access Google Play and start downloading your favorite apps. This gives you a tremendous amount of flexibility and freedom to use whatever reading or news apps you normally use on your smartphone or tablet. I know many people always install Libby, to read eBooks or listen to audiobooks that are borrowed from the public library. The Kindle reading app tends to be the most popular reading app, since it was originally developed for smartphones and tablets. The page turn animation always looks nice and pretty, but really struggles on E INK devices, due to the refresh issue. This is why Onyx made enhancements to the app on a system level to eliminate animated page turns, so when you turn a page, it is seamless and robust. Over the years, they have optimized many other apps, but they tend to focus on the writing experience on their extensive line of e-notes. When installing apps, I would recommend adjusting the speed mode from the E INK Center to ensure that they are running properly.
The unit is lightweight and beautifully looking, with Android 11 and yes, out of the box Google play with no registrations required. So it’s got a lot going for it, however within their current lineup, this is the only one that doesn’t have a removable SD card and they go with a fixed storage. They also took a step back on the pen, with a hybrid of the first Nova Air (white stylus) however are using the standard Wacom tips, not the conical Shinonome GII tips you got with the first gen Air.
All in all this is a very capable multipurpose tablet and all of the speed modes are fantastic, it feels good in your hand, and it gets the job done whether you want to use it as an eBooks reader or a note taker, and everything in between.
Onyx Boox Nova Air 2$399.99
- Android 11 + Google Play
- High resolution dispaly
- Tremendous note taking experience
- Bluetooth and speakers for audio content
- Fast Processor
- No SD Card
- Onyx Bookstore lacking in content
- Pen doesn't have an eraser
Michael Kozlowski has written about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve years. Newspapers and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times have picked up his articles. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.