Nine days after ordering the Boox Note Air3 C from Boox’s official store, the e-ink tablet landed on my doorstep in the UK.
A full review is in the pipeline, once I have used the Note Air3 C (NA3C) for several days and let the novelty wear off. However, in the meantime, I wanted to write about my first impressions.
There were three items in the package; the tablet, the magnetic cover, and a box of five spare stylus tips.
Inside the NA3C box was the tablet, Pen2 Pro (stylus), USB cable, and some literature.
I removed the cover and snapped the NA3C to it via the magnets. It attached really nicely and provided a firm(ish) grip – it’s unlikely to fall out with everyday use but will be easily dislodged with a rigorous shake.
Something I only noticed when I came to take pictures afterwards is how easily the cover had picked up greasy fingermarks (I swear my hands were clean!).
The stylus snaps magnetically to the right edge, and a flap on the case folds over to give it an extra layer of security. When the cover is open, the flap can fold underneath, with the magnets keeping it in place, however, this does make the tablet wobble when you tap the screen because it is no longer on an even surface. Alternatively, the flap can just be left to stick out. I’m not a big fan of this flap design, so it will be interesting to see how much it irritates me with continued use.
Setting up the NA3C for the first time involved setting my language, the timezone, powerdown settings, and agreeing to Boox’s terms and conditions.
Then, I tried to connect up to my office wireless but the Android app kept crashing, so I set up my phone as a mobile hotspot and connected to that instead.
Then I downloaded and installed the latest firmware and rebooted.
Next, I configured my Boox and Google accounts to download my notebooks from Google Drive before setting up the Play Store.
One of the first apps I installed was CPU Z to check out the processor speed because reviewers that received a free unit from Boox noticed that it was clocking at 2.8GHz, in contradiction to the official specs, which state 2.4GHz. My tablet was indeed running at 2.4GHz.
I also installed some more apps, including GMail and Google Chrome. I did experience the Play Store crash a couple of times when installing apps.
Thinking this may be due to the mobile hotspot connection, I tried again to connect to my office wifi (which uses 802.1x EAP) but it still crashed out, even after the firmware update.
In fairness, I have had difficulty connecting to this particular network with other tablets/e-readers in the past (but never a Boox tablet), so the issue could well say more about my wifi than the NA3C.
The screen itself looks nice and is very responsive to the touch, however, it does have the same drawbacks that are inherent on other devices fitted with Kaleido 3 screens.
Without the frontlight turned on, the screen is quite dark (e.g. a white background is not quite as white as monochrome devices, which results in a lower contrast). Of course, you can turn on the frontlight, and this greatly improves the contrast but it will draw more power. Other than my Supernote, I only had my Kindle Scribe available for a comparison (shown below).
Kaleido 3 colours look quite washed out but on the NA3C, it is generally very good at displaying coloured pictures and even video, particularly when you set the right refresh mode for the activity. Colour e-ink tech is not yet at the level to compete with LCD/OLED screens, and you shouldn’t buy an e-ink tablet if this is what you are expecting that kind of quality, but Boox colour tablets are pretty much the best on the market in this regard.
Finally, I felt that the NA3C’s screen had a lot of glare from the lights in my office compared to other e-ink tablets.
Next, I went to Boox’s native note-taking to check out the handwriting feel.
It has a similar ‘scratchy’ surface to that of its predecessor, the Note Air 2 Plus, which has been missing from Boox’s more recent products, particularly the Tab Ultra line. The latency is almost imperceivable and the distance between where the nib touches the screen and where the mark is made is very small indeed.
I absolutely love the new “Smart Scribe” features, which (for me) appear to have a lot of time-saving benefits.
Rather than tapping on the lasso-select tool, I can now simply draw a circle or box around an element and it will select it for me. And if I want to erase something, I can simple scribble it out rather than having to select the erase tool. It is also now possible to create a shape with straight edges by drawing a freehand version and then keeping the stylus touching the screen. I think I will use this feature for diagramming/flowcharting, which will be further enhanced by the new Fill tool to ‘colour-in’ my shapes.
When I first read the specs of the NA3C, my main concern was the battery life – it has the same power rating (3700mAh) as the Note Air 2 Plus but has more demanding hardware, particularly the integrated GPU and Boox Super Refresh (BSR).
I’ve just spent about two hours setting up and playing around with my NA3C and the battery has reduced from 90% to 70%, averaging 10% per hour. This indicates about 10 hours of usage before needing a recharge, which is a long way from several days and even weeks of usage that you might have traditional;y expected from an e-ink device.
However, this is just the observation from a quick initial playaround and it will be interesting to see how long the battery lasts with my typical day-to-day activities.
I’m really excited to get stuck in and see what the NA3C is capable of.
My initial thoughts are that it is quick and responsive, the writing feel is nice, and the new features of the native note-taking app are awesome. And the onboard GPU, along with BSR makes it possible to run a wide range of apps.
However, it does have the drawbacks of other tablets with Kaleido 3 screens (dark, faded colours etc.) and there is a fair bit of glare on the screen. But, right now, these are the compromises we have to make to experience colour e-ink.
And, of course, battery life is still a concern – will I be able to go a whole day without a recharge?
About the author
Dan Dutton is passionate about E-ink writing tablets, which bring together the pleasure of writing on paper with the power of digital technology. When he bought his first tablet, he realised that there wasn't a lot of unbiased information available for people that were considering buying an E-ink tablet, and so he built eWritable.