BOOX Nova2 eReader

Review of the BOOX Nova2 eReader & notepad.

created: 2020-05-29 | topic: computer | tag: review | author: Jason Lenz


There are a number of good reviews evaluating the BOOX Nova2 and comparing it to other eReaders (see references at the bottom). I ended up purchasing one and the following information is based on my initial experience with it and fills in some of the things that other reviews may not have not covered. In particular:

Overall I’ve been pleased with the Nova2’s performance and functionality, however there are definitely a few areas where it’s obvious competitors like Amazon have put more effort into the fine details and the overall user experience of their devices. The good news is that many of these issues with the Nova2 can be easily addressed with firmware updates, which will hopefully happen in the near term.

Device info

Onyx BOOX Nova2

Kindle Oasis

Kindle Paperwhite

Note: The Kindle devices aren’t the latest versions currently offered for sale. These just happened to be the versions I had available to evaluate. I’ve been using the Paperwhite up until upgrading to the Nova2, and my wife has an Oasis model from a couple years back.

Comparison to Kindle devices

Name Size Resolution Storage CPU Note Taking Water Resist
Nova2 7.8" 300 ppi 32 Gb 8 core 2GHz Yes No
Oasis 7.0" 300 ppi 8 Gb 2 core 1GHz No Yes
Paperwhite 6.0" 212 ppi 2 Gb 1 core 1GHz No No

Nova2 vs. Oasis (display size comparison)

Nova2 vs. Paperwhite (display size comparison)

Displaying Technical Books

One thing I looked forward to on the Nova2 when migrating from the Kindle Paperwhite was the ability to read technical books in a larger screen format. The Kindle Paperwhite does well when reading free form books, but when displaying longer programming code examples the display size is limiting.

While the larger display improves this significantly, I was disappointed to find out that the default reader application in the Nova2 unfortunately does a poor job displaying some types of technical books. For example when reading the Programming Elixir 1.6 book by Dave Thomas, the example code sections are displayed in some type of strange table format that ruins the readability. You can see the issue in the image below comparing the Nova2 vs. the Kindle Paperwhite displaying the same section of the book.

Default Reader

Fortunately the Nova2 provides the ability to install other applications, and I was able to easily install an alternative reader app called “PocketBook” reader from the App Store which did a much better job.

PocketBook Reader

This works fairly well, however the main downside is that one cannot browse books via the main “Library” page from the Nova2. Instead, one now has to select “Apps” and then the PocketBook reader app and then browse and select books from within PocketBook. In addition it took a fair amount of tweaking in the PocketBook settings and in the Nova2 display mode settings to get things to work well. I also searched the Nova2 settings to see if I could change the default reader app to PocketBook, however that was not an option. This is definitely an opportunity for improvement that will hopefully be rectified in a future firmware update.

Web Browsing

The Nova2 has much more “horsepower” in terms of the number of CPU cores and speed compared to the Kindle devices. It puts this speed to good use for example when web browsing. The video below demonstrates the ability to scroll a web page up or down compared to the Oasis. The Oasis just isn’t very responsive and can’t keep up, whereas the Nova2 is very usable for browsing. This moves the Nova2 into a space where it’s starting to overlap with functionality of standard tablets. It probably isn’t something you want to play video clips or high speed games on, however it is to a point where it can accomplish many of the tasks one normally does on a tablet (web browsing, solitaire, etc.)

Note Taking on 7.8" Form Factor

I was initially debating about purchasing the BOOX Note2, which has a larger 10.3" display size. I wasn’t sure whether the Nova2 7.8" form factor would be too limiting in terms of size for note taking. For my personal use scenario it turns out that the Nova2 size has worked very well. The smaller size makes it more portable to carry around, and in addition I haven’t felt like the display size has limited my ability to take notes or draw small sketches. Also the price tag at $339 for the Nova2 vs. $549 for the Note2 played an important role in the decision as well.

Prior to this I used multiple small paper notebooks with various notes, but I now use the Nova2 almost exclusively to jot down notes and reminders. The few times I revert back to paper notepads are when I am building or repairing something outside and I don’t want to worry about damaging the Nova2 or getting it dirty.

I’ve also found that the ease of erasing and correcting things has proven to be quite handy along with the ability to select sections of handwriting to cut and paste or move around at will.

One feature that I thought I would use more was the handwriting recognition feature. In an ideal world the device would recognize my hand written notes and convert them to nicely formatted text that I could easily import into a todo list or document. Unfortunately reality didn’t match this. The two things that really stopped me from using this feature were:

  1. The writing recognition would frequently get words and sentences completely out of order.

  2. It became apparent that the handwriting recognition required WiFi so that it could send the handwriting to a google server for recognition.

Fortunately the ability to just write as a notepad with erase, edit, and an almost infinite number of pages and virtual notebooks has been a solid enough advancement in itself. I haven’t missed the handwriting recognition much. If I really need to convert my handwritten notes to text, I transcribe them myself using a computer and keyboard, which is much quicker and more accurate than using handwriting recognition (and more private from Google’s servers as well).

Privacy and Background Network Communication

There is an option in the device settings to use (or not use) the Google Play store. I was hopeful that by deselecting this box it would eliminate or minimize communication with Google servers which I generally try and avoid. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case as you will see in the summary below that half of the communication from the device went to Google servers even with this box deselected. In addition there are error messages as seen in the screen shots below regarding connecting to Google Play services and that the “Device is not Play Protect certified”. This was a bit disheartening, but I am hopeful that ONYX will rectify this to remove these error messages and ability to truly shut off the Play store in a firmware update (hopefully sooner rather than later).

In addition, since this device was made in China I assumed it would likely connect with servers in China as well and my assumptions were confirmed. In another post I describe how I set up a system to monitor connections on an arbitrary WiFi device. After monitoring the Nova2 network activity for a little over 2 minutes I found that it connected to the following servers (sorted by name):

Server Owned by (Location) Network time protocol (pool) Tencent (Vietnam) Shanghai Mobile (China) Tencent (Hong Kong) Tencent (Hong Kong) Tencent (US) Google (US) Google (US) Google (US) Amazon (US) Google (US) Alibaba (US) Google (US)

Also, here is a network io graph showing the frequency of communication over the two minute time period.

Note that I just booted up the Nova2 and left it on the table during this two minute monitoring period. In addition I never created or logged into an ONYX account or a Google account in the settings since purchasing the device. Roughly half of the communication is with Chinese owned servers, and the other half is with Google or Amazon servers in the US. I can’t say that I’m particularly surprised by this list but it confirmed my decision to either leave the WiFi off, or when I do have it on use a firewall to block servers I don’t recognize.

On a positive note I was able to install the F-Droid store in order to install fully open source applications. In addition it looks like ONYX has open sourced at least some of it’s source code. In an ideal world it would be great if users had access to the full source code of the operating system and applications which would enable users to add or disable features and also understand better what types of connections this device is making.

Fit of Accessories

Other reviews have discussed the quality and feel of the device which is quite good. The accessories are also of good quality and I was happy to receive a cover and screen protectors with the device.

The cover was very tight to put onto the device initially. Three of the corners of the cover went on easily, but the last one I had to press very hard and I was worried that I might break the device. In addition, the cover could not be initially folded completely back behind the device because it hit the back corner of the case holding it out slightly. I’m happy to report though after getting the cover installed and using it frequently over a week or so the cover now functions quite well.

I debated about putting on a screen protector but after feeling the texture of the screen protector I decided to install it. The screen protector definitely improved the perception when writing with the pen. Without the screen protector the glass is slick and smooth and doesn’t feel like writing on paper at all. With the protector on though it increased the friction with the writing pen to provide a much better perception.

The opportunity for improvement with the screen protector is that it is an almost exact fit within the slightly raised edge of the display. When installing the screen protector one has to position it exactly right, or the edge will prevent the screen protector from laying flat and will leave unsightly bubbles etc. I would recommend either reducing the size of the screen protector to make it a little more forgiving to position, or alternately take away the slightly raised lip around the edge of the display.

Other Reviews

Below are a couple reviews of the BOOX Nova2 that I found particularly helpful: