Onyx Boox Tab Ultra Review
The most powerful e-ink device we've tested
Going far beyond what’s usually expected from an e-ink device, the Onyx Boox Tab Ultra is a full-on Android tablet that combines the benefits of e-ink technology with the wealth of apps on the Google Play Store.
- Full access to the Google Play Store
- Fast performance in spite of its e-ink technology
- Writing is smooth and fluid
- The keyboard accessory makes sense here
- The UI lacks the simplicity of the Remarkable 2
- Accompanying app needs some work
- USARRP: $599.99
- EuropeRRP: €649.99
- Runs full Android 11:Experience Google app on an e-ink screen
- Warm and cold backlights included:Designed for night-time and low-light reading
- 16MP rear-facing camera:Scan and share documents quickly
High-end e-ink devices are still a fairly new concept but the Onyx Boox Tab Ultra makes a compelling case for their existence.
While Amazon has led the charge on e-ink technology with its range of Kindle e-readers, we’re now starting to see other companies throw their hats into the ring by reinventing how e-ink could be used beyond the ebook experience.
I recently reviewed the Remarkable 2 which is an excellent digital notebook that beautifully recreates the feeling of pen and paper, and now Onyx is looking to move the ceiling for what’s possible on an e-ink device.
As its name suggests, the Tab Ultra is opting for a no-holds-barred e-ink experience, and it’s even marketed as a ‘Tablet PC’ on Onyx Boox’s website. Given that the device runs full Android 11, I was intrigued to see if Onyx could actually deliver on the Tab Ultra’s high-end concept, and after spending several weeks with it, I can safely say that it’s an experience like no other.
- Lightweight enough to be held one-handed
- A texturised strip on the back to help with grip
- Very thin at just 6.7mm thick
Right off the bat, the Onyx Boox Tab Ultra feels super sleek in the hand. Compared to the lofty bezels found on the Remarkable 2, the Tab Ultra keeps things a lot slimmer with only a larger portion on the left-hand side for your thumb to rest against.
Even with a large 10.3-inch display, the device is easy to hold one-handed, weighing in at just shy of 480g. The included stylus can snap magnetically to the right-hand side of the device, and with the whole thing only being 6.7mm thick, it can easily slide in beside a laptop in your rucksack.
Much like the Remarkable, there’s only one physical button and it’s used for waking up the Tab Ultra or for putting it back into standby mode – all other inputs are made via the touchscreen.
On the back of the device, there’s a small bit of flair with a texturised panel designed to offer some grip for the rest of your fingers when holding the device, which is always a welcome consideration. What you may notice however is that the branding on both the front and back is in landscape mode, which just goes to show how confident Onyx is in the Ultra’s PC-style features, much like how we’ve seen Apple switch to embrace the preference for landscape in its iPad range over the last few years.
- 10.3-inch screen
- Cold and warm backlights included
- Impressive refresh rates
Even though its feature set far outweighs that of the Remarkable 2, both devices share identical specs when it comes to their displays, with the same 10.3-inch screen and a 1872 x 1404 resolution.
I will say that when using the built-in apps like notebooks, and reading anything downloaded via the Onyx Boox store, it all looks very crisp and easy on the eyes but there is a noticeable softening when using some third-party apps. Text is a little softer on the Kindle app for instance, so you’ll still find a better reading experience for the Amazon ecosystem on the company’s own-brand e-readers.
What absolutely works in the Tab Ultra’s favour though is the presence of a backlight. The lack of such a feature on the Remarkable 2 ultimately held it back from greatness, but on the Tab Ultra it’s a Godsend, so you can keep reading and working well into the night without the need for an external light source.
This is particularly handy for me as I’ve swapped over to using the Tab Ultra for any last-minute bits of work before retiring for the day, and found the experience to be a lot more forgiving on my eyes than a smartphone or traditional tablet.
There’s even a warm-light built into the system, which is far better suited for those moments when there’s absolutely no light sources around you and a bright blue backlight might be too much to deal with.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Tab Ultra doesn’t use the same paper-like coating above the display that can be found on the Remarkable 2. While this doesn’t ruin the note-taking experience by any means (in fact it’s a faster experience overall on the Tab Ultra), it doesn’t get quite as close to the feeling of pen and paper that the Remarkable is able to achieve.
Unlike its competitors however, the Tab Ultra does let you choose between several refresh modes, helping to speed things up if you’re taking on more demanding tasks and ensuring that the screen doesn’t get too cluttered with the ghosting effect that you usally see on an e-ink display.
- Runs full Android 11
- Complete access to the Google Play Store
- The accompanying app could use some work
Compared to most e-ink devices, which tend to only be good for a spot of reading and note-taking, the Onyx Boox Tab Ultra exists on a completely different level. This is due to the fact that, unlike its competitors, the Tab Ultra runs on Android 11, meaning that you have full access to the Google Play Store and the apps therein.
Unlike the Remarkable 2, I’ve been able to use the Tab Ultra to check my Gmail inbox, my to-do list in Notion and even add to this very same review via Google Docs. It’s as robust an experience as I’ve yet to find on an e-ink device and when paired with the keyboard case that Onyx sells, you can genuinely use the Tab Ultra as a productivity device, much like you would an iPad.
As previously mentioned, the presence of the Google Play Store also means that you can download the Kindle app, giving you access to Amazon’s evergrowing treasure trove of ebooks. As if that wasn’t enough, the fact that there’s Bluetooth built-in means that you can also connect a pair of headphones and listen to audiobooks, podcasts, songs and more via the likes of Spotify, YouTube and Audible. You can even customise your homepage with widgets, much like how you would on a typical Android smartphone.
Just when you thought the feature set was sufficient enough, flip the Tab Ulta over and you’ll spot a 16MP camera – yes, a camera. Don’t get too carried away, it’s not the type of sensor you’d use for taking holiday snaps, but rather for scanning documents that you can then convert into a PDF and scribble all over with the stylus.
Even in dark environments, the camera does a great job of analysing text and presenting a clean look on the back-end, even if smaller bits of text tend to get squished together. All of this is helped by the Qualcomm octa-core chipset running the show, which also contributes to the Tab Ultra’s impressive speeds – easily the fastest I’ve ever seen for a device like this.
To have this much functionality available is a little surreal, particularly after just having used the Remarkable 2 which prides itself on keeping things simple. On the one hand, it’s incredible, and I’ve been using the Tab Ultra to dive back into pieces of work after my eyes feel a little strained from using a blue-light emitting display, but I’ve been less inclined to use the device for handwritten notes as a result.
This isn’t to say that the writing experience is bad, far from it. The reaction time is super fast and crucially, the Onyx Boox pen is included from the get-go which should be standard practice across the board. It still boggles my mind that the Remarkable Marker is sold separately from the main tablet.
My issue is that the handwriting UI gives you too many options to the point where it can feel a little convoluted. One look at how the Tab Ultra’s UI compares to Remarkable’s should demonstrate my point immediately. You’ve got the ability to set multiple types of pens and pencils that you can switch between instantly, insert hyperlinks next to your writing and even add recordings to a page.
This might appeal to some but when all I want to do is get away from incoming emails, notifications and Slack messages to jot something down, the last thing I need is another cluttered page to come after my attention. The accompanying Boox Assistant app also suffers a bit from this design mindset.
For starters, the app simply refused to sync my notes from the Tab Ultra because I had initially logged into the app with another Onyx Boox tablet, and the only fix I could find was to delete the app entirely and restart the login process. On top of that, the homescreen within the app is just confusing.
Instead of the Remarkable app which takes you straight to your most recent notes (which is why I’d want to dive into the app to begin with), you’re presented with several options without any clear explanation as to what they are. It all starts to make sense after spending a prolonged amount of time diving into the app, but I don’t understand why it has to be so obtuse from the get-go.
- Large 6300 mAh cell included
- You can get several weeks of use on a single charge
- Takes roughly two and half hours to fully charge
In a rather strange break from tech tradition, Onyx doesn’t actually specify a claimed battery life for the Tab Ultra, other than to mention that there’s a 6300 mAh cell inside the device. This has only made the process of testing the battery life, which usually amounts to several weeks of use on other e-ink devices, even trickier.
What I can say is that I’ve been able to use the Tab Ultra sporadically, using it to edit Google Docs one day, take some handwritten notes on another and even pop on a YouTube video, and in roughly a week and a half I’ve only managed to whittle the battery down to 30%, which is impressive in comparison to a traditional Android tablet.
Charging the device to 100% from a dead battery took roughly two and a half hours which is par for the course with this type of device and at the very least, it’s something you won’t have to do often given how long the battery lasts, so you’ll have ample time to charge the Tab Ultra when it’s convenient for you.
Should you buy it?
You want an all-in-one e-ink tablet: The Onyx Boox Tab Ultra easily has the largest feature set of any e-ink device I’ve come across, and with fully access to the Google Play Store it’s great for productivity that’s easy on the eyes.
You want a simplified digital notebook: As great as the Tab Ultra is, it may feel overstuffed for someone who just wants a device for taking handwritten notes that they can then easily share to their phone or desktop.
On a technical level, the Onyx Boox Tab Ultra is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I never expected to have YouTube videos play smoothly on an e-ink screen, nor did I anticipate angling up a shot via a camera on that same type of display. It’s so far ahead of the competition in performance that it feels almost comical. If you invest in one e-ink device, then you’ll be hard pushed to be disappointed with what’s on offer here.
With that said, I still see myself relying on the Remarkable 2 after this review as its simplicity and easy-to-use ecosystem make it the perfect antithesis to a fully-featured laptop, and ideal for those moments where I just need to get away from endless notifications.
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Tested for over a month
Compared against similar devices
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Yes, there is a MicroSD slot available to increase the device’s storage capacity.
You can download the Kindle app via the Google Play Store on the Tab Ultra and read your entire Kindle library through there.
Yes, the Boox Pen2 Pro is included with the Tab Ultra as standard.
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