UPDATED SEPTEMBER 2023: With the launch of several new E-ink writing tablets, along with software updates from the major players in the industry, I felt it was time to review and update my buyer’s guide to reflect the changes in the market.
This guide is designed to help people that are interested in buying an E-ink writing tablet to understand the main differences between the range currently available devices, and the different features and selling points, so that they can ultimately make an informed decision about the tablet that is right for them.
If you’re not sure if an e-ink tablet is right for you, have a read of my e-ink tablet primer.
I have a bit of a passion for e-ink tablets and have tested and reviewed several of them. If you’d like to which tablets I like best, check out my Top 5 here.
I’ve tried to be as objective as possible, but I’m sure some of my subjective preferences may have crept into the write-up.
What are E-ink Writing Tablets?
E-ink writing tablets might be thought of as the evolution of e-ink readers, such as Amazon’s Kindle and Kobo’s Libra. These devices are designed to provide a comfortable experience when reading books and documents.
E-ink writers (also known as eNotes, ePaper and eWriters) expand on these reading capabilities by providing annotation and note-taking functionality. This means that you can use a stylus to write directly onto the screen. They can be used as a replacement for traditional paper notebooks or sketchbooks, and documents (such as PDFs) can be annotated with handwritten notes as you read them.
Advantages of E-ink screens over LCD and OLED screens
The advantages of an E-ink screen over more widely used LCD and OLED screens include:
- They can be viewed clearly in outside environments and even in direct sunlight because they are reflective rather than emissive
- Because they do not emit light (including blue light), they can feel easier on the eyes and may reduce eye strain (although there is currently not enough empirical evidence to support this conclusively)
- They have much lower power consumption (a single full charge can last for weeks)
- The writing experience closely resembles traditional paper
Disadvantages of E-ink screens over LCD and OLED screens
On the flip side, E-ink screens do have disadvantages over LCD and OLED screens, including:
- They have slower and lower refresh rates – this makes them unsuitable for applications that require fast changes to the screen, such as video streaming (however, the Super Refresh technology on newer Boox devices does improve this experience)
- Similarly, they sometimes have screen ghosting, which means that a faint image of the previous screen is still visible
- They are typically monochrome (black and white), although colour e-ink technology is constantly improving, and there are now a few colour devices available
- They are quite expensive compared to similarly-sized LCD/OLED screens – the bulk of the cost of an E-ink tablet pays for the screen itself
For a more detailed exploration of the benefits and drawbacks of e-ink screens, check out my beginner’s guide.
Key buying factors
In general, all E-ink writing tablets have the same core functionalities:
- Reading digital documents and e-books (PDFs, ePUBs etc.)
- Annotating digital documents
- Handwritten note-taking
However, there are differences between manufacturers and devices that should be considered before making a purchase.
In this Buying Guide, I will explain some key factors you will want to think about before deciding which tablet is right for you.
One of the main considerations when buying an E-ink tablet is the size of the screen. Screen size is measured diagonally and is usually given in inches.
Screen size options can be roughly split into three main categories:
- Large 13.3″ screens (around A4-sized)
- Medium 10.3″ screens (around A5-sized)
- Small 7.8″ screens (around A6-sized)
A larger 13.3″ screen will give you a bigger canvas for writing on. Because there is more physical surface area on which to rest your palm, you will often find that your handwriting is also neater. When reading, more text can fit onto larger screens, and PDFs (which usually have a fixed layout designed to be viewed on A4-sized paper) can be viewed more clearly than on smaller screens.
There are higher costs related to manufacturing larger-screened tablets, which puts them out of the affordability range of many consumers. For this reason, there are only a handful of 13.3″ E-ink tablets on the market.
Smaller 7.8″ screens are usually much more lightweight and portable. They can fit into smaller bags (and even pockets). This also means they can be more comfortable to hold for an extended period of time. As mentioned previously, the majority of the cost of an E-ink writing tablet is for the screen, so smaller screens are also usually a lot more affordable than larger screens.
Medium 10.3″ screens represent a compromise between price, portability and screen size. They are the most popular size of E-ink tablet.
Click on the links below to browse e-ink tablets of various screen sizes:
E-ink tablet prices range between a few hundred dollars to almost a thousand dollars, so there should be something to suit every budget.
As mentioned in the previous section, devices with larger screens will usually be more expensive. Other factors such as hardware features, build quality, frequency of software revisions and customer service can also contribute to the device’s price.
After buying an e-ink tablet, usually, the only ongoing costs are replacement tips for the stylus. They can be quite expensive, however, they do not need to be replaced all that often. Supernote devices come with a ceramic tip that doesn’t wear out.
reMarkable is the only manufacturer that charges a subscription (called CONNECT) of $3 per month to access additional features, such as unlimited cloud storage and their desktop/mobile apps.
Whilst the hardware specifications across the range of tablets manufactured by the same company can vary, the software (operating system and native apps) typically remains the same.
Therefore, it is useful to have an understanding of the ethos, culture and history of the different E-ink writing tablet manufacturers, as well as the features of the devices they produce. This can help you to choose a device that aligns with your own unique needs, preferences, and values.
In my experience, Ratta Supernote has the best customer service and after-sales care (see my review of the A5X for more info). Their devices seem to be designed for longevity, and they provide very regular software updates and new features – and software updates are often useful and innovative (e.g. Supernote has the best handwriting search feature).
They even have a roadmap of the features that they will be adding in the future.
In addition, their devices look good and have a very impressive writing feel – think pen-on-plastic, rather than pencil-on-paper. Another unique feature of the Supernote family of devices is that the styluses use ceramic nibs that do not need to be replaced.
However, Supernote users are restricted to the software that is provided by the manufacturer. The operating system is a closed version of Linux, so there is no access to the Google Play Store to install additional Android apps (although there are integrations for email, Word documents and access to the Kindle app). The hardware specs (CPU, RAM etc.) of Supernote devices is not particularly high-end – there are no speakers, microphone, g-sensor or frontlight. However, this is by design to keep the device focused on its primary use cases; reading and writing.
reMarkable has similar ideas to Supernote about how a writing tablet should look, function and behave. Hardware features are stripped back to keep the device light and free from other distractions, and their focus is to improve the device’s functionality through regular software releases and add-on products.
The device itself is very sleek and good-looking (one of the most gorgeous and minimalistic designs) and it includes some fantastic drawing tools, such as a wide range of brushes, and support for layers. The product cycle for both reMarkable and Supernote devices is designed to last for several years.
reMarkable devices run their own proprietary operating system, based on Linux, which means that reMarkable users are limited to the software functionalities provided by the manufacturer. reMarkable has used some dubious ploys in the past to extract more money from their customer base (see my review for further info), which led to some of their users seeking alternative products.
Whilst Supernote and reMarkable devices are designed to make the most of existing hardware through software updates, Boox devices are on the cutting edge of e-ink technology and they release several new products every year as they try to take advantage of the latest technological advances. In contrast, Supernote and reMarkable have not released a new device for two and three years, respectively.
Boox devices tend to have higher hardware specs and additional hardware features (for example, all Boox devices have speakers, microphones and frontlights). Newer devices in the TAB range (such as the Boox Tab Ultra) also use Boox’s proprietary SuperRefresh technology, which, combined with an onboard GPU makes the e-ink screen behave more like an LCD screen with faster refresh rates in certain applications.
They also release fairly regular software updates for their product range.
A downside of this type of business model is that Boox products may not have a long availability cycle, with manufacturing ceasing for products that are around 18 months old. Nevertheless, Boox still provides regular software updates for their older devices (for around 3 years).
Boox devices use Android 11 as their operating system, which provides more flexibility and makes it easy to download and install additional apps from the Google Play Store to extend functionality. Although this means that Boox devices are more versatile and extendable, it also means that there is a steeper learning curve.
NOTE: Although any app from the Google Play Store can be installed on a Boox tablet, performance and usability of third-party appscan is variable.
Amazon recently entered the E-ink writing tablet market with their Kindle Scribe.
Although Amazon has provided additional functionality in recent software updates, the current note-taking software is still a generation or two behind the previously mentioned manufacturers (but is quickly catching up with reMarkable).
Although the writing software is a bit behind, the Kindle reading software is excellent, and it is the only e-ink tablet that allows handwritten sticky notes within Kindle books.
Therefore, it is perhaps best suited for people that are already invested in the Kindle ecosystem that would primarily use it for reading but would like the ability to take notes from time-to-time.
Although Kobo e-ink writing tablets have been around for longer than those of Amazon, and have already gone through several software revisions, they have parallel conclusions. Yes, Kobo tablets are okay, but they do not really compete with the likes of Supernote, remarkable and Boox, so they would only really benefit people that are already invested in the Kobo ecosystem.
The note-taking software on Kobo is much more advanced than the Kindle, and has some really neat features that are not available anywhere else, such as support for diagramming and mathematical formulas. However, the Kindle feels much more premium and has much nicer writing feel – and I have personally had issues with the durability of the Kobo Elipsa 2E.
I think of the Amazon and Kobo e-ink tablets as primarily electronic readers with the option to take digital notes rather than fully-fledged note-taking devices.
Big consumer electronics manufacturers
Other big names that have manufactured e-ink writing tablets include Lenovo, Huawei and Fujitsu. However, these devices tend to be quite expensive, have limitations to their software or have limited availability.
Fujitsu devices are very basic and support only the PDF file format (for both the native reader and writer). However, this simplistic and minimalistic design is ideal for people that just need to read, annotate, and write, without any bells and whistles. Unfortunately, outside of Japan, the Fujitsu range of Quaderno e-ink tablets has limited availability.
Huawei released the Matepad Paper, which is a nice device but has several software limitations. In addition, it is heavily integrated with Huawei’s cloud system, which makes some features only available with additional subscription costs.
Lenovo is the latest household name to launch an e-ink tablet with the Smart Paper. Again, whilst it is a capable tablet, there are limitations to the software, which feels buggy at times.
On the whole, it feels to me as though these well-known and well-established consumer electronics manufacturers are very green when it comes to e-ink tablets and are not really sure where their e-ink products fit into the market – perhaps they have been designed with their existing customer base in mind and are currently testing the water to see if there are any opportunities to invest more time and effort into these niche products.
Other Android tablet manufacturers
There are also a few fringe manufacturers of Android-based e-ink tablets that have a smaller market share. These include Bigme, Bookeen, Meebook, and Mobiscribe.
Bigme seems to be looking to compete with Boox in the high-spec Android e-ink tablet sub-niche. Their devices have high-end hardware and most have colour screens (using e-ink’s Kaleido 3 technology). However, their software is not as mature as that provided by Boox, and because they are similarly-priced, there are often not a lot of reasons to pick Bigme over Boox.
The Bookeen Notea runs an older version of Android (8.1) and has capable hardware and software for basic reading and note-taking. The software is a generation or two behind manufacturers such as Boox, Supernote, and reMarkable and with software updates being small and infrequent, it is unlikely to ever compete in this space.
Meebook e-ink tablets have okay hardware specs, and run the Android operating system. In addition, they are much more affordable, but their ‘cheapness‘ is also reflected in their products. The software is somewhat buggy and feature-poor, the tactile writing feel is not as pleasant as other tablets due to the use of non-standard technology, and customer service is not that great – they do not even have their own website.
Mobiscribe are one of only two manufacturers that offer waterproof e-ink tablets (the other being Kobo with their Sage tablet). In addition, they are the only manufacturer to use Android 12 as their operating system (other manufacturers are still on Android 11) and their tablets are fairly inexpensive. The hardware is okay and the writing software is very capable (although not quite in the same league as the big players). But with their regular software improvements and small but loyal customer base, they do have some potential.
There have been a few manufacturers that have funded their projects with crowdfunding, including Reinkstone and Topjoy, but these were not all that successful – I would advise not to purchase an e-ink tablet via the crowdfunding method.
When you buy a laptop or PC, some of your main considerations would be hardware specs, such as processor speed and memory. Because e-ink devices do not use intensive graphics applications and only have a couple of primary purposes (reading and writing), hardware specs will not usually be a big consideration.
In fact, you can assume that all e-ink writing tablets will have sufficient hardware specs for the average user without looking into it too deeply. Of course, if you are not an average user (e.g. you will be using your device to open large and complicated PDFs on a daily basis), you might want to look at devices with more memory, storage, and processing power such as Boox tablets.
Other hardware features that may be important for your needs and preferences include:
- Frontlight – for reading in dim/dark environments
- Speakers – for listening to music, podcasts or audiobooks
- Bluetooth – for connecting headphones or an external speaker
- Microphone – for recording voice notes
- Wacom EMR – so that you can use a Wacom-compatible stylus (if you don’t like the stylus that ships with the tablet)
- G-sensor – so that the screen auto-rotates between landscape and portrait
- MicroSD Card Slot – for additional storage
- Camera – for taking photos and scanning documents
- Waterproofing – protection from splashing or submersion in water
- Keyboard Folio – Some tablets have an optional dedicated keyboard housed inside their case/cover
- Ceramic Tip – Supernote styluses have a ceramic tip that never needs to be replaced
- Fingerprint scanner – for added security
- Super Refresh – Newer Boox tablets (the TAB range) have an integrated graphics processor to make applications such as scrolling webpages and watching video smoother and with less ghosting)
All e-ink tablets use the same screen technology provided by the E-Ink Corporation, who hold all the patents and have very little competition. However, there are a few different variations of e-ink screens available.
- Carta is the most widely-used e-ink screen technology. There are four generations of Carta; Carta 1000, Carta 1100, Carta 1200, and Carta 1250. It is a monochrome (black and white) screen.
- Mobius replaces the glass substrate used Carta screens with a plastic-based alternative, which is more lightweight and flexible (which can make it less prone to damage). It is a monochrome (black and white) screen.
- Kaleido Plus is a thin film filter layer that sits on top of a monochrome Carta screen, turning it into a colour screen.
- Kaleido 3 is the latest generation of Kaleido Plus with several improvements.
- Gallery 3 (and it’s predecessor Gallery Plus) are dedicated colour e-ink screen technology
Most e-ink tablets use a Carta screen, with a few opting for the more lightweight and flexible Mobius.
E-ink tablets that have a colour screen typically use Kaleido Plus (on older devices) or Kaleido 3 (on newer devices).
However, colours on Kaleido tablets are not as bright and vibrant as you would see on an LCD/OLED screen – they look quite washed-out, and manufacturers use marketing language such as ‘soft tones‘ and ‘pastel colours‘ to reflect this. In addition, the surface of a Kaleido screen is a darker shade than it’s Carta counterpart, which can cause users to have the frontlight turned on more frequently. It is also possible to make out a faint honeycomb pattern across the area of the screen.
Of course, this is not to say that Kaleido screens look awful, but to provide an honest assessment of the experience – if you need colour and can live with these quirks, a Kaleido screen will be fine.
Whilst Gallery 3 is a dedicated colour screen technology (not fudging an existing monochrome screen technology), it is still very new and we have only seen it first-hand on one e-ink tablet (the Bigme Galy). Based on this experience, we do not think it is ready for the consumer market yet.
There are a couple of other screen technologies that have been developed by other companies but, like DES Slurry, we do not feel they are ready yet.
Other considerations relating to the screen include the resolution (how many pixels are used to make up the width and height of the screen) and the density (how many pixels are shown per inch of screen). Screen density is measured in pixels per inch (PPI) or dots per inch (DPI) – they are both the same measurement, just with a different name.
In general, the higher the resolution and density, the higher quality text and images will be shown on the screen. Most 10.3″ devices have a resolution of 1404 × 1872 and a density of around 227DPI, however newer devices are moving to an 1860 x 2480 resolution with 300DPI.
Although there is obviously a difference between 227DPI and 300DPI, I would argue that you will only appreciate the difference in quality after seeing the two screens side-by-side – 227DPI is sufficient for reading and note-taking tasks.
Another point worth mentioning is that on Kaleido tablets, the screen resolution and density drops when viewing coloured materials (which is why there are two sets of resolution/dpi specs on my comparison table for tablets with colour screens).
Another important consideration is the software that ships with the tablet.
Firstly, you will need to decide if you want the versatility to install additional apps from the Google Play Store. If so, you will need a tablet that runs an open version of Android (e.g. Boox, Bigme, Bookeen, Meebook, or Mobiscribe). If you only need to take notes and read documents, then the operating system will not be a major concern.
It is worth noting that just because an Android app can be installed, it does not mean that it will work as expected. E-ink tablets use much slower screen refresh rates, and so writing/drawing apps that have been designed for LCD/OLED screens may suffer from performance issues on e-ink screens. Having said that, the new Boox Tab Series of device, including the Tab Ultra, Tab Ultra C, Tab X, and Tab Mini C use Boox’s Proprietary Super Refresh technology, which increases the screen refresh for activities that have traditional resulted in performance issues on e-ink tablets.
Typically, e-ink writing tablets will have the following native software features:
- An app for reading (and annotating) files
- An app for taking notes
- Methods for transferring files to and from the device
The features, capabilities, limitations and ease of use of each of these functions may influence which tablet you decide to buy. Below, I have ranked each of the manufacturers in each of these areas.
Reading & annotating files
Boox devices ship with NeoReader, which is an excellent e-reading app. It can open a wide range of files and support annotation on most of them. It cannot open DRM-protected files, but other readers (such as Kindle and Kobo readers) can be installed.
Similarly, other Android-based tablets support third-party readers.
Amazon obviously uses Kindle as the reading app on their devices, which is an excellent reader. Similarly, Kobo devices use their proprietary Kobo reader.
Other manufacturers’ devices tend to be more limited in reading features, particularly reMarkable. However, Supernote does have a neat Digest feature, which you can use to extract excerpts of text for future review or export.
Supernote, Boox, and reMarkable have the best native note-taking apps on the market (in that order, in my opinion), followed by Kobo, and then Amazon Kindle.
The feel of the stylus on the screen also varies between devices.
Boox provides the most versatility for getting files on and off the device. There are built-in integrations with several cloud drives and files can also be transferred via USB and WiFi. Plus there’s the option to install additional apps if needed.
Similarly any tablet that runs Android and has access to the Google Play Store is going to provide more options in general.
Supernote, reMarkable, Kindle and Kobo offer their own systems for transferring files to and from their tablets.
Other software features
Other software features that may be useful to you include:
- Handwriting-to-text – for converting handwritten notes into text that can be copied/pasted into other documents
- Handwriting search – for searching your handwriting for particular words
- Access to Play Store – if you need access to particular apps for your workflows, you will need a device running Android 11 that can access the Google Play Store
- Insert shapes – tool to add straight lines, circles, squares etc. within the native note-taking app
- Insert images – tool to add images inside your notebooks
- Split screen – in landscape mode, open two apps side-by-side
- Custom templates – ability to add your own custom templates to your notebooks (most tablets come with a selection of templates preinstalled)
- Screen share – share what you are doing on your tablet on other screens in real time
- Kindle support – whether you can install the Kindle app (or if it comes pre-installed)
- ADE Support – read DRM-protected ebooks that are secured with Adobe Digital Editions
- Brush types – the range of brushes available in the native note-taking app
Finally, you should ensure that the tablet is able to open the file formats that you will be using. Pretty much all e-ink tablets support opening and annotating PDF files and most also support ePubs, but if you will need to view other filetypes (such as CBR or DOCX), you should ensure that the tablet supports them.
Although there are several manufacturers to choose from, for most people, it will be a choice between reMarkable, Supernote, Boox, Kindle, and Kobo.
The reMarkable 2 is designed to be a minimalistic and distraction-free note-taking and sketching tool, and it does this very well. However, the reading experience is not that good, and you are locked into the functionalities that reMarkable thinks you need.
Similarly, Supernote uses its own proprietary locked-down operating system, however, they provide additional software to access your email, work with Word documents and use the Kindle app. The nibs on the stylus do not wear down, and they provide the best after-sales service, with frequent useful software updates.
Boox devices are the most feature-rich (in terms of both hardware and software) and versatile. They also produce the most advanced e-ink tablets and run an open version of Android that supports the installation of third-party apps. For e-ink tablets with colour screens, Boox are the best.
If you will primarily be using an e-ink tablet for reading, but would like the option to take occasional notes, you may consider Amazon or Kobo products (depending on which ecosystem is most familiar to you). The Kindle Scribe is a newer and nicer device and has native support for Kindle, however the Kobo provides more software features in the note-taking (such as handwriting search).
To help you find your perfect E-ink tablet, we have provided a handy search and comparison tool that makes it easy to find the devices that meet your unique criteria.
We also provide a great deal of objective and subjective information about individual e-ink tablets.
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.