There have been a number of color e-readers that have been released over the course of 2020. The vast majority of them were Chinese exclusives with no English UI. The Pocketbook Color and Onyx Boox Poke 2 Color are the only two that have been marketed for an international audience and have dozens of supported languages. The Onyx model has a competitive advantage because it runs Android 9, which means not only can you change all of the menus and UI into Russian, English, German, French, Spanish, Arabic, Swedish, Chinese, Japanese and many others, but also the keyboard. The Onyx Boox Poke 2 is extremely limited, there was only a few hundred models produced in the second batch and when they are sold out, they will no longer be manufactured.
The Poke 2 Color is a dedicated e-reader with no note taking functionality. It is ideal for people who want to consume color content or browse the web and see images. The resolution is 1072×1448 with 300 PPI. The color panel can display over 4,096 colors and 100 PPI. The screen is sunken, so it doesn’t have a layer of glass on top of it. This will ensure that you will not see any reflections or glare from overhead lights or in direct sunlight. It also has a front-lit display, so you can read at night or during low light conditions.
There is a front-lit display with around 8 white LED lights. The light is emitted from the bottom of the screen and project light evenly. It does not have any flickering or shine directly into your eyes. This makes it easy to read at night, or in low light conditions, it has a slider bar when you tap the top center of the UI. You can adjust it as much as you want, to meet your ideal brightness level. The Onyx Boox Poke 2 uses a better lighting system than the competition, the iReader C6 and iFlytek C1 both use blue and white LED lights, which provides a blue hue. Onyx only uses white LED lights, so it really trounces the competition in terms of a great experience.
This is the first color e-reader that Onyx has ever produced and it is utilizing E INK Kaleido e-paper technology. It can produce color for each pixel that is displayed on the screen. This includes red, green, blue, black or white. Colors can be combined to give you different colors or shades. The way it works is if you want light blue, blue will be toned down and white will be brighter. If you want orange, then yellow and red would be blended. Ultimately, it is capable of displaying over 4,096 different color combinations at 100 PPI. All of the different e-readers that have come out this year have all used a color filter array, that was always on. Onyx found a way around it, with software. If you engage X-Mode, which is an option you can turn on for unbelievably fast refresh rate, the color will turn off.
E INK has confirmed with Good e-Reader that they are making a second generation version of E INK Kaleido and it will be released by the end of the year. There will be improved colors and contrast, which leads me to believe more colors will be able to be displayed at a higher PPI. Reduced graininess probably will make the background screen grey, instead of different shades. It can also be used for glass and non-glass screens, ranging in size from 5.84 to 10.3, so you can expect color e-notes in 2021.
Underneath the hood of the Poke 2 Color is an Octa-core 2.0 GHZ processor, 32GB of storage and 2 GB of RAM. It is powered by a 1,500 mAh battery. It is using a USB-C port with OTG. What is OTG? It basically allows you to plugin accessories into the USB port and they will just work, with no drivers necessary. This includes keyboards, mice, foot pedals, USB expansion slots and the like. It also has WIFI 2.4 and 5HZ for blazeningly quick internet speed and also Bluetooth 4.1 for wireless accessories and a microphone.
The industrial design is similar to the Onyx Boox Poke 2, a sunken screen with no glass and no physical buttons of any kind. Everything is software based, such as navigation or page turns. The top of the device has a power button, with a status indicator light and on the bottom is a USB-C port and microphone. The front of the unit is piano black and does not have the two tone display that the 3rd generation models employ. It weighs 153mm by 107mm by 6.8 mm and weighs 160g.
The Poke 2 Color is likely the best color e-reader ever produced, until this device came out, the Pocketbook Color reigned supreme. The main advantages this e-reader has is a better lightning system, the color filter array can be turned off and you can do more things with the software. This is because the Poke uses Android and Pocketbook Linux.
The Pocketbook Poke 2 Color is using Android 9 as the operating system. This provides a fairly modern version and it will be 5-6 years before this version will be outdated and apps stop supporting it. Onyx tries to keep Android open as much as possible, you can sideload apps, download them from the Onyx App Store or use Google Play. This is the first color e-reader that has Play, which is a huge selling point. There are millions of free and paid apps you can download, which is very important.
Since this is a color e-reader, you obviously want to read comics, manga, webcomics, webtoons, newspapers, magazines, ebooks or PDF files and get a great experience. Onyx has their own PDF rendering engine and ebook reading app, as well as a small bookstore filled with royalty free content, but you might already have a subscription to your favorite magazine, or Marvel Unlimited. Maybe you have an Amazon account with hundreds of purchase ebooks, you can simply download the Kindle app and get access to your entire collection and also make new purchases. Basically, I am not going to utterly sing the praises of Android and the things you can do with it. I will say this, you can craft your own experience and really make the Poke 2 Color your own.
Onyx Boox has their own skinned version of Android and has their own fork of Android installed. A couple of weeks ago they released OS 3 for the Poke 2 Color. There are many PDF improvements , such as images being sharper and PDFS can be zoomed in. There have been over 50 new improvements to the e-reading engine, the addition of more dictionaries and system settings, you can read about all of the enhancements HERE.
Let’s talk about the UI, there is a persistent navigation bar on the bottom of the screen. It includes shortcuts to your library, bookstore, storage (file manager), apps and settings. The library will house all of your MOBI, EPUB, FB2, PDF and other ebook formats. You can scan for metadata and cover art, if your sideloaded content is missing it. You can also adjust list/grid view or search for a particular title. Apps is where all the default apps that ship with the unit, none of which are impressive. This is also where Google Play will lurk, so you will likely populate it with your own data anyways. The file manager is the stock one that ships with Android, so you can browse around for files. Settings is obviously where you will enter your Google Account information, scan for firmware updates and manage your device. The Onyx bookstore had actually been improved and there are no longer just Chinese ebooks that are available, but hundreds of titles in English. Many of them are royalty free classics, such as Allison in Wonderland or Frankenstein. Still, I am happy Onyx has realized many of the people who buy their products speak English and they are starting to include more English content.
On the right side of the screen , at the very top of the UI is the percentage of battery life remaining, WIFI, a refresh option and illumination settings. On the left side at the top is the clock and Android notification settings. If you swipe downwards from the top center, you will get a series of options. You can establish a WIFI connection, lock the rotation, access Bluetooth, or adjust the contrast. There is also illumination settings where you can turn the front-light on or off and ditto with the Glowlight settings. They are configured using a slider bar, and the device will remember whatever settings you establish for next time.
The home screen basically just shows what books you have opened or are in the process of reading. On the very bottom of the homescreen is a little trackball icon on the bottom right. When you touch it, it provide radial options, such as volume levels, multitask windows, power and quick settings. Now, you can get more advanced and actually attach your own shortcuts on the track ball. You aren’t stuck with the defaults, which is cool. If you hate the trackball, you can disable it completely. There is also an optional Bluetooth Remote that can interact with this radial menu.
One of the most exciting things about the Poke 2 Color is the refresh experience. Most e-readers have the standard refresh system or A2 mode, which degrades the images and ups the performance. Onyx actually has 4 different options, that all have their specific uses. The first refresh system is called Normal mode, which is the default e-reading experience or viewing PDF files. Speed Mode provides a little bit more ghosting and is designed for rapidly viewing pictures, this is ideal if you are browsing the internet via Chrome or Firefox. A2 mode which seriously degrades image quality and is only ideal for content with a ton of images. X-Mode was designed for watching Youtube videos, playing games or doing things that involve complex animations. Using this mode disables the color filter array and makes the screen black and white, like a typical e-reader.
The software on the Poke 2 color is relatively the same as the Poke 2 or Poke 3. The main difference on this model is that you have a color screen, which is basically a game changer. All of the icons are in color, browsing the web in Chrome or Firefox, color, opening Google Play and browsing around, color. Onyx Boox has really hit a home run.
One of the best reasons to invest in the Onyx brand is because of the frequency of updates. They normally issue one every month or every two months. The Android version will likely never be increased, but at least you will get new features, bug fixes and enhancements. Here is a little known fact – Chinese Onyx users often get firmware updates faster, since the firmware was originally developed for that market, once all of the bugs have been worked out, it is translated and localized for an English speaking audience. So Onyx basically has two different firmware, one for China and one for an International audience.
There are two ways you can read ebooks with the Poke 2 Color. The vast majority will often turn to the stock ebook app, because it is preinstalled and is regularly updated with new features. Whenever you sideload in an ebook from your PC or accessed through cloud storage, it will automatically be available to read in your library. Books you are in the process of reading will appear on your homescreen, giving you easy access. The other is Android apps via Google Play.
The standard e-reading app supports PDF,EPUB,TXT,DJVU,HTML,RTF,FB2,DOC,MOBI and CHM documents. If you tap in the center of the screen when a book is open, there are many different options to craft the reading experience. You can adjust the margins, line spacing, direction of text (useful for reading in landscape mode or manga) text contrast (light to dark text). You can also adjust one of the 222 fonts and the size. There is also a bold mode, to auto enlarge the text.
When reading an ebook, page turns via swipes and gestures are really quick. There is virtually no ghosting. Long pressing a word will provide a number of options, such as highlights, notes, translations and social media sharing. There are a few dictionaries that are preloaded on the device, but you can sideload in your own. It is important to note that the stock e-reading app does not support DRM content, so you can any sideload in free ebooks.
Everything else is reliant on apps. Performance of apps vary, Onyx has augmented their OS to remove animated page turns in the Kindle App, so it is really fluid, even with no speed modes on. Apps that have lots of complex animations work better with A2 or Speed mode turned on, this increases the frame rate, so animations of page turns are fluid and not choppy. PDF files look OK on this device, but since it only has has a six inch screen, you will have to pinch and zoom. Comics, manga, webtoons are designed for smartphones, so it they all look really good.
I believe the Poke 2 Color is the best color ereader on the market. I think it comes down to their superior lighting system, Android OS and the many languages it supports and Google Play. One of the things I like about the screen, is that it doesn’t have a layer of glass. So there isn’t anything to reflect overhead light and you don’t need a matte screen reflector to difuse it. Since there is nothing between the e-paper screen and your eyes, color pops more than other e-readers on the market.
The only competition it has is the Pocketbook Color, which is limited to sideloading in ebooks you download from the internet and sideload them into your library, it also supports cloud storage. So if you have a huge collection of ebooks that you either stripped the DRM from, downloaded for free or borrowed from your local library, the PB Color can really excel. The Pocketbook also has wide scale availability, whereas the Poke 2 Color was only made in extremely limited quantities. Onyx basically wants to see if there is a strong demand and low return rate, if these two things happen, they will likely develop a series of color e-readers/enotes in 2021, such as the Note 3 Color, Nova 3 Color and Poke 3 Color. The company believes in color being the future, but it will all come down to the enhancements that E INK makes their second generation color e-paper.
Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times.