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BOOX NOVA 3 COLOR REVIEW

A Dab Of Color

Boox is a well known brand in the world of e-ink devices. They recently refreshed their whole range of devices at the end of 2020, expanding their catalogue with Max Lumi (13.3"), Note 3 and Note Air (10.3"), Nova 3 (7.8") and Poke 3 (6" reader only) devices. You can find in-depth reviews to all of these products on the My Deep Guide YouTube channel, but today, we have something new and important in focus.

(Image Credit: Boox)


Boox has released a color version of their Nova 3 device, simply called the "Nova 3 Color" that is using the latest iteration of the E-Ink's Kaleido color panel. This is the first 7.8" note-taking capable color e-ink device to hit the market, and as such it has a lot of eyes on it.


Design And Build Quality

(Image Credit: My Deep Guide)


Nova 3 Color has an identical design and build quality as the Nova 3, it's monochromatic slightly older sibling. It has a bucket design, meaning that the front flat surface is seated inside of the one piece back cover. Front is a true AG glass that is not perfectly smooth, which is good news, since it provides for a nicer surface to write on, even without a screen protector, than a regular super smooth glass surface.


At the heel of the front panel lies a single button, which works as a standard Android Back button, but in the options it can also be configured to work as a Home button. Unfortunately, there isn't a fingerprint sensor on it. This button is a relic from the "before times" since the OS offers an excellent gestures system that basically renders any physical button completely obsolete, and it can only serve as a hindrance, with accidental presses. This wouldn't be a problem if there was an option to disable the button completely, but at the moment that's still not an option.

(Image Credit: My Deep Guide)


There is nothing on either of the sides of the device, so no hardware volume rockers for you to rock. On the top you will find a power button with an LED indicator and on the bottom a USB C for power and data transfer and a microphone.


The back of the device is a clean affair that looks pretty and feels good, meaning not cheap and not slippery. At the top there are perforations for the speaker, so if you cover those, expect your sound to be muffled and muted. Additionally, if you have a table spill accident, be sure to keep the Nova 3 Color away from it, as these speaker holes are an ideal place for said spillage to wriggle its way in and damage the device.


Build quality is great, and it needs to be at this price point. It feels solid and firm and I feel confident when using it.


The ergonomics of the Nova 3 Color are quite good. The bends and curves have the correct angles to make it comfortable to use in any position, situation or circumstance you may find yourself in, which isn't the case with it's bigger cousin George, that goes by the nickname 'Note 3'. The weight is low and balanced nicely, so the device sits well in the hand while reading or taking notes.


Overall, like the Nova 3 and the Nova 2, since they are all identical, it's built well, feels sturdy, it's comfortable to use and it isn't repulsive to look at, but it doesn't excite me in any way, since it's something that we've already seen quite a few times.


Specifications

SCREEN

Display: E-Ink Kaleido Plus

Screen Size: 7.8”

Display Resolution: 1872×1404

PPI: 300 PPI (100 PPI color content)

WACOM Active Digitizer: Yes

Front Light – Yes, single

Color Temperature – No


CPU, RAM & STORAGE

Processor: 8-core, 1.8 GHz, Snapdragon 636

RAM: 3GB

Internal Storage: 32GB

External Storage: No


OTHER

Operating System: Android 10

Battery: 3150mAh

Data Connector: USB-C

WIFI: Yes, 2.4GHz + 5GHz

Bluetooth: Yes, 5.0

Audio: Yes, speaker and mic


DIMENSIONS

Length: 197.3mm

Width: 137mm

Thickness: 7.7mm

Weight: 265 g


PRICE

$420


Nova 3 Color uses the same exact internals as the Nova 3, naturally, since it is the same device that is simply equipped with a different display panel. So, inside we have an octa-core Snapdragon 636 running at 1.8GHz that has 3GB of RAM at it's disposal and 32GB of non-expandable internal storage, of which you get around 22GB to actually use, while the rest is occupied by the system.


With the inherent refresh speed limitations of any e-ink device, it's safe to say that you will be hard pressed to find yourself in a situation where the Nova 3 Color will not have enough 'oomph!' to tackle the tasks that you throw at it. This means that it is very snappy and responsive to your inputs and as such it feels like a confident and capable tablet. This is particularly true when you enter the Screen Cast mode (if you're lucky enough to get it to work) and you use an external display as the driver for the Nova 3 Color. Only then can you truly appreciate just how powerful and fast this tablet really is. Don't be fooled by it's small size, it's a very capable and powerful little tablet.


The Screen - Kaleido Plus

Nova 3 Color is the first 7.8" note-taking capable color e-ink tablet, so obviously the screen is the thing that will make it or break it, because we already know that Nova 3 as a concept works great. So what does the addition of the e-ink's latest Kaleido color e-ink screen do to an already good platform?

(Image Credit: My Deep Guide)


The screen has the same resolution and size as it's monochromatic cousin, it's a 7.8" panel running a resolution of 1404x1872 at 300 PPI density. So all good there, right? Well, not quite, because the Kaleido screen uses a passive "filter" on top of a standard e-ink cell configuration, the ink cells are still filled with black and white particles only. The way Kaleido produces color is by basically filtering the "white" of the cell through a layer of colored tint. Not very 2021 high tech, is it? I agree, but that's the best that the e-ink technology has to offer at the moment, so let's roll with it.

(Image Credit: My Deep Guide)


This means that color content will be displayed at 100 PPI, while the grayscale content is displayed at full 300 PPI. This also has as a consequence the fact that the default screen "whiteness" is considerably darker than even the darkest e-ink device you can find on the market today, which makes sense since every single drop of white of the screen is constantly obstructed by the RGB stripes of the "passive color filter". In order to overcome this, very real problem, E-ink Kaleido panels basically have to use the front light to some degree in all but absolutely brightest conditions. And to make matters worse, currently, only the harmful blueish front light is available on these panels.


In direct sunlight the panel works nicely and is perfectly usable. The darkness isn't much of an issue and the colors, while certainly not vivid by any stretch of imagination, are present and look better than your 10 year old favourite colorful T-Shirt that was washed at a high temperature a dozen or so too many times. However, take the panel inside, and the use of the front light becomes a complete necessity almost immediately, which completely negates the point of an e-ink screen, in my opinion. Front light is a very useful addition to a standard e-ink screen, it's supposed to be there to help out when you find yourself in a darker environment, it's not supposed to be a requirement to be able to use the device in the majority of daily indoor situations.

(Image Credit: My Deep Guide)


To make things even a bit more difficult for today's e-ink color devices, Kaleido panels still suffer from ghosting that is much more prevalent and frequent than their monochromatic counterparts.


Put all of this together, and the current approach employed by the Kaleido technology means that the screen white will be too dark to use unlit when indoors forcing the user to use copious amounts of a single tint blueish front light to compensate for the darkness, which will in turn wash out the colors, increase power consumption and have a harmful and tiring effect on your eyes.

(Image Credit: My Deep Guide)


So, this is the starting point that Boox engineers had to work with, when adding the latest Kaleido screen to their excellent Nova 3 device. I think that they did a very admirable job recognizing and understanding that they have to try and compensate as much as possible. It looks like a lot of work has gone into trying to tame that ghosting as much as they can, and after each update it does get to be a bit better.


Monochromatic content performance is great, and you'll have no issues with ghosting there. Majority of books and documents reading will be perfectly fine, but then you'll run into a larger color image, and after each of those, Nova 3 Color becomes haunted and you'll find yourself swiping up to refresh to get rid of it. It's a similar story with writing. Writing with monochromatic colors is an excellent experience, no ghosting, no issues. Switch over to one of the many offered colors from the refreshed palette and you'll quickly realize that, not only are the colors considerably more pale than the black and white strokes, but they also leave ghostly residues, page after page, until, inevitably, you swipe up to refresh, yet again.


I believe that all of the manufacturers have been placed into quite a difficult position because of the Kaleido panels. They are presented with an inferior piece of technology that is obsolete before their devices hit the market. It's been 6 months since the last iteration of Kaleido and that panel was so bad that e-ink issued this new panel, and a new version of yet another Kaleido panel is planned for later in 2021. Is the current Kaleido panel better than the previous version? Yes, absolutely it is in every respect, but no matter how much you refine a flawed piece of design, the core of it will always be the weakest link in the chain and the "passive color filter" is not the way forward in e-ink color technology. Sooner E-ink accepts that fact better it will be for the overall development and advancement of the e-ink world.


Keeping all of this in mind, I believe that Boox engineers did an excellent job with what they had to work with, and are continually trying to improve and refine it, which is one of the main reasons why Nova 3 Color is an interesting and usable device in real world, for a user that is aware of the limitations listed above.


Battery

Battery Test 1 - Continuous writing:

Front light at 50% - 14% per hour, expected time: 7.14 hours


Battery Test 2 - Continuous reading:

Front light at 0% - 2% per hour, expected time: 50 hours

Front light at 50% - 3% per hour, expected time: 33 hours

Front light at 100% - 8% per hour, expected time: 12.5 hours


Nova 3 Color is powered by a 3150 mAh battery which gives it a very nice battery life. Depending on the intensity of the front light you use, you should be able to get anywhere between 50 hours (no front light), 33 hours (front light at 50%) to 12.5 hours (front light at 100%) of reading time, or around 7 hours of continuous writing with front light set at 50%.


Standby battery management is excellent on Android 10 and Boox devices, so you can have weeks and weeks of standby time. I find it best to set up the power management in such a way that your device auto-shuts down after 6 or 12 hours of inactivity. Since the start-up time is quite long for Android systems, naturally you'll want to avoid doing it unnecessarily, but at the same time, there's no need for the device to sip battery life while in standby mode, if it's not going to be doing anything for hours or even days. This way you get to start up your device only the very first time you use it during that day and have it go to wake up and sleep throughout the day, giving you the best balance between power efficiency and immediate usability.


Overall it has an excellent battery life, provided you don't go crazy with the front light.


Pen

Nova 3 Color ships with a standard Boox triangular pen. This is a cheap, but perfectly functional pen that uses standard felt tip nibs at the front, no buttons in the middle and an eraser at the end. It's overall a better pen than their usual small pen that all of the devices shipped with, but there are certainly much better alternatives out there. My only real gripe, which is so often the case with the majority of e-ink devices, is the fact that the pen is an afterthought. It is a detached product, design and physical wise, because on its own, there isn't a way to fasten the pen to the tablet. For that, you need a flip book cover or something like that, which will be able to hold your pen. Generally speaking, it's fine, but I wish that this standard would change, because it's about time. This is more of a general comment, not something that relates specifically to the Nova 3 Color individually.

(Image Credit: My Deep Guide)


Writing Experience

As with Nova 3, writing on Nova 3 Color is a pleasant affair which is helped with that true AG glass surface that covers the front of the device. I like the writing feel on it, no it's not like paper, or like Remarkable 2, or Quirklogic Papyr, but it's a very pleasant experience that is far superior to the writing experience of a traditional plastic on smooth glass that is usually found on standard tablets.

What surprised me is the fact that the Nova 3 Color actually has better writing latency than the Nova 2 or 3, which is most definitely a big plus.

(Image Credit: My Deep Guide)


The biggest addition is the ability, for the first time, to actually take your notes or mark up documents in true color. Boox have recognized that this is the main advantage of the device, and Nova 3 Color pens offer a much wider palette to choose from, and I have to say that, under adequate lighting conditions, the experience is quite nice and it's an exciting development for sure. The colors are not amazingly rich, they mostly resemble the feel of water colors.

(Image Credit: My Deep Guide)


Lower density of 100 PPI for color strokes, is noticeable if you really pay attention to it, but generally speaking, it's not something that has annoyed me or distracted me from the overall experience.


The problem is, as you would imagine, when you go inside and turn that front light on. Colors become more pale, but even that I could live with. What completely ruins the experience for me is that ghosting. It's simply too strong for the device to be a pleasant experience, under such conditions. I mapped full screen refresh as one of the screen gestures, and that is a necessity, if I'm honest, because you will find yourself refreshing the screen at least once a minute while writing, if you are writing in color. Grayscale writing isn't affected by the ghosting issue. However, this is a color device, and you want to be able to use colors on it, and if you do, every UI panel simply impregnates itself on top of your work, and it's not possible to ignore it, you have to refresh to get a clear image.

(Image Credit: My Deep Guide)


By the way, if you want to have normal writing experience, be sure to disable the vertical gestures for brightness and volume, because, at the moment of testing the device and writing this article, they interfere in a very severe way while writing. So just disable it and wait until that gets sorted out, as it surely will in one of the coming updates.


Reading Experience

I am a very big fan of the built-in e-reader that all Boox devices come with, called Neo Reader. I think that it's one of the best and most versatile e-readers out there, for both EPUBs and PDFs. So, as far as reading capabilities go, Nova 3 Color, as any Boox device really, shines bright in that department. Bookmarking, Table Of Contents, Annotations, Notes, Scribbles, all able to organize, manage, export, share. Add to the list some of the best formatting options for EPUBs and PDFs around, split screen mode allowing for simultaneous viewing of two sections of the same document, two different documents, translation of the current page to one of many languages and having a document page on one side and a notebook associated with that document on the other side, Neo Reader is a very complete and powerful e-reader solution.

(Image Credit: My Deep Guide)


However, again here as well, the shortcomings of that color display negatively reflect on something that is usually a complete joy to use. Ghosting is an even bigger issue here (if you are viewing color content), because the only way it actually makes sense to use this device as a reader is if you set it up that you have a full screen refresh on each page change. Then and only then, the experience will be good, but even then not perfect. As soon as you open up a menu, to do anything and then close it back down, you will be left with not ghosts, but poltergeists over the current page. On full color pages this issue becomes so intense that it can overpower the actual page content. Monochromatic reading experience and performance is, thankfully, not affected by this ghosting problem.

(Image Credit: My Deep Guide)


One of the areas where I hoped the Nova 3 Color would shine was as a comic book reader, and if it were not for the ghosting issues, it really would, but when swiping pages or panels, you are quickly ending up with a mess of ghosting overlapping and blurring the content. If you set it up to refresh on every panel change, then it really can be quite an enjoyable experience. For example, I really loved reading the comics at the kitchen table with the morning sun shining directly on the device and me. Under such conditions it really felt new and nice, to be able to have color content on a non reflective, non light emitting surface. In such cases I really loved using the Nova 3 Color, but then a cloud would come, or I'd move to another room and I'd have to turn on the front light, and the ghosts would emerge once again to haunt what could have been a very pleasant experience.


User Interface

Nova 3 Color debuted the Boox OS v3.1 which brings a ton of new features and functionalities to the table. Subsequently, this update has rolled out to the rest of the Android 10 powered devices, and is a massive upgrade. There are far too many features to go over in this post alone, but the highlights for me are:

  • Landscape mode in Notebooks

  • Canvas scaling and control in Notebooks

  • Screen Recording

  • Sharing files and documents via e-mail or other apps in a much more streamlined way than before.

I will be doing a detailed review and break down of the Boox OS v3.1 update in a later video and article, so you'll be able to find all of the details there.


Unfortunately, the overall UI and UX experience still feels a little disconnected and is most definitely unintuitive, especially to users who never used Android before. Thankfully, after a bit of time (and with the help of My Deep Guide’s “Big Boox Guide'' series, you can overcome that problem quite easily).


Peripherals, Bluetooth, USB OTG

Like it's predecessor, Nova 3 Color supports USB OTG functionality, mainly for storage and input peripherals. This means that you can hook up a USB drive to it via a USB hub, or a keyboard or a mouse and use them freely, though the mouse affair I would refrain from, because of the ghosting issue. Power pass through is not something I was able to get to work while simultaneously having a USB drive plugged in as well, so I'd have to choose, one or the other.


HDMI out and LAN in are things I wasn't able to make work with the USB hub I tested the device with.


External Monitor

Using the Nova 3 Color as an external monitor, while it may seem like a tempting proposition, I would wholeheartedly advise against even attempting, because the ghosting issue is so severe that it's basically unusable as such, plus color dithering can be quite distracting, since it'll be converting input that consists out of 16 million colors to 4096 colors, so just forget about that idea.


Screen Casting

One area that made the Nova 3 Color very interesting is the ability to screen cast onto an external screen. In such a situation, you become truly aware of just how much power this little beast has to offer. Operations are smooth, crisp, immediate, and the device transforms into a very powerful little workhorse. Combine it with a bluetooth keyboard and mouse, and you suddenly find yourself doing actual work on this little one, which is quite a nice feeling indeed.


Additionally, it is also possible to screen cast onto your computer and then share what you are doing on the device in a Zoom call or similar. Extremely useful in today's isolation climate, but be aware that at the moment Screen Casting seems to be quite finicky about establishing a connection. This seems to have been introduced with the latest OS version 3.1, as I have noticed that my Note Air suddenly refuses to connect to the PCs that it used to connect without any problems, so I expect that this is a problem that will be sorted out in one of the coming updates.



Conclusion: Cons

  • The pen, while better than the previous version, it's still an afterthought and is not in touch with the device design or thinking.

  • The screen protector needs to come pre-applied. If the manufacturers deems that a screen protector is beneficial to the device, then it absolutely has to come factory pre-applied. This is especially true in the case of Boox products, whose screen protectors are notoriously difficult to apply without air bubbles. For those who don't want the screen protector, it's a much easier affair to simply take it off, than it is for an average user to apply these screen protectors free of air bubbles.

  • With the gesture system that we now have on the Boox OS platform, the Back/Home button is obsolete and just a hindrance. Furthermore, there still isn't an option available to disable it completely, to avoid accidental presses.

  • The Android 10 environment can be intimidating to learn and has a steep learning curve. Boox OS could be more streamlined, because at the moment there are hidden options and strange choices that overall make a newcomer feel very small and afraid. The overall UI and UX could definitely use several passes to make it more intuitive.

  • All of those pale in comparison with the biggest one of all, which is the new Kaleido screen. The very thing that was supposed to make this product stand out, is it's biggest weakness. Simply put, the technology is not there yet, and I am convinced that this approach is a complete dead end. There is no direction in which e-ink can further go with this approach, and we will always have the same 3 problems that any device that uses these panels will be affected by, Nova 3 Color included. The darkness of the screen, necessity of the front light because of the said darkness, and excessive levels of ghosting of the color content.

  • $420 it's a very high price to pay for a product that does it's absolute best to deal with a problematic piece of technology that is the Kaleido screen panel.


Conclusion: Pros

  • Excellent design and build quality.

  • Ergonomics are very good and it is possible to use the device for extended periods of time without discomfort.

  • Form factor, weight and power under the hood make the Nova 3 Color an extremely powerful, yet truly portable little power house. When coupled with the screen share ability and connectivity to peripherals, this device can become a lot more than meets the eye.

  • Very good battery life.

  • Fantastic reader and note taking capabilities (albeit hindered by the ghosting and darkness issues of the screen when viewing color content)

  • Added color palette really helps out in marking documents and taking notes, provided the lighting conditions are adequate.

  • Under the right conditions, color e-ink experience is a very nice thing to have and can be enjoyable.


Wrapping It Up

So, the Nova 3 Color. I loved and still love the Nova 3. I think it's one of the best e-ink devices of 2020, so I was quite excited and a bit anxious when I heard about the Nova 3 Color coming out and using the Kaleido technology, because I have already experienced the previous Kaleido generation in the Poke 2 Color and Pocketbook Color devices.


What should be the selling point and the strongest point of the Nova 3 Color, it's e-ink color capable screen is unfortunately it's biggest obstacle. As I said, I am thoroughly impressed by what Boox engineers are able to do to minimize the negative aspects of the underlying screen technology, but they are not magicians and ultimately there is only so much that they can do.

(Image Credit: My Deep Guide)


Does this mean that you should avoid Nova 3 Color? Absolutely not. Under the hood it is still an amazingly capable and powerful device that can bring you joy, because the format is very flexible and can fit any lifestyle, and the color aspect of the device can be quite enjoyable, under the right conditions. However, you absolutely have to be aware of the limitations that come with the Kaleido display panels.


The bottom line for me is this: If you know that you will be mostly using the device under well lit conditions, where there is plenty of daylight or sunlight, you will most definitely enjoy the Nova 3 Color, because in such situations I truly enjoyed using it. However, keep in mind the fact that as soon as those light conditions are less than optimal you will be encountering some of the issues I have mentioned in this review. I have tried to provide many examples of what the display is like under different conditions and hopefully those will help you determine if these limitations are something that will affect you and your use case scenario or not.

(Image Credit: My Deep Guide)

Personally I will pass on this generation of e-ink color panels, but I am absolutely certain that there will be users out there that will be able to thoroughly enjoy the Nova 3 Color, and rightfully so, because don't forget that under that Kaleido screen and the negative aspects of it is still an absolutely amazing 7.8" tablet that can satisfy many of your professional and leisurely needs, except it can also bring you colors as well.



The Bottom Line

Nova 3 Color, is it perfect? No, but it dares to be the first, and as such I think that it's a very important product that can make you happy, as long as you map that refresh gesture and you keep your expectations realistic.

(Image Credit: Boox)



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