The Onyx Boox Note Air is one of the most intriguing new digital note taking device of 2020. It features an all new asymmetrical design and has a very fast Snapdragon processor and tons of storage. Android 10 is the major selling point and you can also run two apps at the same time, you download apps from Google Play. One of the big improvements that Onyx to the software is including layers, a similar system to Remarkable. There is also a slew of new pen/pencil types to shade, highlight and really flex your inner artist.
The Note Air features a 10.3 inch E INK Carta HD Display with a resolution of 1872×1404 and 227 PPI. The screen made of glass and it is flush with the bezel. The back is made of a blue brushed aluminum and has an orange racing stripe on the side, the Onyx logo is the same color. On the side is your speaker, power button and USB-C port. All of the other sides are clean and have no ports or anything else. The front of the device almost has a dual bezel system. The front is piano black and the right hand side of the screen is blue, with an orange Onyx logo. This is a very interesting industrial design, something that Onyx has never really done before.
Like many 10.3 inch e-notes on the market, this employs a front-lit display with both white and amber LED lights. There are 18 white LED lights, and 18 amber LED lights, for a total 36 LED lights. This system is designed so you can read at night or lowlight environments, and adjust the illimnosity via a software based slider bar.
The screen has a WACOM layer, this is critical for the note taking functionality. Onyx has designed on all new pen for the Air, that is unlike anything they have ever released before. The pen is black with a hexagonal design, I found it is easier to hold for longer writing sessions than the stock pen that the Onyx Boox Max Lumi ships with. The stylus has a magnet inside of it, so it will snap to the edge of the Air. One of the downsides of this pen is that it does not have an eraser. Although the nibs will be replaceable, Onyx told Good e-Reader that the replacements will not be available until the end of October.
If you find yourself buying the Note Air and do not like the stock stylus, there are alternatives available. The iReader X-Pen is made of aluminum and has tremendous build quality. The Lamy Al-Star EMR Wacom pen is likely the best of the bunch, is also made of aluminum.
Underneath the hood of the Note Air is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 processor, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. It has Bluetooth 5.0 to connect up wireless accessories, such as headphones or a speaker to listen audiobooks, music or podcasts. It also has a built-in speaker if you don’t feel like plugging in extra accessories. You can charge and transfer data with the USB-C port, which also has OTG. It is powered by a 3,000 mAh battery and you can surf the internet with Wi-Fi (2.4GHz + 5GHz). The dimensions are 229mm by 195.4mm by 5.8mm and weighs 420g.
One of the most underrated things about the Air, is the gyroscope. This is the first Onyx product that I am aware of that has this technology. You can switch the orientation 360 degrees, by just moving your tablet from portrait to landscape mode. There is a software switch to lock the orientation, so it won’t always flip around, if it bothers you.
How does this compare against the Onyx Boox Note 2? The Note Air is way thinner, has a better processor, is using DDR4X memory, although it has 3GB, while the Note 2 had 4GB of DDR4. The Note 2 also has a larger battery. You can view all of the differences HERE.
On a pure hardware level, the Note Air is really well designed. Made completely out of aluminum and glass, it feels like a 2020 flagship smartphone, in terms of overall build quality. It is more affordable than most digital note taking devices on the market. It retails for $479 from the Good e-Reader Store. In contrast, other 10.3 inch devices on the market, such as the Note 2 retails for $529. The Supernote A5 is $529, but severely lacks in lights and processing power, it also cannot run apps. The most obviously competition for the Note Air, is the Remarkable 2, which one of the best tablets of the year. In a future video on our Youtube channel, we will be comparing the Note Air vs the Remarkable 2, so you won’t want to miss it.
The Note Air is running Google Android 10, which makes it the only other e-note, next to the 13.3 inch Onyx Boox Max Lumi, that runs such as modern OS. This introduces a tremendous amount of support for all modern apps. You will likely get around 4-6 good years out of the Air, before Android 10 becomes dated. Android 11 is launching this fall and little is known about Android 12.
Google Play comes installed on the Air, except you have to activate its support from the settings menu, 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.
One of the neat things about the Air, is the ability to run two apps at the same time. These can be apps that you have downloaded from Google Play. Or built-in apps that ship with it. This could include the PDF editor and the digital note taking app. Or have two PDFs open at the same time, one that you are editing and the virgin PDF on the other side of the screen. The possibilities are endless and depend on your own imagination. A single app can be used in both landscape and portrait view and can be easily switched with the gyroscope.
The Note Air does not really have a dedicated home screen. The first menu is your library, where all of your ebooks and PDF files are stored. This is the first thing you see once you go through the setup features. There is a Store option, which opens up the Onyx Bookstore, it has a ton of royalty free and open source books, enough to get your started. Next to Notes, which is where all of your notes are stored, you can create new ones or freehand draw. Storage is a file manager, it shows all of the user created directories on the device. Apps, is where all of the stock Onyx apps are stored, by default there are the internet browser, monitor, dictionary, memo, music, recorder, gallery, clock transfer books, screensaver, Onyx Boox App Store (which is where Google Play is downloaded.)
The settings menu allows you to customize your e-note experience. You can do everything from connecting Bluetooth accessories, establish a WIFI network, search for a firmware update, enable app installations from unknown sources, add your Google Account.
If you drag your finger down from the center of the screen, downwards. There are some quick options. Connect up to WIFI, lock orientation, 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. 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.
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.
A new feature that debuted with the Onyx Boox MAX 3, has found its way to the Air. There 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. You can also drag it from its default position and move it anywhere you want.
The Onyx Boox software is rock solid and the company constantly issues about one or two firmware updates per month on newer products. They introduce new features, enhancements, bug fixes, security updates and general maintenance. This is the most important reason to invest in the Onyx ecosystem. They have tremendous support for older and newer devices. The only other companies that are really good at this is Supernote and Remarkable.
The primarily reason you are spending over $400 on a digital note taking device with an E INK screen and not a iPad or a Galaxy Galaxy Tab, is because you want something that is easy on the eyes and has a battery that lasts weeks, not just a day or two. The Note Air is basically an e-note, that has tablet functionality.
The note taking app is one of the big reasons to invest in the Note Air. The note taking experience has entirely been revisited with the advent of OS 3. The big new feature is layers, similar to the Remarkable or Adobe Photoshop. This provides tremendous flexibility to draw and have things sitting in the background and foreground, creating small details and blends. This will benefit people who like to freehand draw, create complex landscapes, pixel art, character art, or just create lists or notes.
There are new colors that you can select to start the drawing process. There are black, grey, medium grey, light grey, white, red, green and blue. The colors will not show on accurately on the E INK display, but when you export the note to a PNG or PDF file, you can view the colors on your PC and MAC. There are also a slew of new brushes and pen types. Select a fountain pen, paint brush, ballpoint pen, pencil, marker, text or a mechanical pencil.
All of the different pen types, pencil types have 4,096 degrees of pressure sensitivity, so the harder you press, the thicker the lines we become. If you press lightly, the lines will be thinner. The screen has palm rejection technology and you can even turn off the touchscreen altogether and just use the stylus, to prevent any errant mistakes.
When it comes to editing PDF files, this can display documents in A5. This is basically 5.8 x 8.3 inch piece of paper. A 13.3 inch display, found on the Onyx Boox Max Lumi, can do A4, which is a piece of 8.5×11 piece of paper. Since the Air is using a 10.3, the only time you will need to pinch and zoom on a PDF file, is if it was created with very small text, a replica PDF, should have no trouble.
If you want to edit a PDF file with the Onyx software, you have many of the options as the note taking experience, in terms of pens and pencils you can select, but is missing elements such as the importing of shapes, images and layers. You can easily sign documents, save them and then email them to yourself, or another person. If you have Dropbox, Onedrive or other cloud solutions installed on the Air, you can send those edited PDF files there too and then access them on your work PC or home PC. The entire PDF experience is really solid. It really makes sense to buy this product, just for the PDF editing or filling in fields.
Onyx has also an companion app, this is useful for sending images and PDF files from your smartphone or tablet, to your Air, and then from your Air, back to your smartphone.
The success of the Note Air took Onyx by surprise. They did not think that people would be responding this positively and ordering it in droves. The first stock allotment was basically sold out in 3-4 days, and now they are releasing them in phases, to meet the demand. As of this reviews publication, the second wave was being shipped in late October and the 3rd at the end of the month. It will be likely that there will be a few weeks delay from when your order is placed, to when it is shipped. This is a kick in the pants for customers, but this really shows you how a product can resonate so well, that people are cancelling their Remarkable 2 orders and buying the Air instead.
I believe the Air provides more value than most other 10.3 inch digital note taking devices on the market. It is superior to the Remarkable 2, the only advance it has, is being able to draw at an angle, due to the tilt functionality it has. The Air can install apps, is faster, can play games or watch videos. You can even attach the Onyx keyboard and use it to write notes or work on a novel. There is also a SD card attachment that fits into the USB-C slot, to add in up to 128GB of extra storage.
The Air would be a good upgrade if you have the Nova 2, Note 1, SuperNote A5, Remarkable 1 or an older e-note. This device is snappy, responsive, has great hardware and a deadly note taking system.
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.