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Onyx Boox Nova Pro

The Onyx Boox Nova Pro is a popular 7.8" eNote device with grayscale e-ink Carta screen, and a Wacom touchscreen layer, under mobius and glass. The hardware includes USB-C, an on/off/sleep button and a back button, along with bluetooth and wifi.

The main advantage, though still a bit incomplete, is the ability to read and write in e-ink. Reading is good support for ebooks and pdf, and writing is in an app as well as a scribble function and a side-note function. Scribble only works on pdf, while sidenote works on ebooks and pdfs.

Where to Purchase the Onyx Boox Nova Pro

It is a mistake to buy an Onyx Boox Nova Pro from anywhere but the Boox site, since support is not provided by Boox when bought through third parties. In addition, currently the Boox shop includes a set of accessories for the Nova Pro (including a cover) at no additional charge.

Reviews and their Limitations

Unfortunately every review we've seen is basically a reviewer checking off boxes rather than coming from actual use that is anywhere close to real use cases. Facts of this nature are only found on certain forums, if that. This is a challenge because the feature set is far from complete and recent updates (on the Onyx Boox enote devices) have made some changes to basic functionality (for good and ill).

Physical Specifications and Usability

A 7.8" device is compared with the original 6" paperwhite, which is our previous model that held up for 7 years of use. While some might compare with other premium ebook readers, that shows that the real difference is the Wacom layer and note-taking ability.

By comparing with the Paperwhite, it indicates what a difference a generation makes in terms of not only a screen, but the interaction functionality that is very different now (and we believe will be different again once voice recognition expands to reach the level of interactivity that e-ink + wacom currently provides in the Nova Pro. Truly effective voice control (that is affordable) may reach devices at about the same time as truly effective and affordable color e-ink devices.

Compared with the 6" paperwhite there is over 32% more screen available, not to mention the significant difference with the Nove Pro 300ppi display at 1872 x 1440 px.

The weight difference is 275g vs. 213g. Significant, but the flat aspect hides some of that weight. Dimensions are 196.3 × 137 × 7.7 mm vs. 169 x 117 x 9.1 mm. The Nova Pro is thinner, and about 3 cm taller and 2 cm wider.

Unfortunately the pen, which works fine, doesn't have a great feel (complete plastic) nor an elegant way to stay attached to the main device. Cues should be taken from Microsoft for what it has done with pen attachment (and pen technology in general).

Actual Usability

The heart of the matter comes down to a few issues with this device:

  • orientation / rotation, and
  • sidenote / scribble

When dealing in the real world, one has to take account of actual use cases. For example:

  • Reading a pdf, and marking up a page
  • Reading an ebook, and marking up a page
  • Reading a pdf, and adding notes to the document
  • Reading an ebook, and adding notes to the document

The care in which how the user is able to perform these actions, and have full expected functionality falls short, in several ways:

  • Ebooks cannot have markup on a given page
  • When in the sidenote functionality, the menu for the document is unavailable and a landscape orientation imposed (both with ebook and pdf)
    • This means in order to access any menu/functionality for the document, one has to exit out of sidenote first.
  • Sidenote for a pdf, makes the document into a thumbnail on one side of the screen (essentially unusable) by zooming out, and pinch-and-zoom is not available.

Orientation / Rotation

Orientation cannot be set properly except in a few options, for example landscape for reading an ebook. However, some third-party orientation apps might work. We prefer Rotation Control Pro which runs $2.99 USD but is blissfully removed from advertising.

In general, this is not a problem in the sense that sidenote changes to landscape, if one is used to portrait. Landscape is useful when having two-column layout in being very reader-friendly. However, when reading PDFs the best thing is to have it be portrait and full-page sized. There are various settings available to get the pdf displayed as one prefers.

For viewing and annotating pdfs, the Nova Pro is quite good. PDFs do still appear a bit small, but they are legible, and a decent pair of reading glasses helps. One can definitely see how a 10.3" display will go the extra step toward making e-ink pdfs truly effective.

Sidenote Limitations

Sidenote is a landscape orientation with the ability to shift around orientation. The problem is that the only menu bar available is for the sidenote, and not the book itself. Sidenotes are affixed to the book rather than a page (unlike the scrible function available for the pdf viewer).

Note Limitations in General

There have been improvements for how notes are stored, synchronized, and accessed, however some basics are needed from a philosophic approach: Notes should be available

  • on pages they are made on,
  • in books they are made in, and
  • as collections themselves (metadata implicit and tagged).

This is really no difference than how annotations work, in that they are tied to given pages or locations as well as books themselves.

In addition, some kind of ocr should also be available across all notes in their various locations.

Limitations on the Navigation Ball

The Navigation Ball is helpful functionality, but it is limited in what its five menu items can be. For example, home is not an available option, nor is the Library (though Notes are). Also, just the simple ability to call up the top menu which is available at home but not within any given document.

Menus Menus Menus

A huge amount of the trouble one currently encounters in the Nova Pro has to do with menus, when and how they are available (and how they are not). Basic navigation usability is really key and boy does it hurt when it isn't worked out well.

Copy and Paste across Apps

Copy and paste does work accross apps including the native local apps and Android apps. This is very useful in the use case where a chat app such as Telegram is used to store/send bits of copied text.

Synchronization with Syncthing

Syncthing android application works fine on the Boox Nova Pro.

Navigation Tips and Tricks

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Xiaomi Mi Pad 4

See also LineageOS on the Xiaomi Mi Pad 4

Google Play Store on Xiaomi Mi Pad 4

While the Xiaomi Mi Pad 4 ships with Google Play installed, if one does a factory reset, then the resulting MIUI 9.x does not bundle with Google Play Store or the GBoard keyboard. There are several steps needed to get it set up, including:

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Asus C101PA – Chrome, Android, Linux

The Asus C101PA is a Rockchip (arm) and has the same baseboard as the Samsung Chromebook Plus. Both of these are up next for getting Crostini / Linux Containers. As a sub platform of ChromeOS it turns out that this is a very good device that is fairly high up in the stack of platforms for getting new functionality enabled.

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Xiaomi Redmi 4A (aka Rolex)

See also LineageOS on Xiaomi

The Xiaomi Redmi 4A (aka Rolex) is a cheap (~100 USD) and lightweight (131.5g) 5" phone. For price, weight, and size, there is not much competiton. The screen is a 720 x 1280 px 16x9 screen that is pretty decent. Its got a Snapdragon 425 and 2gb of RAM with 16 or 32 gb of storage, and supports dual sim or single sim + microsd card.

On the negative side, the camera is weak, it is slow to open, and of course stock MIUI is slow and bloated, along with an annoying reminder to register your sim aka spyware on the prowl.

That said, there is nothing in a 5" screen that is as light and as cheap, and that means very strong value.

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WQHD Monitors

What appears to be a fantastic combination of features is the new WQHD monitors which are 3440x1440 at 110ppi. The diagonal size most popular is 34". This means software scaling is not required for display, and essentially it can provide about the same screen real estate as two 1920x1080 22" monitors (which have 100ppi). WQHD has 110ppi, and is nearly 5 million pixels (4,953,600) while two 1080p monitors are just over 4 million (4,147,200).

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Xiaomi – Brand on the Rise

In my household we have been introducing Xiaomi products for the past six months. Overwhelmingly positive, but not without a hiccup here and there. In general, there is an odd mixture of: quality, design, and value. I say odd because generally those things don't go together. Great price, good looks, and works well. Not perfect, but nothing is. Xiaomi may have much bigger rivals, especially in China, but they have such a strong combination that they are able to compete with, and in some cases beat out such giants as Samsung in markets like India.

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