The Supernote A5 X has been my “go-to” tablet for over a year, and I use it almost daily. Whilst other e-ink tablets have come and gone over the last 12 months, the recently-released Boox Note Air3 C is the only one that I have seriously considered swapping with the Supernote as my primary device.
In this article, I want to discuss the differences between these two tablets and why someone might choose one over the other. I appreciate that not everyone has the luxury of being able to use both, as I do, and so I felt it would be useful to do a comparison so that prospective buyers can make an informed choice.
In terms of hardware specifications, the Boox Note Air3C (NA3C) is vastly superior to the Supernote A5 X (A5X) in (almost) every way.
The NA3C has a 2.4GHz CPU with onboard graphics processor, 4Gb RAM, and 64Gb storage capacity. In comparison, the A5X has a 1.3GHz quad-core processor, 2Gb Ram, and 32Gb storage.
In addition, the NA3C has a colour screen, frontlight, speakers, microphone, G-sensor (for auto-orientation), fingerprint scanner, and SD card slot – the A5X has none of these additional hardware features.
This makes the NA3C far more capable and versatile.
Also, the higher hardware specs mean that for demanding applications and multi-tasking, the NA3C will provide better/faster performance.
However, it is important to note that the NA3C runs Android and has access to the Google Play Store, so virtually any Android app can be installed, some of which may require this additional power. In contrast, the A5X runs its own version of Linux (Chauvet) and is restricted to using only apps that have been enabled by the developers. This includes a note-taking app, an e-reading app, a basic email client, a calendar app, and the Kindle app. So, higher hardware specs are not really needed to run these apps.
The one area where the A5X out-performs the NA3C is battery life. Whereas I can squeeze just over a week of regular use out of the A5X before it needs a recharge, the NA3C needs recharging almost daily.
Both the A5X and NA3C have a 10.3″e-ink screen (measured across the diagonal) but the screen on the NA3C has a colour Kaleido 3 screen, whilst the A5X has a monochrome Mobius Carta screen.
The newer e-ink panel on the NA3C has a higher black-and-white resolution and pixel density than that of the A5X – 1860×2480@300PPI compared to 1404×1872@226PPI. In addition, NA3C’s ability to show colours (albeit at the lower resolution of 930×1240@150PPI) is a major advantage, however, it does come with a few drawbacks as well.
Kaleido 3 screens have an inherently darker background than their monochrome counterparts, which results in text (and everything else) having a lower contrast. This can be mitigated by turning the frontlight on, however, this also drains the battery a little faster. For some people this is not a problem – particularly those that work outside or in a brightly-lit environment, or are fine with regularly recharging their tablet. For others, it is very difficult to work without the frontlight turned on and when it is on it can be fiddly to get a comfortable brightness configuration.
Another potential drawback is that colours are not as vibrant as you expect from an LCD screen, such as a phone, laptop, or television. They look rather pale and subdued, and are a little different to how the same colours are reproduced on an LCD screen. Again, for some, it’s not a major issue, and as far as e-ink is concerned, this is a compromise that has to be made to have the luxury of colour. But it is perhaps something that some people would want to consider before buying.
Finally, there is the issue of ghosting on the NA3C. This is when faint impressions of previous screens are viewable because the screen has not refreshed fully. Whilst nobody wants to see these ‘after-images’, and it can be fixed by doing a manual refresh, it bothers some users more than others. Whilst I experience ghosting fairly regularly on the NA3C, particularly when viewing images, In contrast, I hardly ever experience ghosting on the A5X.
The Mobius Carta screen on the A5X is monochrome-only and runs at a lower resolution and PPI. The “Mobius” part of the name means that the backplane of the panel is made from plastic rather than glass. This has the upshot that it is more flexible, and (potentially) less prone to fracturing because it has more ‘give’ in it. Having said that, I’ve bought several e-ink tablets and e-readers for review on this website and i’ve only ever had the screen break on one of them (the Kobo Elipsa 2, which uses a glass screen). So, although a glass screen may technically be more likely to shatter, as long as you treat your tablet well, I don’t think it should be a major buying factor.
However, another advantage of the plastic Mobius screen is that it is much lighter, making the A5X less hefty than the NA3C (by around 50g). In addition, the A5X feels a little more springier than the NA3C when pressure is applied to the screen, akin to a stack of paper.
Writing feel is quite subjective, but personally, I love the tactile experience of writing on both e-ink tablets, despite them being very different.
The NA3C is fitted with a screen protector that makes the surface feel grainy and textured. Although the screen is quite rigid (compared with the A5X), with the soft-nibbed stylus it feels similar to pencil-on-paper, including ‘scratchy‘ auditory feedback.
In contrast, the A5X stylus has a harder nib (made of a ceramic material). The advantage of this is that the nib does not wear down and does not need to be replaced. In addition, the nib is thinner, which makes marks on the paper feel more precise. Combined with the flexibility of the screen and Ratta Supernote’s FeelWrite screen protector, which provides some friction as the stylus moves over the screen, the writing experience is more like pen-on-paper. To expand on this analogy, it feels like a high-quality ballpoint pen on high-grade glossy paper (it is very difficult to describe, but this is the best I can do!)
So, although the experience of writing on the two e-ink tablets is very different, I don’t feel that one is better than the other.
Native note-taking app
The native note-taking apps that come pre-installed on the NA3C and A5X are perhaps the best on the market.
Boox won the best note-taking app primarily because it has more features than the Supernote’s. However, Supernote does have some killer features that Boox does not.
Boox has more brush types, shape-drawing tools, a fill tool, text insertion, and the ability to embed other objects into a notepad, such as images, voice recordings, and files. And, of course, the NA3C allows you make notes in a range of different colours as well.
With the latest firmware release, Boox now supports several useful AI features, dubbed as SmartScribe. This includes erasing, lasso-selecting, and line/shape drawing without needing to change tools (which makes note-taking feel far slicker).
Both Boox and Supernote’s apps have handwriting search capabilities, however, searches far quicker on the Supernote. For a large(ish) 40-page notebook, a search through your handwriting takes seconds on the Supernote, and about a minute (or more) on Boox tablets.
Similarly, both Boox and Supernote have a feature whereby you can flag important information with a star that can then be searched for. Boox’s implementation uses a hand-drawn asterisk (*), whilst Supernote uses a five-pointed star (⛤). The difference is that you can never be 100% sure if the asterisk will be picked up by Boox’s handwriting recognition. Supernote overcomes this by converting your freehand star into regular straight-edged star when you draw it, providing you with feedback that it has been picked up by the system.
One feature on the Supernote that I’ve not seen in any other note-taking app (even though it is amazingly useful, and shouldn’t be too difficult to implement) is the ability to set headings/title, which are used to automatically create a Table of Contents. This makes navigation through your notebooks a great deal quicker and easier. Simply put, when I start a new topic/section of my notebook, I write a title at the top and lasso-select it, then set it as a heading. Clicking on a button on the toolbar shows me all the headings in my notebook in an ordered, just like a Table of Contents.
Overall, both Boox and Supernote have fantastic note-taking capabilities. Boox’s offering is more comprehensive, and although Supernote does not provide as much, the features it does have feel more polished.
Native reading app
Hands down, Boox has a better native reading app than Supernote.
Supernote’s offering is not terrible but Boox supports more filetypes, and has far more configuration options to read the way that you want to. This includes things like split-screen to have two apps open at once, OCR, auto page-turn and text-to-speech.
Because of all these options, Boox’s reading app can feel quite complex and perhaps overwhelming at first, so there is a steeper learning curve. In addition, the user interface is not the best and, similar to the note-taking app, it feels as though features have just been thrown into it willy-nilly, without regard for user experience. But it is very powerful.
And, with the NA3C, you have the luxury of viewing documents in colour and being able to read in dark/dim environments, by turning the frontlight on.
Supernote’s native reading app is quite basic in comparison. You can still annotate/scribble over documents, and highlight text but it is not quite as slick as Boox’s implementation.
The A5X does have the option to install the Kindle app, as alternative e-reading software, however, the NA3C supports the installation of any reading app that is available from the Google Play Store (including the Kindle, Kobo, Pocketbook, KOReader etc.)
In terms of versatility, the A5X is not limited to note-taking and reading. You can also access your email, synchronise your Outlook/Google calendar, and even browse the web (although the web browser is very basic and somewhat hidden).
However, the NA3C can do far more. Any app from the Google Play Store can be installed and the presence of additional hardware features, such as the colour screen, speakers and microphone, further extend its capabilities (e.g. read full-colour comic books, listen to audiobooks, record voice notes etc.).
The onboard GPU combined with Boox Super Refresh (BSR) allow you to configure different refresh rates for different apps, which enables a fairly decent experience even for things like web browsing and watching videos.
Android’s share feature means that you have a lot more control over your files – for example, you can email them as attachments, import them into OneNote, or send them via Bluetooth.
Overall, you have the potential to do a lot more with the NA3C than you would with the A5X.
I wanted to quickly mention navigation on Boox and Supernote products because they both have slick ways of flicking between notebooks, documents, and apps.
Firstly, Boox uses Android’s task manager, which can be accessed by a swipe up from the bottom bezel. This will show a list of all the apps that you currently have open and you can tap on the one you wish to use. In addition, Boox supports split screen, which means that you can have two apps open simultaneously in two window panes.
Supernote does not support split screen but it does have a capacitive ‘swipe bar’ on the right hand side that brings up a quick access menu. From this menu, you can go to your recent files, create a new notebook, open your last opened notebook/document, open apps, and configure settings. You can also customize this menu to provide quick access to specified folders and notebooks.
Personally, I prefer Supernote’s implementation because I always have quick access to the information I want, even after a reboot.
As a company, Boox are fast-moving and at the pinnacle of e-ink technology. Boox e-ink tablets have the most advanced hardware and most sophisticated software, but to stay on top they have a very fast product lifecycle. As an example of this, the monochrome Boox Tab Ultra was launched in October 2002. Around six months later, it was superseded by the colour Boox Tab Ultra C, and another six months down the line, the Tab Ultra C was replaced by the Tab Ultra C Pro.
So, if you buy a top-of-the-range Boox e-ink tablet, it will only be top-of-the-range for a short period of time. However, Boox still continue support their older devices, so don’t think it will become obsolete – it will still work fine and continue to receive firmware updates for several years, it just won’t be the most advanced any more. For me, this is not really an issue, but I’ve corresponded with others that suffer a degree of psychological anguish that their brand new tablet has been replaced by a better version just a month after their purchase.
In my experience, Boox technical support is generally good, although sometimes there can be a bit of language barrier, with English not being the native language of their support team. Sometimes they will not fully understand the issue and offer unrelated solutions, so communication does require some patience.
In addition, many people have had issues with getting a replacement for a faulty device bought from the Boox Store. I’ve received reports of Boox being reluctant to replace tablets that have dead pixels and when returns are accepted, the buyer has to pay international return shipping and may also be liable for additional costs, such as a restocking fee. However, this can be mitigated by buying Boox tablets from Amazon, which has a free 30-day return policy (and shipping is faster as well).
In contrast, the experience of customer support from Ratta Supernote feels much more caring and friendlier. I’ve had reports of them simply shipping out replacement products when a user reports a fault, without even waiting for the return of the faulty product.
In addition, Ratta appears to be a lot more transparent with their business plans, publishing a roadmap of software features that they are working on and letting customers know about new product releases way in advance. With Boox, you only know about a new product on the day it is released.
Ratta also has a different set of core values, focusing on longevity and sustainability of their products, in vast contrast to Boox’s rapid new product development to take advantage of cutting-edge technologies. They concentrate on making products that will last and can be improved by software updates, rather than buying new hardware.
They are also the only e-ink tablet manufacturer that I know are actively working on a model that has a replaceable battery, therefore extending the life of the device.
This does mean that Ratta has slower product development than Boox, but it is also usually carefully considered and more thoughtfully implemented.
On paper, the NA3C would always be the winner in a head-to-head competition with the A5X.
It has superior hardware and software, and is far more versatile.
So, people are often surprised when I tell them that the A5X is still my daily driver, and I will now try to explain the reason why.
My use case for an e-ink tablet is as a replacement for traditional pen-and-paper. Historically, I’ve used paper journals to manage my life, which primarily meant a lot of writing. The Supernote A5X is analogous to having an infinite stack of paper or infinite number of notebooks on my desk.
Although it doesn’t have a frontlight, the base contrast of the A5X’s screen is perfectly usable in normal light conditions (but is difficult to read in dim light) just like real paper. This gives it a more natural viewing experience. In contrast, the NA3C is too dim for me at my desk with the frontlight turned off (although it is fine outdoors). With the frontlight turned on, it can feel a little unnatural and can take time to find the most comfortable setting for the specific lighting conditions (although Boox do provide plenty of settings to tinker with). This is something I do not even have to think about with the A5X – it just looks fine in all but the dimmest conditions.
Similarly, when using other apps on the Boox, I frequently find myself playing around with the BSR refresh settings to optimise my viewing experience.
Because the A5X is less versatile and has less configuration options, I find that I am far more productive whilst using it – I simply open a document or a notepad and get to work without any faffing about.
As I mentioned in the section about navigation, a quick swipe down on the capacitive bar brings up all my apps and important notebooks and I can flick between them efficiently. And, when using a notebook, I can quickly navigate to the section I need using the headings/table of contents. Handwriting search is something I use fairly regularly, and my A5X finds the keywords I search for lightning fast. And anything that requires my attention is ‘starred’ and can be found super-fast as well.
The springy screen, fine ceramic nib, ballpoint-esque design of the stylus, minimal ghosting, infrequent recharging, and lightweight nature of the tablet all add to the pleasurable experience of using the A5X.
For me, the A5X seems to have the right amount of digital enhancements to improve upon the real pen-and-paper without distracting from the analogue experience of writing. To me, the A5X feels like a notebook, whereas the NA3C feels like a computer.
Whilst I feel that the A5X is much better as a writing pad than the NA3C, I have to concede that this is the only area of its superiority – the NA3C is much better at literally everything else.
The NA3C is far better for reading, particularly colour documents and comic books, and the frontlight also makes it possible to read in poor lighting conditions. There is a wide range of configuration options, it can open more file formats, and it is (arguably) easier to make highlights and insert sticky notes.
It is also better for sketching – it has more brush types, supports layers, and, of course, it has colour (the Supernote does support layers but if you opt for this type of notebook, you lose handwriting recognition features).
The NA3C is also more versatile as a productivity tool, with options to install several different apps to extend functionality. For example, you can install a different web browser, Google Drive, or Evernote. With the addition of a Bluetooth keyboard, you can also type up emails and Word documents. There is the caveat that not all apps work properly with an e-ink screen, particularly third-party drawing apps, but there is the option to customise refresh rates, which may improve the experience.
There’s no argument that with the NA3C, you can do an awful lot more than the A5X – and for some people, the NA3C might even replace their laptop. But for those that want a minimalistic, distraction-free, simple, yet powerful focused note-taking experience, I feel that the A5X is better. It is for me, anyway.
One could argue that Boox’s native note-taking app does pretty much everything that Supernote’s app does and more. And whilst that is true (apart from the headings/TOC), in some areas Boox’s implementation does feel a little clunky and rushed.
As an experiment, for the last week I’ve had both the NA3C and A5X within reach at my desk giving me a choice of note-taking device. Invariably, when I want to write or take notes, I’ve reached for the A5X because I know i’ll just enter seamlessly into the task. However, if the activity is reading-related, particularly when studying textbooks, I do much prefer the NA3C.
The Supernote A5X is for those that write – for everyone else, there’s Boox.
Boox Note Air3 C Vs Supernote A5 X Head-to-Head
You can compare more e-ink tablets using my comparison matrix.
|PRODUCT||BOOX NOTE AIR3 C||SUPERNOTE A5 X|
|Specs & ratings info|
|SCREEN||BOOX NOTE AIR3 C||SUPERNOTE A5 X|
|Screen type||Kaleido 3||Mobius Carta|
|Screen resolution (B/W)||1860 x 2480||1404 × 1872|
|Screen density (B/W)||300dpi||226dpi|
|Screen resolution (Colour)||930 x 1240||n/a|
|Screen density (Colour)||150dpi||n/a|
|HARDWARE||BOOX NOTE AIR3 C||SUPERNOTE A5 X|
|CPU||2.4 Ghz octa-core||1.3 GHz quad-core|
|SD card slot||✓||⨯|
|SOFTWARE||BOOX NOTE AIR3 C||SUPERNOTE A5 X|
|Operating system||Android 12||Chauvet (Android-based)|
|Google Play Store||✓||⨯|
|Brush types||Fountain Pen, Paintbrush, Ballpoint Pen, Pencil, Marker||Needlepoint, Ink Pen, Marker|
|File formats||PDF, EPUB, DOC, DOCX, PPT, PPTX, TXT, HTML, RTF, FB2, CBZ, CBR, AZW3, MOBI, PRC, DJVU, CHM, ZIP||PDF, EPUB, DOC, DOCX, TXT, CBZ, FB2, XPS|
|File formats (image)||PNG, JPG, TIFF, BMP||PNG, JPG, WEBP|
|File formats (Audio)||WAV, MP3||-|
|BUY||BOOX NOTE AIR3 C||SUPERNOTE A5 X|
|Where to buy||Boox Euro Shop|
Supernote EU (not UK)
|PRODUCT||BOOX NOTE AIR3 C||SUPERNOTE A5 X|
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.