Finally, a Color E Ink Tablet: Reviewing the Onyx Boox Tab Ultra C
I don’t want to brag, but…
I’ve just spent a fair amount of time with the Holy Grail for E Ink enthusiasts: a color E Ink tablet. That’s right — after many years of waiting and hoping, E Ink lovers can finally get their hands on a 10.3-inch color E Ink tablet with an included stylus, the Onyx Boox Tab Ultra C. And although it might cost $600, it could be worth every penny for comic, manga and graphic-novel lovers. Not a fan of comics? You’ll still find plenty to love here for school or on the job as a productivity device that’s not all about games and video.
The first color E Ink tablet
The Boox Tab Ultra C may be a color tablet, but it’s otherwise the same type of E Ink display as e-readers like a Kindle or a Kobo. The Ultra C is the first device to use E Ink’s newest Kaleido 3 color screen, which utilizes an RGB filter array over a black-and-white paper film to create over 4,000 different colors. Despite the colors, the screen is designed mostly for reading, writing and note-taking in a low-distraction environment. While you can technically play games, surf the web and watch movies on this device, that’s not the point here.
Design and display
The Boox Tab Ultra C has more in common with its colorless sibling, the Boox Tab Ultra, than it does with an iPad. Both versions of the Tab Ultra feature a sleek metallic design, giving the devices a premium feel. Both models come loaded with a speedy advanced Qualcomm octa-core processor, along with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Both offer battery life that measures in weeks, not days — though the Tab Ultra C and its color display tends to need more frequent charging, depending on use. Both Tab Ultra models also include a 16-megapixel rear camera and a fingerprint sensor, and they run on the Android 11 operating system with full access to the apps on the Google Play store. They’re also compatible with the $110 Boox Tab Ultra Keyboard case, which offers an excellent typing experience for those looking to up their E Ink productivity.
A unique color display
Yes, it’s the color E Ink display that separates the Tab Ultra C not only from its sibling, but also from all other E Ink tablets on the market. The Ultra C offers color at 150 pixels per inch and black-and-white text at 300 ppi. For comparison, most other E Ink tablets — including the original Tab Ultra — can only muster 227 ppi on a black-and-white screen with zero capacity for color. The result is a unique display that pushes the boundaries of the entire category.
Perfect for comics and graphic novels
The color on the Tab Ultra C isn’t particularly vibrant and looks nothing like what you’d find on a phone or a traditional tablet. Instead, it has a muted, print-like quality reminiscent of color pictures in a newspaper — and that’s exactly the point. The device is not meant to render websites or videos in full, accurate color, but to give life to books, comics or any other documents that rely on still images. In fact, the Tab Ultra C might be the best digital device for graphic novels and comics that’s ever been created.
Getting into comics on devices can be hard for me because the screen never quite works for the content. The screen is either too big or too small to hold and read on comfortably. But I didn’t feel that way at all on the Tab Ultra C. I read the first installment of the Sandman graphic novels by Neil Gaiman, and it was a completely pleasurable experience. The colors appeared as if they’d been printed directly onto the page, and the 10.3-inch screen meant I didn’t need to crop, scan or zoom into the document to see the entire page at a legible size.
Apps and software
The Tab Ultra C has full access to the Google Play Store. The Boox, like all E Ink tablets, is best suited to reading and writing, and its software, though based on Android 11, has plenty of its own native features. The built-in reading app offers a true smorgasbord of customization options; it’s not just font-size adjustments here. There are sliders for bolding the text, enhancing the sharpness, shifting individual word spacing and line and paragraph spacing. If you really want to go wild, there are even dark-color enhancement, watermark bleaching and image-smoothing options.
Boox turns both Ultras into true productivity devices with features I could’ve only dreamed of having in college. You can view two different documents at once or take handwritten notes on one doc while reading in another, for example — perfect for class notes or homework. And then you can export all your notes through integration with Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive or OneDrive. All options are easy to use and set up, but I was impressed with how simple it was to use the BooxDrop app to wirelessly drag and drop files from my computer to the device. All my notes appeared instantly on my computer and could easily be transferred between the two devices. There are plenty of other third-party applications that do the same thing, but it’s good to know that the device’s native solution works just as well.
In fact, Boox’s native note-taking app is just as impressive. It comes with over 30 templates for work, study, math, music and more. It’s the only notebook app I’ve encountered that rivals the note-taking options on the ReMarkable 2 E Ink tablet. It has a full set of robust features, including the ability to add shapes, layers and links. You can also handwrite notes in DRM-free ePubs.