The Onyx Boox Poke 4 Lite is an e-reader that goes back to basics. It is a dedicated book reader with no note taking functionality and is totally geared towards the consumption of digital media. It might just be the biggest value for the money due to a number of key selling points. It is running Android 11 and has Google Play preinstalled, so you can download millions of free and paid apps. It also has optimizations for a number of apps, such as Kindle, which eliminated animated page turns. It has various speed modes to increase the performance of the entire software experience. It retails for $149 and you can get it from the Good e-Reader Store.
The Onyx Boox Poke 4 Lite features a 6-inch E INK Carta HD touchscreen display with a resolution of 1024×786 and 212 PPI. The screen is not flush with the bezel and does not have a layer of glass. The vast majority of e-readers have glass displays, which reflect light. The only way you can get around this is via a matte screen protector and no OEMS make their own anymore. Instead, it has a sunken screen and bezel design. This makes text pop, since the e-paper is totally visible and nothing abstracting between your eyes and the display. Despite the book reader only having 212 PPI, I think this is a good trade-off.
Poke 4 Lite has two different colors to choose from – black or white. When you select a color during the checkout process the entire device would be a single color all over, including the bezels and the front of the display, wrapping around to the back. The backplate does not have any texture it is basically just a slab of plastic. There is a power button the top and an USB-C port on the bottom, with a small microphone next to it. Basically, since this is an affordable e-reader, the bezels are kind of chunky, and the bottom of the device is really big, I suppose this is where Onyx housed the internal battery.
You will be able to use this reader in the dark or in other lowlight conditions, thanks to the front-lit display and color temperature system. It has a series of white and amber LED lights that project light evenly across the screen and not into your eyes. There are 64 levels of control via the slider bars, so it can be optimized for any lighting conditions.
A low price for a book reader, often means there are sacrifice’s that have to be made. I am happy to report this is not the case with the Poke 4 Lite. It is employing a Qualcomm Snapdragon 2.0 GHZ Quad-core with Arm Cortex-A53 processor. There is 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage for all of your books. You can transfer data via the USB-C port and also charge it, speaking of charging, it is powered by a 1500 mAh battery. There is no speaker or microphone, this is meant to keep costs low. However, it does have Bluetooth 5.0, so it is easy to use wireless headphones or earbuds to listen to audiobooks, music or podcasts. The dimensions are 153×107.2×7.1mm and weighs 150g.
The Poke 4 Lite for the price is going to be compared to the Kobo Clara HD, Barnes and Noble Glowlight 4 and the Kindle Paperwhite 11th generation. The Nook is only available on a retail level in the United States, and the Kindle and Kobo are easy to purchase in international markets. You won’t find the Onyx stocked on any retail shelves, but I think it brings more value to the table. It is platform agnostic, so it doesn’t lock you into any particular ecosystem. Instead, you can craft your own experience and download a wide array of apps. If you want to have access to Dropbox to access your existing digital collection you can do it, want to borrow audiobooks or ebooks from the public library? You can do that too. The hardware on the Onyx is nice and polished, it is not sleek and sexy though, it won’t win any design awards, however it has a huge bang for your buck.
The Onyx Boox Poke 4 Lite has Google Android 11 and comes with the 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.
Google Play comes preinstalled and users do not have go through any complicated procedures to activate it, like you had to do on the Poke 3 and other Onyx models. This saves a lot of time, because in the past you had to download Google Play from the Onyx Boox App Store, enable Google Play Services from the settings menu and then have to wait 24-48 hours for it to activate.
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 was designed for high framerate content, it won’t do a tremendous job with YouTube videos, but it will do everything else really well.
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.
Onyx does a good job at making the Boox hardware accessible to millions of users all over the world. It supports up to 40 different languages, including English. This is because they are using the standard Android language and region settings. So, no matter where you live, chances are you will find value on the Poke 4 Lite and be able to use it your daily driver. One of the best things about the Onyx brand as a whole, is firmware updates. Every couple of months they address fixes and introduce enhancements to the Neoreader book app and system settings. This is why I always recommend this brand more than most other Chinese companies, because Onyx ONLY does E INK devices and their product line isn’t muddled with phones and laptops and other things. About the only other departure from e-notes and e-readers is the Mira and Mira Pro dedicated monitors.
The Poke 4 Lite is a dedicated reader, this is its entire purpose in life. This is why you would spend the money to buy it. The reading experience has two different components. The Neoreader reading app that is preinstalled and Android apps that you would install via Google Play, such as Kindle, Kobo, Libby, Scribd, Audible and others.
The one big advantage of the Neoreader app is that it supports a myriad of book formats. So if you have your own collection stored on your computer or on cloud storage, you can easily access it. It supports PRC, RTF, Doc, Text, DJVU, PDF, Mobi, FB2, EPUB, CBR and CBZ. I like the fact it has native support for two of the largest manga formats, since most of this content is optimized for large screen smartphones and small tablets. The six-inch screen on the Poke 4 Lite is ideal for manga, in addition to books.
When reading a standard ebook, Onyx provides a number of customizations, for instance, you can change the font, text size, word and line spacing, padding and margins. There are over 150 fonts to choose from when reading an EPUB book and it also possible to sideload in your own fonts. All you need to do is download your favorite one, I recommend Kobo Nickle or Kindle Bookerly. Plugin your Boox to your PC via the USB cable and copy the fonts to the fonts folder. That is all you have to do, you can also use the fonts folder to delete all of the fonts you will never use, which helps clean up the device a little bit.
If you are a big fan of listening to music, podcasts, and audible books, Poke4 Lite also gets you covered. Connect it with Bluetooth-enabled wireless earphones and enjoy your favorite books, news, or podcasts at home or work, indoor or outdoor. If you have an existing collection of audiobooks, you can sideload them into your device, provided they are in WAV or MP3. The rest of the the content can be streamed over the web or via dedicated apps.
Not everyone has their own personal collection of books or manga files downloaded from the internet. Only a small segment of users has a comprehensive DRM-Free collection. The vast majority are invested in a digital ecosystem, where they buy content through a service provider, such as Amazon or they have their favorite podcast system or audiobook store. There are a few things you need to know about book apps and Google Play.
A couple of months ago, Audible, Amazon Shopping, Kindle, Nook and a myriad of others disabled in-app purchases from Google Play. This is because Google has mandated that everyone has to use Play Billing to handle all transactions and this means that everyone has to pay Google 30% of every audiobook or ebook sold. So rather than pay the fee, they just pulled the ability to buy content. The only way you can get around this is to download the app, and buy the content with an internet browser. There is another workaround. You can download the Amazon App Store for Android, however it is only available in specific markets, I live in Canada and can’t even use it. The second is by downloading and using Kindle and Audible from the Samsung Galaxy App Store, which supports most major countries. Sadly, the Nook doesn’t have any other distribution methods with alternative app markets, so you have to jump through hoops.
If you use other apps, no matter where in the world you are located. Every major app is available on Google Play. Whether you want to read some fanfic or read the latest romance or download books from your local library branch or listen to the Good e-Reader Radio Show via Spotify or Google Podcasts, you can do it all. Obviously, I am not going to list every app. But, Play is localized in whatever country you live in, so whether you are in the UAE, Europe, South America, Australia, New Zealand, you download all of your favorites.
The Poke 4 Lite when it was initially released, was only available in the Chinese market. During its announcement, Onyx also said they had the Poke 4, with 300 PPI available, but it was Chinese only, for now. The Lite is the only modern dedicated e-reader from Onyx that is worth it to buy if you are on a budget and still want to buy an dedicated E INK reader and you want Google Play and Android 11. I would likely not upgrade to this if you have the Poke 3, but I would if you have the first or second generation. If you are coming from another brand, the Poke 4 lite deserves a serious look. It gets the job done, without any frills or fancy e-paper tech, while still being platform agnostic.
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.