The Onyx Boox Nova Air C comes with one of the most sought-after eReader features: a color E Ink screen.

That’s definitely the most pressing reason I’d tell you to buy the Nova Air C – although I’d also be sure to warn you about the price you’ll pay to enjoy all those ink colors.

The Nova Air C is essentially the same Nova Air that Onyx released last year, but with a color E Ink Kaleido Plus display instead of a regular black and white E Ink Carta display. Internal upgrades to the Nova Air C are minimal; a heavily modified version of Android 11 replaces last year’s version 10, and the device’s octa-core processor is now Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 662 over Nova Air’s Snapdragon 636. The Nova Air and Air C both feature 3GB of LPDDR4X RAM.

Like its most direct predecessor, the Nova Air C straddles the tablet and the e-reader. When I reviewed the Nova Air last year, I found this mix problematic, especially since many of the more expansive features of the Nova Air – like the ability to run full Android apps – are rendered less useful by compatibility issues. There’s just enough friction to make some activities on the Nova Air C totally fruitless.

That’s not to say the Nova Air C doesn’t have its merits. Reading novels or comics on the 7.8-inch screen is generally enjoyable, although getting your ebooks on the device isn’t as easy as with a Kindle or Kobo.

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open-source reading

The Nova Air C’s E Ink display gives it a very e-reader feel, although its body looks nothing like what we’ve come to expect from, say, Amazon Kindles. At first, I found the tall metal casing to be a little off-putting (I appreciate most e-reader manufacturers’ desire to make them feel less like you’re holding a computing device), but I quickly found that it was well balanced and easy to hold for long periods of time. The backlit E Ink display is great in most lighting situations, though the thin matte glass covering the front of the device does attract some glare under fluorescent lights or direct sunlight.

My favorite thing about using the Air C as an e-reader is that, unlike Kindle or Kobo, Boox devices aren’t tied to any corporate e-book store. There is no Boox store pre-installed on the device; the “store” menu tab simply loads curated lists from Project Gutenberg, a free open-source e-book collection. You can buy ebooks just about anywhere, instead of throwing that money at Amazon, for example.

Onyx has also made it super easy to load your purchases onto the Nova Air C, either via USB-C or Wi-Fi. The built-in BooxDrop app opens up an IP port on the device which is then accessible from any any other device on your Wi-Fi network. You can also create a free Boox account and send files to the Air C without being on the same network.

For some readers, however, this extra step might be a hindrance; it certainly takes more work than hitting the “Buy” button on Amazon’s eBook store and having the title appear in your library moments later. That’s perhaps the only thing that keeps the Nova Air C from being a real Kindle competitor: it’s just not that easy to use.

Muted colors

The main selling point of the Nova Air C is that color-capable E Ink display, a relative anomaly in the world of e-readers. Color rendering is remarkably impressive, even from the device’s startup and lock screens, both of which take full advantage of the Kaleido Plus screen’s color capabilities. These aren’t the vibrant shades we’re used to seeing on our smartphone screens; they’re muted by E-ink, making them both easier on the eyes and less eye-catching overall.

The E-color ink display is best used for reading comics, graphic novels, and other image-heavy text, and that’s probably the best argument there is for picking up the Nova Air C over any other e-reader. . In addition to being able to install one of the dozens of great comic or manga apps available on the Google Play Store, the Nova Air C also natively supports popular comic book formats such as .cbr and .cbz . Combined with the simplicity of transferring files to the device, this makes the Air C a great buy for someone with a large library of electronic comics.

There’s one thing holding this colorful experience back, and that’s the E Ink technology itself. “Ghosting” – a fairly common problem with E Ink screens in which afterimages can be seen behind new ones – is made more noticeable by adding colors. It’s a bit like ink from one side of the page seeping into the image on the back. The extent of this ghosting varies widely from comic to comic and even from page to page. This is especially noticeable when browsing the web or using Android apps. (Onyx has built in a setting to perform a “full refresh” of the screen more often, if that really gets on your nerves, but beware: this will affect battery life.)

The colors on the Kaleido Plus display are, overall, quite faded and low-res, but they’re still much more colorful than you’ll find on most E Ink devices.

Android minus the fun

Another big selling point of the Nova Air C is that it’s built around a modded version of Android 11, which unlocks a huge library of apps to install. That’s where the “tablet” part of the Nova Air C comes in. Unfortunately, the Android apps here share the issues I had with last year’s Nova Air. The Nova Air C is designed to run Android apps, but Android apps were not designed to run on the Nova Air C.

Compatibility issues range from minor annoyances to rendering some apps unusable. Something as simple as using a third-party reading app – like those offered by Kobo or Amazon – can be an exercise in futility. Sometimes the buttons just don’t appear; other times they do and are very hard to click. Apps that are heavy with animation or swiping inputs appear sluggish on the E Ink screen, making even simple tasks like scrolling through a media homepage difficult.

The Nova Air C is a solid appearance How? ‘Or’ What color E Ink could change the reading light Game.

There’s no telling how compatible an app will be until you install it, so you might want to browse through different note-taking options before you find one that’s actually capable of harnessing the display’s impressive touch sensors. These random extremes mean it’s usually easier to just use the pre-installed apps instead. Note-taking using Nova Air C’s built-in app is super responsive, yes, but it would be nice to use, say, Evernote or OneNote if that’s where all your notes are saved. This is, after all, what Onyx promised buyers.

These compatibility issues are, unfortunately, made even more apparent by the color capabilities of the Nova Air C. As I briefly touched on above, the Kaleido Plus cannot render color images as well as black images. and white. Pixel density ranges from 300ppi – a benchmark standard for the e-reader market – to a measly 100ppi when color is involved. Don’t even bother installing Instagram or YouTube on this device.

All told, the Nova Air C is a slight step up from the Nova Air, and like its grayscale sibling, it’s well-suited to a very specific type of customer. If you’re looking for a way to read e-comics in varying lighting environments, the Nova Air C’s Kaleido Plus display is basically the best way to do it. It’s also a great option for vigorous note-takers (especially given that the Boox Stylus comes bundled with the Nova Air C), though those customers can also opt for the regular Nova Air for a similar experience at a price of $100 cheaper.

Still, you won’t find a much better comic book experience on an E Ink device.Raymond Wong / Entrance

As an e-reader fan, I’m impressed with Onyx’s drive to push the boundaries of E Ink devices, which e-reader industry leaders seem to fear. The Nova Air C is a solid look at how color E Ink could change the eReader game. If Onyx manages to improve app compatibility (a daunting task, of course), the Boox series could really shake up Amazon’s Kindle empire.