A little while ago, one of eWritable’s regular visitors (Martin) explored the options that are available for a third-party keyboard folio that could be used with his Boox Note Air3 C.
The objective was to use the Note Air3 C in a similar way to how the Boox Tab Ultra C Pro is designed to be used – as a laptop of sorts – without the higher associated costs (I’ve previously written about the similarities of these two tablets).
After some initial research, Martin bought the ProCase Universal Keyboard Case and has very kindly written up his thoughts about the product to share with the community.
Martin has a very unique setup, using SpaceDesk to mirror his laptop screen onto his Boox Max 3. He tested this setup with the Note Air3C and so has also shared his experiences with how they compare, along with his overall thoughts about the Note Air3 C itself.
What follows is Martin’s review…
I received the Note Air3 C surprisingly quick, I was not expecting to get it until at least Monday next week. Since it arrived so early I was able to make a bunch of trials at once with the Folio Setup.
It was an intriguing comparison, first having used my oversized Boox Max 3 with the universal ProCase keyboard folio, and then the more compatible Note Air3 C (NA3C). I was able to anticipate most of the issues I expected to find with the Folio and with the NA3C. Those that I did find were rather when I started comparing my two devices to each rather than with the Folio itself.
So let’s delve in…
The folio is a pleather case, black on the outside, and tan on the inside. The outside has a stand to prop the screen up at about a 45 degree angle or slightly higher, it has a pouch that you can slip in small note sized paper into, it has a stretchable strap to hold the folio closed along its sides, and a stylus holder, also stretchable.
Inside it has a magnetic pad sewn between the inside and outside pleather layers. This magnet is strong enough to keep the keyboard from moving about while in use or from slipping while carrying the folio when closed, yet not so strong as to compromise the safety of my NA3C.
On the other side inside the ProCase folio is a set of rubber “straps” or restraints. They go as little as 9 inches and up to 10.5.
Bluetooth Rechargeable Keyboard
The keyboard itself is slightly smaller than a laptop keyboard. I has slightly smaller keys and has dispensed with the number pad. Despite it’s compact size the keyboard itself does not feel too small. The space between the keys are generous, and the missing Home, Page Up, Page Down, and End buttons, are accessible when you use the Fn (function) key to the left in conjunction with the arrow keys to your right. You may find this awkward to use at first since the Fn and Ctrl keys are switched, at least when compared to my laptop’s keyboard.
Hand size will be a factor when deciding to purchase a universal folio of any kind. Rule of thumb, smaller devices have smaller keyboards. My own hands are medium sized. So far they have not cramped up on me while using this keyboard, nor has the keyboard size slowed down my typing speed. One reviewer did not have the same experience as me. He stated that his hands were too large for the keyboard, forcing him to finger-peck his words.
Going back to the keyboard, it has a “Connect” button and an on-off switch at the top right, with some little lights just below indicating whether the Caps is on, you also have a Bluetooth connection, “Charge”, and “Power” light. These, and all the keys on the board, are placed within a bevelled area of the keyboard which, at least in theory, will keep them away from the screen when the folio is closed.
Setup is easy to do with this keyboard. Turn on your keyboard, turn on your Bluetooth on your device, head on over to Settings > Network > Bluetooth– spot the device, and type in the password you get. As a word of advice here, in one review someone pointed out that you should write down the password when it is given to you. You only get to see the password once. Once you type it in you cannot get it back or change it with a “forgot password” option. But don’t worry, you don’t need to type in the password every time you use the device, and if you mess up typing it in for the first time, or second, or third… and the process is cancelled, it just gives you a new password. I know this from experience…
After this it should seamlessly connect.
All and all, the Procase universal keyboard folio is a nice, compact experience which will suit my needs nicely.
Using the folio
I spent a few hours throwing both the folio and Boox NA3C device at my various workloads, testing them to see what it can do, how it will hold up, and how it might slip into my own workload. Some were just your usual vain curiosity. As I mentioned earlier, I already had a chance to pair the folio to my Max 3 to take the folio out for a test drive.
The keyboard has little to no lag with the NA3C, whereas the Max 3 had some. It worked best on Fast or Ultra Fast with both the Max 3 and NA3C, and manageable on Balanced mode for the NA3C. Both devices were completely unusable in HD and Regal. The real difference between the older and newer devices are that the NA3C is so much smoother to work with, pleasant to look at, with little or no flickering while I am typing- especially on the Fast mode (better quality coupled with speed). The Max 3 works best on Fast, but it also flickers a little.
A nice little added feature is that the keyboard goes into sleep mode when left unused for a time. You can charge the battery if it dies, which has not happened to me yet, but you won’t waste your charge if you forget to turn off your keyboard. To turn it back on start typing or press the “Connect” button and it will begin working again.
Folio Straps – Interior
The interior straps appear to be thick enough to take on your everyday wear and tear and easy enough to stretch to secure your device into. Thus far I have not seen other reviewers complaining about the strap itself, but there are a couple that complained about the straps covering up the edges of their screen. This can and does happen, but it is easy enough to adjust the straps away from the NA3C screen edges. So far I have not had to readjust them.
My only question with these straps is how much stress can they endure? Some people might frequently take out and put their device into the folio. I am not one of those, so I may never know. Fortunately, since the keyboard is removable, it might not be as much a problem. You can take the keyboard out and fold your case the other way and use the device like a regular old tablet. When you are finished, place the keyboard back in and close it back up.
But how well does the NA3C fit into the Folio Case?
There is a Caveat here… the NA3c sticks out the top just a little. The NA3C is awkwardly shaped when compared to other devices – being more square than rectangular. Most universal cases do not have near-square devices in mind, which the NA3C just happens to be. It peaks out the top about .5 cm- not a deal breaker for me.
It does not compromise the screen’s safety with the keyboard when closed: the bevel and rubber pads on the edges help with that. You can also move the rubber straps about to put more distance between the device and the folio keyboard (covering up the screen edges in the process…). The only concern left would be what would happen if you dropped it on its top? Perhaps the stylus you will put there will cushion the fall?
Folio Straps – Exterior
I am very fond of the exterior strap. It is aesthetically pleasing and practical. I saw other universal cases with snap on tops, but reviewers showed that they poorly secure the device, and the keyboard could slip out the sides. The ProCase, out-straps these here. I do not have to worry about keyboard or device (which should be secure already) from falling out. The strap itself seems robust enough. The only issue I can see is eventually losing its elasticity (which normally happens), or eventually wearing out at the seams. What is said here I can apply to the stylus holder. Regardless, I do not see any of these being an issue any time soon.
Besides that, my only other concern will be the Pleather casing. Pleather does not always last long. But considering the price of the product, and the usability thus far, it seems like a very good investment for its price-point- over 32 CAD, plus a discount.
How does it fit into my work flow?
Using Space Desk, I now have a portable workstation that is attached to my Beastly Zbook laptop. I can also use it along with my older Max 3, giving me three screens to work with. Some might be put off by this complexity, but for me it is a life saver. My goal is to try to reduce my LCD time as much as possible, which the two other devices do. Only go to my LCD when I am need for some serious deadline-speed or complete colour accuracy.
Max 3 is my primary screen. I use it for document work and web search, with some very minor image editing. I have it directly connected to my laptop with a usb cord with spacedesk’s usb connector feature. This grants me the touch screen capabilities I would otherwise not have with the Max3. With touchscreen speed and my laptop’s keyboard, it does almost everything I need… but slower.
The folio and NA3C allows me to keep a separate desktop window off to the side with its own keyboard. It handles documents, internet, videos, and even photo editing quicker and with better quality than the Max 3. One thing it cannot do in space desk, but Max 3 can is screen rotate. It simply refuses. But the Max 3 can. So it is a little less flexible in this regard.
The folio’s keyboard and the laptop keyboard may be used interchangeably on the same device. I find that whatever device is plugged into my laptop provides the smoothest experience. When they are connected wirelessly, it is actually my Max that has a stronger and more stable wifi connection. For some reason the newer one has poor internet reception.
The NA3C does a few things better than my Max 3- it has colour (of course…), it is very smooth in its operations, and it can play videos at a better quality at a better speed than the Max 3 on its quickest (which is still watchable mind you). In fact, I see minimal difference in speed between the Balanced, Fast, and Ultra Fast. Balanced is a bit blurrier, mind you, but Fast and Ultra Fast are nearly the same in terms of quality and speed. The mouse movement is far superior to the Max3. I need the touchscreen function on the Max 3 in order for my current setup to work.
For curiosity sake, I decided to test a game, Fallout 4 (heavily modded) on space desk. It was amazing how well it handled the game. Playable? Almost. A less intensive game might have a chance.
Thoughts about Boox NA3C
“Almost” is how I view the whole NA3C device. It is almost like the TUCP, including the added weight of the folio and keyboard (except without features I don’t need and a folio keyboard that works well, without the high price- a win for me). It almost outperforms the Max 3 in everything except in two areas: Real estate and brightness.
In my mind, the NA3C was the better purchase than the TUCP. Yet strangely enough, it felt like a downgrade from the Max 3 in many respects. For me, Max 3 is a staple, it is king, aged although robust. The NA3C is certainly noble enough but I cannot help but see it as a lesser device of greater sires- if I may boldly steal out of Tolkien’s book.
Obviously this won’t be the case for everyone. For me, I am used to the 13+ screen size of the Max 3. I can work on two documents at a time and the typing speed are not that bad. When doing art studies, I find the black and white setting useful for value studies. This is important when working with black ink alone. It could be better, but it is nice and big. Everything feels just right, with no cramping. If I need to look at colour, I peak over to my laptop screen.
But that being said- it is so very smooth, very quick, coloured… if only it were not so small!
Colour on the NA3C
Colour is a double edge sword for me. It is a mighty temptress, a siren calling out to greater things, just waiting to dash my hopes and expectations. This does not mean it is without use. Combined with the folio setup it is now a powerful player in my e-ink tool belt. It enables me to do coloured internet search, board game play testing, some photo editing, document work and video watching. It can do all these things well…well, almost.
As some other reviewer had said, they felt like that colour was more a side feature- nice to have, but not its main function. I have to concur. Ironically, the NA3c handled fallout 4 better than any image program I tried running on it or to it via space desk. Yet at the same time, I found almost everything quite responsive in a drawing program… except for the drawing. You can photo edit smoothly enough, but the drawing tools still lags.
If Boox improved it’s software to integrate image programs better, or even improved their own notebook functions to add layer affects and colour selection and blending- then their coloured devices would sell themselves. I would be willing to pay for such software… if I did not have to pay a monthly subscription fee.
For now, colour is but a garnish. Yet what a wonderful garnish it is, making you want just a little more.
Thoughts about the Boox Max3
Why do I like My Max 3? Probably because I am most used to it and its foibles. But it is also objectively bigger and brighter than the NA3C screen. This was anticipated. It is true that the NA3C has a front light, yet it cheapens the image quality when turned too high. I feel like I am looking through a coloured powdered cloud at full brightness. If I need to crank it up (which I don’t and I am fine with having it off in a well lit room), I might as well go to the LED for colour or the Max 3 for clarity.
Brightness and space are what I need most with nose-to-the-grindstone typing. It is easier on the eyes and more pleasant to look at. Both make for the best and most relaxing experience.
Perhaps one might get the sense of “disappointment” from my review. I would say both yes and no. For what it is, NA3c is a rather impressive piece of hardware. There is a lot of potential here that can be met, but each person has to discover what that means for themselves. I tend to be disappointed with most hardware purchases until I familiarize myself with them. Once they have found their place in my work flow, I am as happy as I can be. But I cannot still avoid all the “almost-but-not-yet” moments I am having with it. It is a tablet, kind of, and a low end PC, sort of. A bit of both and at times neither. It is sort of a platypus of E-ink devices- you are not quite sure what to think until you accept it as it is… once you can figure out what it is.
I am happy to have the NAC3 for the time being, but I will be just as happy to sell it when something bigger and brighter, like a colour Tab X (hopefully with a carta 1300), hits the shelves.
Boox Note Air3C
I think that the NA3C is a good “almost” gap-filler for me. Its strengths are not areas I am particularly drawn too, namely reading, writing, and sketching electronically. I prefer to do these things with paper, ink, and pen. I am not adverse to doing these electronically- I do it often enough- they just are not my primary use cases.
To be honest, I am really looking for an E-ink laptop. Obviously NA3C is not going to fill this. Nevertheless, combined with the Folio it is still be a powerful tool. Once I figure out where and how to use it, it will greatly enhance my workflow.
If one is looking for a TUCP-Laptop-like experience, weight included, without all the extra hardware and price tag, I think that the NA3C and the Procase Keyboard Folio will help fit that niche. The folio currently sits at 35 CAD (about 26 USD), not including taxes- which for me was around 50-60 CAD (about 37-45 USD) with shipping and taxes. Much cheaper than 145 USD (almost 200 CAD) Boox keyboard folio added on top of a 650 USD (about 860 CAD) device, neither tax nor shipping included.
Being practical, flexible, and affordable, the NA3C and ProCase Keyboard Folio combo, or any working universal keyboard folio for that matter, may be perfect for those who don’t need the TUCP power, but would like to have some of its flexibility.
About the author
I am Martin Hatch a Canadian freelance writer/editor, casual graphic and traditional artist, and perpetual self-student (mainly the classics and dead languages) with some teaching experience. I enjoy typing out ideas, researching, board game design, indulging in theory, and being an overall dabbler. I got into E-Ink because my eyes are sensitive to LED screens, yet I needed a means to continue my various pursuits and livelihoods.
I eventually found my way to Boox Max 3, which worked, but not how I wanted- and so I started dabbling in "unorthodox" uses until I found a setup right for me. Now I keep an avid eye on the growing industry, discussing it with others at my home front to promote this tech, especially for those eye-strained folks who too are looking for LED alternatives.