eWritable > Blog > HOLIDAY DILEMMA! Which E-Ink Tablet to Pack?

HOLIDAY DILEMMA! Which E-Ink Tablet to Pack?

Apologies for not updating the blog for a couple of weeks, I’ve been on my Summer Holiday – nowhere exotic, just the good old British seaside with the family.

Since I created eWritable.com, I’ve had the luxury of always having the choice of which e-ink tablet I use depending on the purpose. They all have unique pros and cons which makes them better suited for certain tasks.

But, of course, it wasn’t going to be feasible to take my whole collection of E-ink Tablets on vacation with me. In fact, my girlfriend informed me that I could only take one!

In this post, I thought it would be interesting to talk about which tablet I chose to travel with, the reasons why I chose it, and if, in hindsight, I would make the same choice again.

What would I be using the tablet for?

Before making my choice, I took some time to think about what I would be using an e-ink tablet for on holiday.

I didn’t plan on using the tablet a whole lot – most of my time would be spent with my family having fun and making memories. But although kids require a lot of attention, I knew there would be a few peaceful moments to chill out on my own, particularly in the evenings when they were in bed or having some quiet downtime of their own.

There were a few things I planned on doing during these periods.

Firstly, I wanted to read a bit of science fiction. I’m currently working my way through Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series – a favourite from my youth that I’ve pretty much lost all memory of.

In addition, I’ve created myself a daily journal/habit tracker template that I’ve been using to record certain aspects of my lifestyle to see if I can notice any patterns between my behaviours and my mood (and hopefully adjust my behaviours slightly to optimise my overall wellbeing). I wanted to be able to fill this in each day.

And, finally, if time allowed, I wanted to be able to jot down my ideas and a rough plan for the development of a new project I am working on.

The e-ink tablet shortlist

Whilst I have a large selection of E-Ink Tablets to choose from, there are only six that I use regularly. They are:

In my opinion, these are the best e-ink tablets currently on the market and would form a starting point from which I would whittle them down to just one tablet to take on vacation.

Sci-fi reading

The book series I am reading is on Kindle, so the first prerequisite for my chosen e-ink tablet was for it to have access to the Kindle app.

From my shortlist, all except the reMarkable 2 provides the functionality to read Kindle books, so the reMarkable is the first casualty in my search.

  • Boox Tab Ultra / Boox Tab Ultra C
  • Supernote A5 X
  • Boox Tab X
  • Kindle Scribe
  • reMarkable 2
  • Boox Note Air 2 Plus

Organised note-taking

My next consideration was the tablet’s ability to take organised notes, which I would need for my project planning and ideation.

Whilst the Kindle Scribe is the best tablet for reading Kindle Books, the note-taking functionality (despite recent and regular improvements) is still rather basic compared to Boox and Ratta Supernote offerings.

Although I prefer the tactile feel of writing on the Scribe much more than Boox (Supernote also has a superior writing experience), the Scribe’s native note-taking software is more limited compared to the other two brands.

For example, Boox and Supernote have support for handwriting search, tagging, and linking pages, which makes finding information in larger notebooks much quicker and easier.

So, the Kindle Scribe was crossed off the list, although if I were planning on just reading, the Scribe would still be a contender.

  • Boox Tab Ultra / Boox Tab Ultra C
  • Supernote A5 X
  • Boox Tab X
  • Kindle Scribe
  • reMarkable 2
  • Boox Note Air 2 Plus

Portability

This left me with a choice between a Boox or a Supernote tablet.

Although I didn’t intend to be carrying an e-ink tablet around all day (I would only be using it when inside our holiday appartment), portability was still an important factor for me.

Not only would I be carrying it in my luggage, I would also be holding it for fairly long periods whilst reading.

This immediately discounted the Boox Tab Ultra and Tab Ultra C, which are both fairly heavy-duty to begin with but much heavier when contained within the keyboard folio (which I believe is a must-have to get the most from Tab Ultra).

Both the Tab Ultra and Tab Ultra C are the most powerful and versatile e-ink tablets on the market, more akin to a laptop than a tablet, and probably the e-ink device I use most for for day-to-day work-related jobs.

The Tab Ultra series is awesome for things like typing up documents, web browsing, emails, and other productivity tasks.

But for my use case of reading and note-taking, Tab Ultra is simply overkill.

Similarly, the Boox Tab X is also a heavy tablet, although that can be justified because the 13.3″ screen is twice the size of the other 10.3″ tablets in my shortlist. In fact, because of the size and weight distribution, the Tab X feels lighter than the Tab Ultra even though it is actually heavier.

I’ve taken the Tab X away with me on trips before and the extra screen real estate has been ideal for reading fixed-layout PDFs (such as textbooks and manuals), which I find to be less comfortable on smaller screens. But for this trip, I was only going to be reading Kindle books, for which text and layout can be resized according to my preferences, and the Tab X would take up extra space in my luggage.

So the Tab X was also crossed off the list.

  • Boox Tab Ultra / Boox Tab Ultra C
  • Supernote A5 X
  • Boox Tab X
  • Kindle Scribe
  • reMarkable 2
  • Boox Note Air 2 Plus

A note about 7.8″ devices

I try to make it clear throughout this website that I am not a big fan of 7.8″ devices for note-taking purposes. Typical devices include the Boox Tab Mini C, Boox Nova Air 2, Supernote A6 X, and Meebook P78 Pro.

Although admittedly they are smaller, lighter, and more portable than their larger-screened cousins, I personally find writing on them to be quite uncomfortable and claustrophobic (for want of a better word). They just feel cramped to me and I end up writing smaller to try and fit more onto the page and then my handwriting becomes illegible.

I do use this size device (and smaller) for reading ebooks, but for writing I prefer at least 10.3″. Of course, this is just personal preference, and probably because my traditional paper notebooks were at least A5-sized. A6 just feels too small for me, but I guess anyone that is used to writing in smaller pocket-sized notebooks would not have the same issue.

Supernote A5 X vs Boox Note Air 2 Plus: Head-to-Head

So, I was left with two choices; the Boox Note Air 2 Plus, and the Supernote A5 X.

Although the Boox Note Air 2 Plus is more versatile because it has access to the Google Play Store and virtually any Android app can be installed on it, all I really needed was the Kindle app and a decent note-taking app. Both of these devices are very good for these use cases, so I didn’t really need to take the Boox’s flexibility into consideration.

Similarly, the Note Air 2 Plus has better hardware specs, as well as additional hardware features, such as a microphone, speakers and g-sensor – but again, not really anything I needed to consider for my particular use case.

Frontlight

The one hardware feature present on the Boox Note Air 2 Plus (but not the Supernote A5 X) that I felt would make a significant difference was the frontlight.

Having not visited our holiday accommodation before, I had no idea what the ambient light would be like. I didn’t know if there would be big windows to let in enough daylight during the day, or if the indoor lighting would be bright enough after sundown.

If the appartment was dimly-lit, I know that I would struggle with eye-strain if I used the Supernote A5 X, but with the Note Air, I could simply turn on the frontlight to illuminate the screen.

So, that’s 1-0 to the Note Air 2 Plus.

Comfort

The Supernote is lighter and more comfortable to hold (primarily because of its plastic screen and chassis and streamlined hardware feature-set) but I don’t feel this is sufficient enough to equal the Boox’s frontlight.

Writing experience

I also prefer the physical feel of writing on the Supernote.

The frontlight layer on the Note Air 2 Plus, although wafer-thin, does create a tiny (but perceptible) gap between where the pen nib touches the screen and where the mark is made. It sort of feels like I am writing underneath the screen, which can be slightly off-putting, and also makes writing feel less precise. In comparison, with the Supernote, it actually feels like you are writing on the surface of the screen. The Supernote pen nib is also thinner, which adds to the accuracy of the marks that you make.

I feel that the superior writing experience of the Supernote, along with it’s lightweight nature, is significant enough to match the Boox’s frontlight, so at this stage it’s a draw at 1-1.

Power consumption

Having e-ink screens, both the Boox and the Supernote draw far less power than their LCD equivalents, typically lasting for several days (and sometimes up to a couple of weeks) without a recharge.

Having said that, my anecdotal experience is that the Supernote seems to outlast the Boox Note Air 2 Plus in terms of power. And this should be expected because the Supernote has less power-hungry hardware – in particular, it has no frontlight which can be a massive power drain.

Although this is a small win for the Supernote, I didn’t feel it was significant enough for a full point.

Reading

Whilst the native reading app on the Boox (NeoReader) is more versatile and configurable than the Supernote’s implementation, I was only planning on reading Kindle books which uses the same app (Kindle) across both tablets resulting in a comparable reading experience. Of course, the Note Air has a frontlight but I’ve already covered this above.

Note-taking

Because I was planning on doing a fair bit of note-taking, the next thing I needed to consider is the native note-taking app provided by Boox and Supernote.

The native note-taking apps on both the Boox and Supernote are, in my opinion, two of the best implementations on the market, however, they each have features that the other does not.

The Note Air 2 Plus has a wider choice of brush/pen tools and is more sensitive to the amount of pressure you use and whether the stylus is tilted. It also has tools for drawing straight lines and shapes, which the Supernote does not.

In contrast, the Supernote has lightening fast handwriting search capabilities – it seems to do this by converting your handwriting to text in the background and indexing it so that when you search, it is really quick. Boox seems to do the handwriting-to-text conversion only when you perform an initial search making it far slower.

The Supernote also has a simple (but awesome) feature that allows you to quickly and easily create a table of contents for your notebooks. Every time I start a new section of my notebook, I write the section title at the top and then lasso-select it and flag it as a heading. Then, to navigate around my notebook, I simply click a button on the toolbar and all my titles are displayed in order. This is such a simple but also such a powerful feature that I am surprised it has not been implemented by any other e-ink tablet manufacturer.

In addition, the ‘side swipe bar’ on the right-hand bezel of the Supernote allows me to quickly flick between notebooks, documents, and apps.

For me, one of the main advantages of Boox devices is that they can be configured to automatically export a PDF file of your notebook to a cloud drive (e.g. Google Drive) whenever you exit a notebook. In fact, this is one of the primary reasons that I use Boox devices for my daily work – I always have a copy of everything I have written on the cloud that I can refer back to on my laptop or mobile phone whenever I need to.

To get a similar outcome on the Supernote, I have to manually export each notebook as a PDF. The file then goes to my export folder and then I have to manually invoke a synchronisation (there’s no auto-sync) to the cloud.

However, although Boox’s feature is great for everyday use (and if Ratta developed something similar, I could see myself using my Supernote a lot more), for the purpose of my holiday, having my notebooks automatically synced and universally accessible across all devices was not necessary.

So, overall, both Boox and Supernote have fantastic native note-taking apps, but for my particular needs, the navigation and organisational features of the Supernote trump the additional brush and drawing tools of the Boox. This is because, I will primarily be writing (very little drawing/sketching) so will only need to use one pen type and I highly value being able to find the information I’m looking for efficiently.

And the winner is…

This means that it is 2-1 to the Supernote A5 X, making it the winner of my little competition and the tablet that I took with me on holiday.

Reflections: Did I make the right choice?

Now that i’ve returned from my holiday, it’s time to reflect on my decision and if, in hindsight, I wish I’d have chosen a different e-ink tablet to take with me.

My primary concern with selecting the Supernote as my holiday companion was that it had no frontlight. If the accommodation was dimly-lit, it would make reading and writing too uncomfortable for me. Thankfully, the internal lighting was more than adequate and we also had a balcony so that I could read and journal outside.

Something that i didn’t envisage was that the living space would be adjoined to the master bedroom via a glass-panelled door. Although it had a drape over it, it wasn’t thick enough to stop light from shining through, which meant that I was unable to continue reading after my girlfriend went to bed because the light that crept through kept her awake. If I’d have taken a tablet with a frontlight, I could have turned the main lights off and continued reading without disturbing her.

However, this wasn’t a major issue because we tend to go to bed around the same time anyway.

So, apart from this small drawback, I was able to get a fair bit of reading done, finishing Asimov’s Foundation & Earth and getting through the first few chapters of Prelude to Foundation.

In terms of writing, I was able to fill in my journal each day and write a plan for my new project, splitting it into six phases over the next twelve months and detailing the tasks that I needed to completed for phase 1.

Whilst working on this I came to have a greater appreciation of how much the Supernote appears to embody the impression of real paper. I’ve always had a fondness for this device without ever being able to express exactly why – whilst on holiday I developed a deeper understanding of the Supernote’s charm, which I will now try to explain.

When I talk about the Supernote’s similarity with paper, I am not talking about the texture or feel of writing on it – it feels more like writing on a plastic sheet with a rollerball pen. The reMarkable 2 and Kindle Scribe have a much more paperlike feel in this regard.

But there is a springiness to the screen that makes it feel like a stack of paper, and it feels to be around the same weight and thickness as a notebook, rather than an electronic device. And, as I mentioned before, writing feels very precise and it actually looks as though you are writing on the surface of the screen rather than slightly below it, just like you would with real paper.

Even the absence of the frontlight contributes to the paper-like feel because your brain associates it as something analogue that you need an external light source for rather than something that you can potentially read in the dark.

There’s very little ghosting or perceivable screen refreshes that are more noticeable on other devices – it feels like what is on the screen is actually printed there rather than being an electronic image.

When you open the folio, the wake-up time is less than a second before displaying the last page that you were on, whether that be an ebook or a notebook, and there are no notifications to distract you from what you are doing (although many e-ink tablets have this selling point or the option to turn off notifications).

All these things contribute to the Supernote having the authentic feel of a real paper-based notebook, rather than an electronic device with note-taking capabilities.

This revelation is something that has been bugging me for several months – I’ve always loved writing and organising my thoughts on the Supernote but I’ve never quite been able to comprehend why it feels just right.

And now I think I know.

It’s because it reminds me the most of the days when I would maintain a paper-based journal, with just the right amount of digital enhancements to improve the experience without making it feel too much like I’m using screen-based tech.

Overall, I’m happy with my decision to take my Supernote A5 X on holiday with me. It did exactly what I needed it to, and although there were a few times when a frontlight would have been handy, I don’t think I’d want to add that feature at the cost of the authentic Supernote experience.

Now, if there were a way to automatically sync my notebooks with the cloud (in PDF format) so that I could flick through my notebooks on other devices, I would seriously consider using the Supernote even more…

Check out my E-Ink Tablet Comparison Table here

About the author

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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.

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