Spectral color

This E-color ink reading tablet is weird and wonderful

A monochrome, paper-like electronic display is so ideal for reading digital books that it doesn’t seem to need much improvement. Now, however, E Ink color displays are making their way into the market. So the obvious first question with the Boox Nova Air C is: do you actually need color on your eReader? The simple answer is no, you don’t need color on a device like this. Avoiding color would be myopia though, as this feature unlocks the potential of the device and makes everything more wonderful.

It’s a bit of a Wizard of Oz time to move from what was once a black and white world to a world that lights up with color. On the one hand, I was surprised at how much of a difference the impact of seeing a full-color book cover made for skimming titles.

But the Boox Nova Air C is not just an e-reader, it’s a small tablet. It runs Android and has access to reading apps like Libby, Amazon Kindle, Audible, Kobo, and even non-book apps like Notion. A tablet with a paper-like color screen is a much nicer device to use than a simple black and white screen. This is truly a case where small details add up to a big difference. As always, prices shown may fluctuate over time.

TL;DR

Advantages:

  • Long battery life
  • Easy to hold and read digital books on
  • Pen input for notes works well

The inconvenients:

  • Colors are often muted
  • Still prone to text and image ghosting

Will buy Box.

Color paper specifications

Even though color on the Nova Air C has less resolution than the black and white option, it’s still a nice feature.
Tyler Hayes

The Nova Air C uses Kaleido Plus On-Cell ePaper (with 4,096 colors), which is one of the latest forms of this display technology from E Ink. Its color resolution is 100 dots per inch, while its black and white resolution is 300 dots per inch.

On-screen colors seem a little muted to my eyes, but the biggest visual flaw is its lower resolution for color. I found it easy to notice that the color images weren’t very sharp at close range. This visual element mostly gets a pass from me, though, because it’s an emerging technology.

It’s not that there is a wide range of digital paper displays, and this product uses a lesser one to save money. The Nova Air C pushes the boundaries of using a digital paper display with color. It’s finally getting to the level of good enough for consumer use, but be aware that it’s not flawless by any stretch.

Color reading light

Boox Nova Air C
Navigating through digital e-book stores is much easier with color.
Tyler Hayes

So if adding color to a screen like this doesn’t have great performance, why include it at all? You don’t need color to read black text on a white background. For starters, the colored book covers and colored dashes around the interface are helpful for quick navigation and more familiarity all around.

Full color book covers are especially useful when looking for new books to read. I’ve already been in the position of desperately searching the Kindle store for a new book. Seeing only small blotchy black and white thumbnails with little differentiation from each other is not helpful in finding anything to read.

If you’re going to be using this device exclusively for reading books, the color aspect will be a secondary concern that probably doesn’t justify the cost associated with it. But if you get a book reader that can do more tasks, color becomes increasingly important.

It’s worth noting that because the Nova Air C is an under-the-hood Android device, this reading isn’t just in one place. There are several reading applications that can be downloaded immediately on the device. Libby is an app that lets you borrow e-books from your local library. Amazon’s Kindle app is available to access your past purchases. If you have a New York Times subscription, you can also use its app. You can even add your own documents to the device with the BooxDrop app.

The different types of reading apps all have different interfaces and incorporate colors in unique ways. Reading on the Nova Air C didn’t always shift to looking at text 100% of the time.

Paper-like tablet

Boox Nova Air C
The Nova Air C’s color display makes navigation easy with familiar, visible icons.
Tyler Hayes

See the blue G, red Oh, yellow O and the rest of the letters on Google’s sparse page were instantly more appealing and familiar than a gray monochromatic version of it. It’s much easier to browse the web in color than in monochrome. Even though the screen has a ghosting effect that can leave lingering traces of the past, the color helps make this technical hurdle more palatable.

Believe it or not, videos are also watchable. While I wouldn’t say it’s the best way to consume your video content, it’s absolutely a usable option for the occasional YouTube video. Having color on this device makes the Nova Air C a viable tablet, whereas Boox’s older monochrome tablets seemed a bit too difficult to use for productivity apps or web browsing.

The Nova Air C has a 7.8-inch screen and is about the size and shape of an iPad mini. It is a perfect travel companion. I really like that it can handle some additional tasks beyond reading. The stylus is ideal for writing notes. Color is, again, a welcome addition to notes where highlighting or other visual cues are now possible.

Should I buy the Boox Nova Air C?

Boox Nova Air C
The Nova Air C runs Android and can use all sorts of apps for reading and productivity.
Tyler Hayes

Paper screens are a great idea, but doing anything other than reading text on them has always seemed exhausting to me. As silly as it sounds, using a monochrome device takes more effort when you’re used to seeing things more clearly. The Boox Nova Air C’s color screen goes a long way towards making this type of device usable beyond just books, although that aspect can be poor.

Should you buy a Nova Air C instead of an iPad mini? Should you buy one instead of a Kindle? I think the people who will find the most value here will be avid readers who pick up an e-reader every day. These people will love the addition of color, as well as all the other tasks that color can unlock.

For people who are trying to convince themselves to read more by having a versatile device, I’m not sure adding color will overcome that hurdle. They might only take advantage of the 2,000mAh battery with a four-week standby time.

Will buy Box for $449.98. (The price includes the set of accessories.)

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