eWritable > Blog > Focused vs Versatile E-Ink Tablets: What are the differences?

Focused vs Versatile E-Ink Tablets: What are the differences?

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.

Focused 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.

Versatile Tablets

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):

  1. reMarkable 2
  2. Kindle Scribe
  3. Kobo Elipsa 2E
  4. Supernote A5X/A6X
  5. Supernote A6X2
  6. Boox Note AIr2+/Boox Max Lumi2
  7. Boox Tab X (the Boox Tab Mini C should probably also be here)
  8. Boox Note Air3 C/Bigme Inknote Color+
  9. Boox Tab Ultra/Boox Tab Ultra C
  10. 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

Me and my e-ink tablets
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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.

8 thoughts on “Focused vs Versatile E-Ink Tablets: What are the differences?”

  1. Good article. I had implicitly categorized the e-ink this way for myself. What would be nice to eventually see is a dedicated E-ink Canvas (perhaps it could be called that? or E-Canvas). That is, something dedicated to deeper digital art creation without the side distractions for the more creative types. However, such a device would likely gain greater traction once the E-Colour industry improves. I would certainly buy something like this.

    On the other end of the spectrum, I do like the E-Ink laptop idea. I am holding out to see what January brings for colour devices (and finances). My hope is that a 13 inch Tab X C will be released that year- but I have no qualms with purchasing the Air note 3 C + a universal folio keyboard.

    In your perspective, what device would be most in-between? Not necessarily in terms of doing all things well, but rather the most balanced between Paper and computer, Analogue and Digital, in terms of hardware, software, and overall experience?

    Reply
    • Hey Matt,

      Cheers for commenting.

      Good question – I’m not quite sure to be honest. Perhaps the Note Air 2+? It has a nice scratchy writing feel, good battery life, Android (and Google Play), monochrome screen, decent native apps. It does swing to the side of computer a little, but it is possible to minimise disruptions by not installing superfluous app, turning off notifications, and installing a minimalistic app launcher. Unfortunately, I’m the sort of person that will end up installing stuff I don’t need and getting distracted by it lol.

      Dan

      Reply
  2. It would be interesting to see how other E-Ink reviewers (like Jeff, Kitt, Brandon Bosweel, Deep Guide, etc.) would rank the devices based off of your categorization. I think some have, but not as extensively, or at least not as “visually”.

    Oh ya, I have been keeping an eye out on your beta newsfeed, very useful. I have caught a few things there that I would have missed. I cannot seem to find the page itself unless I go to the link you posted in the 13 inch screen blog post. I also cannot seem to right click it to open up pages in a separate tab.

    Reply
  3. I’ve not properly announced the newsfeed yet because it still has a few bugs that need to be ironed out but if you scroll to the bottom of any page on the site, there’s a link to it in the footer.

    Unfortunately I had to disable right clicking because some other websites were copy/pasting my articles and passing them off as their own. It’s not a total solution but makes it a bit more difficult for them to plagiarise my work. You should still be able to do a ctrl-click or shift-click to open in a new tab/window.

    Dan

    Reply
    • Hello,

      That makes sense. Bugs and all, it has had its uses.

      As for the second comment, that is a shame about your content being taken. Hopefully it isn’t any of the more known websites.

      Reply
      • No, its none of the good websites – just some chancers trying to make a quick buck. The anonymous owner, churn-and-burn variety that have no concept of building a brand or audience over the long term and will eventually get hit hard when Google rolls out an algo update – and then they will blame Google for destroying their ‘business’ lol.

        Reply
  4. Hello Dan,

    I was thinking that this article might be useful to cite as a resource in your Q&A forum. It helps one see where their needs lay and what device might fit those needs.

    Best regards,

    Ma(r)t(in)

    Reply

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