E-Ink tablets can be broadly split into two distinct categories; Focused and Versatile.
These aren’t official industry words – I just use them because I find them the best way to describe these two classes. And, in my opinion, one type is no better than the other.
I wanted to write about this idea because I’m seeing a lot of chatter just lately from people that believe that some e-ink tablet is superior to some other e-ink tablet. Admittedly, there is some confirmation bias there – individuals that have spent several hundred dollars on a tablet often want to reassure themselves that they have made the right decision – but as someone that has tested out a great many e-ink tablets, I don’t believe this to be the case at all. It all depends on what exactly you intend to use the tablet for.
But before I go into more detail about this, I want to briefly explain what I mean by focused and versatile e-ink tablets.
I define focused e-ink tablets as those that have only one or two primary purposes, such as reading and writing.
Examples of this type of tablet include Supernote, reMarkable, and Kindle Scribe.
Although they have the disadvantage of not being all that flexible in terms of their hardware and software, they do have a clear and well-defined focal point for their development efforts. So although they are not able to be used for a wide variety of tasks, they do the tasks that they are designed for very well indeed.
If you consider a line representing paper at one end, and a computer at the other, focused tablets would be located closer to paper.
I define versatile tablets as those that run the Android operating system, so that additional apps from the Google Play Store can be installed on them. These tablets also tend to have higher hardware specs and additional features, such as speakers and colour screens.
Examples of versatile tablet manufacturers include Boox and Bigme.
Because of their higher hardware specs, this type of tablet can be used for a great many tasks, including web browsing, word processing, and installing third-party e-readers. However, for some people this can have drawbacks. For example, colour e-ink screen tech makes the overall screen darker and the option of additional apps can distract you from the primary purpose that you originally bought the tablet for. And with the additional sophistication, also comes additional complexity.
Going back to the imaginary line, versatile tablets are closer to the computer endpoint.
Focus vs Versatility
All e-Ink tablets are a sort of intermediary between paper and computer or between analogue and digital.
Similarly, all e-ink tablets allow you to create digital notebooks and read and annotate documents (with varying degrees of functionality).
However, focused tablets sort of sit closer to paper end of the spectrum, and versatile tablets sit closer to the computer end.
And, when I say closer to paper, I don’t simply mean the tactile writing feel, I mean the whole experience. Focused devices tend to only do the things that you could conceivably do with paper (like reading and writing) with a few digital enhancements. They are not usually designed for typical computer-based tasks like web browsing and social media.
This is how I have come to think of it anyway (and I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently), particularly as I try to justify to myself my decision to continue using my focused Supernote A5 X, even though the newly-released Boox Note Air3 C can potentially do so much more.
And the conclusion I have arrived at is that one category is not necessarily better than the other – it all depends on the unique individual requirements and preferences of the user.
If all you need is an endless stack of digital paper to replace the notebooks and scraps of paper littered around your desk, and want a more minimalist experience, then a focused e-ink tablet may be more to your liking.
But if you want to use your e-ink tablet for more than simply reading and writing, such as browsing the web, accessing your email, word processing, updating your social media, or even watching video, then a versatile e-ink tablet will be a much better fit.
Personally, I find my Supernote A5 X does (almost) everything I need it to, and, more importantly, it does it well. However, I am also using my Note Air3C more frequently for particular tasks. The colour screen makes reading comic books and graphical textbooks much more comfortable and I can crank up the frontlight when the ambient light grows dimmer. It is a far better study companion than the Supernote. But the Supernote is a better day-to-day note-taker because of its simplicity, navigability and week-long battery life. I also enjoy some of its unique features like notebook headings that automatically build a table of contents, quick-access navigation bar, and super-speedy handwriting search.
Where do popular e-ink tablets sit on the paper-computer scale?
To round off this article, I thought it would be interesting to plot the points where I feel that the most popular e-ink tablets would sit on the paper-computer (or focused-versatile) scale. Of course, this is only my subjective opinion and is open to disagreement and debate 🙂
For those that can’t read my handwriting (including myself!), the tablets are ordered as follows (starting with tablets that are most focused):
- reMarkable 2
- Kindle Scribe
- Kobo Elipsa 2E
- Supernote A5X/A6X
- Supernote A6X2
- Boox Note AIr2+/Boox Max Lumi2
- Boox Tab X (the Boox Tab Mini C should probably also be here)
- Boox Note Air3 C/Bigme Inknote Color+
- Boox Tab Ultra/Boox Tab Ultra C
- Boox Tab Ultra C Pro
Hopefully, this has given something to think about whilst you consider which e-ink tablet might be best for you. You may also find spec comparison table useful.
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.