The Onyx Boox Leaf is a dedicated ebook reader with no note taking functionality. It was purely designed to read digital content, such as comics, books and manga. The large seven-inch screen allows more text to be displayed at any given time. It is running Android 10 and has access to the Google Play Store, so it is quite easy to download all of your favorite reading apps, such as Kindle, Kobo, Nook, Scribd or Libby. There are speakers on the Leaf, so you can listen to audiobooks, music or podcasts. This device retails for $249.99 and is available from the Good e-Reader Store, there is an optional premium case with page turn buttons that costs $59.99, but is on sale for $29.99.
The Onyx Boox Leaf features a 7-inch E INK Carta HD display with a resolution of 1680×1404 with 300 PPI. The screen is completely flush with the bezel with a flat cover lens. There is a front-lit display with a series of white and amber LED lights, which can be combined to provide a warm candlelight effect. The distribution of lights is nice and even. It has a similar two-tone design color scheme on the hardware, that is similar to the Note Air. Instead of having a blue strip on the side, it is dark grey, which adds some nice contrast.
Underneath the hood is a Snapdragon 636 quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. It has a speaker, where you can listen to audiobooks, podcasts or music. There is Bluetooth 5.0, so it is possible to pair wireless headphones or an external speaker to listen too. The USB-C port is used for transferring digital content from your PC or MAC to your Leaf, it is also used for charging the 2000 mAh battery. There is also a g-sensor to automatically switch between landscape and portrait mode. The microphone will allow users to voice communicate with apps, such as Facetime, Discord, Whatsapp or Line.
The color scheme of the device is silver and black. The back seems to be made of plastic and the front is made out of aluminum. There are pogo pin connectors on the side, this is for the optional magnetic case with page turn buttons. On the bottom is the USB-C port and twin stereo speakers. I always like when e-reader companies put them on the bottom, instead of the back. Normally, people use it in a case or laying down on a table, bed and the speakers can get muffled. This is a similar placement of speakers that the Apple iPad employs. Included in the retail packaging is a warranty card, quick start guide and a USB-C to USB-A cable.
I think the Leaf is a really nice barebones e-reader. This is ideal for people who want something bigger than the Poke 3, which only has a six-inch screen. I find seven-inch screens are the sweet spot for dedicated book readers, since this is about is large as you can get and still get 300 PPI resolution. This results in text being razer sharp, no matter what type of book you are reading.
The Onyx Boox Leaf does not have a vanilla Android 10 experience, instead it is going 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. Some advanced options exist on this e-reader that is indicative just to Onyx products. You can screencast to your PC, adjust the contrast, speed mode and split screen view. Contrast is a neat feature, you can deepen the blacks, so they are more pronounced, or make everything lighter. There is also a manual refresh button. You can also adjust the luminosity of the front-lit display and color temperature system, which both have individual slider bars. You can just have the white LED lights on if you want or all of the lights off, or a blend of white/amber led lights.
The Leaf just received the new Boox OS 3.2 update, a couple of days ago. There is a brand-new E INK Center, which really makes it easy to access options, such as speed mode, global contrast. It also introduces BooxDrop, which is a two-way file transfer between the Leaf and other devices such as PC or MAC. There are dozens of improvements to the system settings and fetching new firmware updates is easier. There are plenty of new features and functionality with the Neoreader, ebook app.
One of the major selling points, is Google Play. This makes it easy to download millions of free and paid apps, and keep them updated, to the latest version. It is not installed on the Leaf, but you have to do a few things. There is an activate Google Play in the settings menu, it is also important to add in your Gmail account and download the framework from the Onyx Boox App Store. It is very easy to do, and normally people have zero problems, since its just check marking boxes and downloading a few files. If you have any problems, Good e-Reader produced a YouTube video that walks you through the process. Once you activate Play from the settings menu, you need to wait around 15 minutes for your device to become certified, it is also important to reboot your device to complete the installation process.
One of the best things that Onyx has ever done, is go far beyond the standard A2 mode, which degrades the image, with an increase in performance. Normal mode 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 is also a new feature, it was designed for watching YouTube videos, it actually performs really well. Other companies like Boyue only have an A2 mode, which results in a tremendous amount of ghosting.
On the home screen is a little trackball icon on the bottom right. When you touch it, it provides 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. You can also drag it from its default position and move it anywhere you want.
There are a few navigation options that are on the bottom of the screen. This includes, Library, Store, Storage, Apps and settings. The library menu basically shows all your ebooks that you have sideloaded on your device or have come for free with purchase. You can sort by grid or list view, fetch metadata, such as missing cover art and other useful sorting options. The Store, is basically Onyx’s own bookstore, mostly comprising of royalty free titles. The App Menu is where the Onyx App Store is, also all of the other preinstalled apps, and future apps you download. This is also where Google Play will appear, once you enable it. Storage, is basically a file explorer, so you can browse your devices internal drive. Settings is where you will spend the most time when initially configuring the Poke 3. You can search for firmware updates, establish your WIFI network, register your Google Account, and customize the device.
The Leaf on the software side of things has more advanced options to craft your own experience than other comparable e-reader. It is simple for new users to get started and learn about all of the cool new features as time goes on. Onyx is super reliable for firmware updates, they tend to release one every month, they squash bugs, introduce enhancements to the OS and even update the stock e-reading app. There are around 30-40 supported languages that will turn the entire UI and all of their device’s keyboard into your preferred language.
The Onyx Boox Leaf has a seven-inch screen. The e-reading experience has multiple facets, there is a 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. You can turn the pages via swipes/gestures or tapping the screen. The refresh rate is very quick, it does not have flashes when it turns pages, or ghosting.
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.
I believe the Leaf really shines when you install 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 Leaf does have a few drawbacks. You can’t really read newspapers, magazines or PDF files, because the screen is too small. You will be pinching and zooming every page to read the text. If this type of content is important to you, I would consider purchasing something with a bigger screen. PDF files are initially made with A4 screens in mind, which is the same size as a standard piece of paper. This means you need a 13.3-inch screen to read them properly, but there aren’t that many around and they are expensive. I would recommend the Max Lumi or Max Lumi 2, Quirklogic Papyr or the Fujitsu Quaderno A4 second generation.
The Onyx Boox Leaf is beautiful, built from the ground up with an all-new shell, shape, and form factor. It has borrowed various design cues from other devices in their lineup. It has the same asymmetrical ledger from the Note Air, aluminum style backing from the Note 5 and the three copper contact pins from the Nova air. This unit is definitely an amalgamation of a lot of what makes Onyx that best brand for Android driven e-readers. It’s a perfect price, a very good screen size, and the option to get a magnetic case with physical page turn buttons, is an extremely good bonus.
Michael Kozlowski has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve 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. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.