Onyx Boox Leaf 2 Review: Ebook Freedom

I don’t want to be picky, but the Kindle is not enough for me. For years, I’ve called the Amazon Kindle Oasis the Platonic ideal of e-readers, with its physical page-turning buttons, crisp display, solid backlighting, and (hence) unique design. I felt like I’d reached the end of the e-reader game. But then, I embraced Libby for library books, Viz for manga, and started reading more drafts directly from publishers, and the Kindle seemed more like it was getting in my way rather than helping me read the stuff I wanted.

So I started buying Android E Ink tablets from China and waiting for one to finally merge the flexibility of Android with Amazon’s superior design and build quality. And I’m pretty sure Onyx Boox’s new $199 Leaf 2 has it. This is, at least for now, my endgame e-reader.

HOW WE EVALUATE AND REVIEW PRODUCTS

You may not be aware of Onyx Boox, and that’s okay. The company is based in China and the only way to get its products in the US is from Good e-Readers (a site that reviews e-readers and also sells them), Onyx Boox’s website (boox.com ) or Amazon. And since the company is largely based in China, technical support is spotty at best. Complicating matters even further is the fact that Onyx Boox also shares its name with what appears to be a Russian company with a virtually identical URL and absolutely identical product line. The feeling of scams is strong with this brand.

But I’ve interacted with real people from the (Chinese) company, received embargoes and pricing information, and have now purchased at least three different products from its website with no problems, so the Boox found on boox.com is, at least in my experience, higher and higher.

Onyx Boox has been making Android E Ink tablets for years now, but they tend to be extremely expensive compared to a Kindle or Kobo. The Leaf 2’s $199 price tag is far more than you’ll pay for a basic Kindle or even a Paperwhite, but it’s $150 less than the premium Kindle Oasis. For the price, you get 32GB of storage, 2GB of RAM, a seven-inch 300ppi E Ink display, warm and cool front lights, Android 11, and a microSD slot. The only thing missing is that it’s waterproof, but I’m not normally satisfied with a bath to read so that’s not a problem for me.

The display is virtually identical to that of the latest Kindle Oasis, and text is crisp and easy to read. Black and white comics look as good on it as they do on an iPad, and the front light gives you the option to change the brightness of the warm and cool lights individually or separately so you can always dial them to the perfect brightness for any given lighting situation. reading. (I usually leave them off if I have other light sources around.)

But the feature that really sets the Leaf 2 apart from any other Android E Ink tablet (or their less flexible e-reader acquaintances) is its page-turn buttons, which magically make this one of the best e-readers I’ve used. The Leaf 2 features two physical buttons for turning the page on the left side of the device, and thanks to the internal G-sensor, the page will quickly turn when you change hands.

Also new to Leaf 2, the buttons will work with virtually any app, whether or not it has a built-in function to recognize buttons for page turning. Typically, Onyx Boox and other Android E Ink tablet makers have relied on an accessibility feature that turns the volume buttons on a phone into page-turn buttons. The e-readers would simply map the page-turn buttons to volume, and voila—a Kindle or Nook experience as natural as their native e-readers.

But with Leaf 2, there’s an alternative setting in the menu (under Side Key Settings) that lets you force other apps to acknowledge the page turn as well. So, with the Nook and Kindle app, I use the volume button setting, and with apps like Libby, which doesn’t have any page-turning function, I go back to the Page Turn button setting. It’s a bit fussy and could be annoying if you’re hopping between multiple apps to read every day, but it also allows me to neatly turn pages in Libby, something I’ve never been able to do before!

1/4

As for battery life… it depends. If you have a lot of Android apps running and Wi-Fi on, you can expect about a week or less of battery life. But turning off the Wi-Fi means that I usually only have to recharge every few weeks.

Android apps can drain the battery, but they also give this device flexibility, and it’s the Leaf 2’s flexibility that appeals to me. The Leaf 2 comes with its own middling app store built-in, and because it’s a Chinese e-reader, Google Play isn’t available out of the box. But Onyx Boox does provide a guide to getting the Play Store up and running, which mostly involves registering the device with your Google account and waiting for Google’s servers to acknowledge its existence (in my experience, it takes two to three hours, but Onyx Boox warns that it can take up to 48 hours).

Once the store was up and running, this simply became a full-fledged Android E Ink tablet, and it was easy to download apps for Libby, Kindle, Barnes & Noble, and even NetGalley, which handles book drafts for publishers. You can add video apps too, if you’re so inclined, but the slow black-and-white versions of YouTube and TikTok aren’t an ideal way to use either app, so I wouldn’t recommend it.

a:hover]:shadow-highlight-franklin [&>a]:shadow-underline-black dark:[&>a:hover]:shadow-highlight-franklin dark:[&>a]:shadow-underline-white md:text-40 lg:-ml-100″>Agree to continue: Onyx Boox Leaf 2

Every smart device now requires you to accept a set of terms and conditions before you can use it – contracts that no one actually reads. It is impossible for us to read and analyze each of these agreements. But we’ve started counting exactly how many times you have to hit “I agree” to use the devices when we review them, since these are agreements most people don’t read and definitely can’t negotiate.

By configuring Onyx Boox Leaf 2, you agree to:

Optionally, you can add the Google Play Store. In that case, you agree to:

  • Google Terms of Service
  • Google Privacy Policy

Final count: one mandatory and two optional agreements.

A real auto download for me was EinkBro, a browser designed for E Ink. Sounds silly given that Leaf 2 comes with its own browser, but EinkBro is fast and browses websites instead of forcing you to scroll – extremely useful if you’re reading about 200,000 AU coffee shop words on Archive of Our Own.

In addition to the built-in browser, the Leaf 2 has many other apps designed to make it feel more like a tablet than I’d like. There’s an audio recorder, a gallery, a music player, and unlike the iPad, a calculator too. With the Play Store installed, I never bothered to use Boox’s app store, the same goes for BooxDrop, the native cloud storage app. Both require an Onyx account, but I’ve never created one and consequently missed out on nothing.

Despite the many, many caveats, and despite all the silly built-in apps that try to mold it as a competitor to mainstream tablets, the Leaf 2 is simply one of the most enjoyable ways to read books. I’m not bound by anyone’s walled garden, and I don’t have to make strange sacrifices to read what I want when I want. I have real physical buttons to press to turn pages. The Onyx Boox Leaf 2 has finally nipped that itch I’ve had for an ideal e-reader, and I don’t see anything replacing it anytime soon.

Photography by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The limit

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