Two minute review
The Onyx Boox Nova Air C is an update of the black and white Nova Air we tested last year. While the Nova Air proved to be a capable device, bolstered by the versatility that comes from running Android with Google Play support, the Nova Air C doubles up by providing a very similar experience, but with added flexibility by fitting a color LCD layer over the top of the E Ink display.
There are really only two considerations. First, the Nova Air C is slightly more expensive than the Nova Air. Second, the screen in the newer model is slightly dimmer and grayer due to the light lost to the LCD layer.
However, the tablet more than makes up for this with the extra information it can provide when switching to color. Grayscale can only go so far, and the addition of color makes images, charts, tables, notes—you name it—more information-rich. Not to mention the benefit color can bring to websites and comics.
The Nova Air C offers enough flexibility to work as an ereader or digital note-taking device, while also functioning well as a basic Android tablet.
You won’t want to make this your basic entertainment device as even the fast E Ink refresh rates come with significant swiping, unable to keep up with even the most basic of tablets. But it can do just about anything you could want from an Android tablet in a pinch. You can load a YouTube video, pair it with a Bluetooth keyboard, and type documents or notes into Google Docs.
While the limited color range of the display may be a limitation in some arenas, the Nova Air C’s display technology gives it a huge edge in battery life. On the sunniest day of the year, you can use the Nova Air C outside for hours without getting a dent in the battery.
Do the same with any LCD or OLED tablet, and it will probably only survive for a few hours before needing a recharge, as you’d have to max out the backlight to see anything on the screen.
For its versatility and convenience, while also delivering a quality experience at a fair price, the Onyx Boox Nova Air C is just as easy to recommend as the Nova Air before it.
Onyx Boox Nova Air C price and availability
- Out now
- Costs $419 / €485.98 (about £415, AU$715)
The Onyx Boox Nova Air C hits stores on April 29 and is available now for $419 / €485.98 (about £415, AU$715), with shipping and VAT on orders in other regions.
Design and display
- Slim and light
- The screen feels great under fingers or stylus
- Dull screen colors
The Onyx Boox Nova Air C is almost identical to its predecessor. Where the Nova Air had a light, silver-colored chassis, the Nova Air C exchanges this for a matte black finish. Otherwise the dimensions are unchanged.
Nevertheless, the lack of change still leaves us with a quality reader. The Nova Air C has narrow bezels for an ereader, allowing it to pack a 7.8-inch E Ink Kaleido Plus screen into a frame about the height and width of a standard hardback book. However, it’s thinner than a paperback novella and not much heavier than a typical 245g smartphone (just 5g more than an iPhone 13 Pro Max).
However, the color change of the frame can be about more than just aesthetics. As was the case for the Onyx Boox Nova 3 Color, the introduction of a color LCD layer here acts as a bit of a light block for the E Ink display below. In addition to the standard Nova Air, the Nova Air C’s screen is much darker.
For reading books and articles, the dimmer display proves more difficult to use in dark environments. Fortunately, the Nova Air C features a two-tone backlight system that can provide adequate brightness when needed and deliver different color temperatures.
The addition of a layer of color on the Nova Air C dramatically expands the capabilities of the ereader. While Onyx has done a commendable job of making grayscale work in the black-and-white iterations of its tablets, the data that color can help convey to the Nova Air C makes it that much more useful. Documents, note taking, study materials – basically any visual content – is so much more detailed with color as an option.
However, the color here doesn’t come close to the color that comes on even the LCD screen of a cheap tablet. First, the color layer has only a third the resolution of E Ink at only 100 ppi and 300 ppi of the 1,872 x 1,404 E Ink layer. Color is not vibrant here and depth is incredibly limited, with only 4,096 tones where a typical LCD will reach 16.7 million.
The display of that color by the tablet is also missing, with shadow details, clear edges or the right color being exchanged for each other. There are controls to adjust the image, and we found that significantly increasing the brightness with a degree of “vibrancy enhancement” put us close to what we’d see on a normal computer screen for web browsing, but this went a long way. at the expense of clarity in fine, dark lines – such as small text.
This can be retrieved by bumping up the dark enhancement, but that causes shadow areas in images to disappear into pitch black. This is not to say that the picture is always bad; just that it may take some tinkering to find a suitable setting for the task. Reading a book, flipping through a comic, and scrolling through a web page will all benefit from different settings.
The display technology also has its limitations in terms of refresh rate. This can be adjusted – for example, choose a slower refresh that provides a clearer picture, or it can be speeded up so that you can watch video content or scroll smoothly through documents and web pages.
But the faster the screen goes, the more likely it is to leave a latent afterimage on the screen. It’s a minor distraction that didn’t stop us from reading web articles and the like, but the Nova Air C will become a last resort for watching videos or playing games.
That refresh rate doesn’t limit the stylus, though, which writes on the screen almost instantly for supported apps, making for a great option for digital note-taking. Onyx also supplies the stylus with its tablet, while other companies charge a decent premium for their stylus.
All these possibilities are packed behind an Asahi protective glass layer that feels great under the fingers and the stylus. The Wacom-powered stylus is the same model that came with the Note Air and Nova Air, with a ribbed outline and a flat edge that magnetically connects to multiple spots on the tablet. However, the magnet is still too weak to hold it firmly.
Specifications and Performance
- Runs Android 11 and supports apps
- Bluetooth support means it can be paired with a keyboard
- Not very powerful, but can multitask lightweight apps
It is in this area that the Nova Air C, like the tablet before it, distinguishes itself from other eReaders. From the outside, the Nova Air C is clearly an eReader. But inside, it’s an Android tablet.
It runs Android 11, albeit with a heavily modified interface, and comes with a modest eight-core processor, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. Given the task it could be tasked with as an Android tablet, it even features Bluetooth 5.0 and dual-band Wi-Fi 5 connectivity.
Now the chip inside isn’t insanely powerful. It’s fast enough to jump between lightweight apps, and it happily kept up with web browsing in Chrome. We were even able to load videos on YouTube and Crunchyroll into the browser and watch them play smoothly, even if the visuals weren’t ideal.
While the tablet doesn’t offer Google Play and all apps offered right out of the box, a short process of enabling Google Play brings it on board. Your experience with these apps will vary as not all of them are built to support such a color limited device; but even in apps for which it is not perfectly suited, it can often suffice.
The Nova Air C is a great device for document-oriented tasks and can even help with more visual study situations, such as exploring Memrise or Khan Academy. The additional color available through the Nova Air makes these study aids significantly more useful.
That access to the app store also provides a huge resource for readers. While some eReaders are limited in where you get books from or the file format they are in, there are few limitations with the Onyx Boox Nova Air C.
Not only does it support abundant file formats in its own reader app, but you can also install many different apps to read from. Install Comixology or Crunchyroll for comics; load up the Kindle app for Amazon’s entire library of ebooks; jump to the app that uses your public library, such as Overdrive or Hoopla.
You’ll soon be able to download ebooks straight to your device – there are no weird hoops to jump through like you’d encounter on a Kindle (except, of course, the first hoop to get Google Play).
With Bluetooth, the Nova Air C can also turn into a compact laptop replacement for on the go by pairing it with a keyboard. The flexibility to switch from handwritten notes to typed notes, or even edit documents in Google Docs or other note taking apps, is powerful for an ereader.
- 2,000mAh battery
- Typical tablet battery life – but serious life when used as an eReader
Performance may not be the star of the show on the Nova Air C, but battery life certainly is. Although the tablet comes with only a 2000 mAh battery charged via USB-C, the E Ink display and LCD layer don’t consume much power.
While a standard tablet with a static image constantly consumes power for the backlight, the Nova Air C uses almost none. That way, the screen can continue to display color content even when the tablet is turned off.
The Nova Air C offers up to four weeks of battery life in standby mode, but you can expect more if you let the tablet turn itself off after extended periods of non-use.
How long the tablet lasts in actual use depends largely on how it is used. If you’re reading ebooks with the Wi-Fi and the backlight off, you’re likely to end up with absurdly long battery life. If you try to stream cartoons for hours with the backlight on, the battery life will be more in line with that of a normal tablet.
To put it simply: at worst, the Nova Air C lasts just as long as a normal tablet; but it can last several times longer if used as an ereader. And if you enjoy using a tablet outdoors — a scenario that requires a much brighter screen and extra battery consumption for a tablet or laptop — you’ll actually be using less battery power because the screen only benefits from outside light.
Should you buy the Onyx Boox Nova Air C?
Buy it if…
Don’t buy it if…
First assessment: May 2022