I don’t want to be picky, but the Kindle just isn’t enough for me. In front of yearsL called the Amazon Kindle Oasis the platonic ideal of e-readers, with its physical page-turn buttons, crisp display, solid backlighting, and (then) unique design. It felt like I had reached the e-reader endgame. But then I embraced Libby for library books, Viz for manga, and started reading more galleys straight from publishers, and the Kindle felt more like it was getting in the way than helping me read the things I wanted.
So I started buying Android E Ink tablets from China and wait for one to finally combine Android’s flexibility 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 REVIEW 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 through Good e-Reader (a site that reviews e-readers and also sells them), Onyx Boox’s website (boox.com), or Amazon . And because the company is largely based in China, technical support is spotty at best. Complicating matters further is the fact that Onyx Boox also shares its name with what appears to be a Russian company with an almost identical URL and absolutely identical product range. The sense of being scammed is strong with this brand.
But I have interacted with real people from the (Chinese) company, received embargoes and pricing information, and have now bought at least three different products from the website without any problems, so found the Boox at boox. com is, at least in my experience, on the rise.
Onyx Boox has been making Android E Ink tablets for years, but they tend to be extremely expensive compared to a Kindle or a Kobo. The Leaf 2’s $199 price is a lot more than you’ll pay for a standard Kindle or even a Paperwhite, but it’s a full $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 headlights, Android 11, and a microSD slot. The only thing it’s missing is that it’s waterproof, but I don’t normally take a bath to read, so this isn’t a deal breaker for me.
The screen is virtually identical to that of the latest Kindle Oasis, and the text is sharp and easy to read. Black and white strips look as good as they would on an iPad, and the front light lets you adjust the brightness of warm and cool lights separately or separately, so you can always adjust them to the perfect brightness for any occasion. given reading situation. (I usually leave them off when I have other light sources around.)
But the feature that really sets the Leaf 2 apart from other Android E Ink tablets (or their less flexible e-reader acquaintances) is the page-turning buttons, magically making this one of the best e-readers I’ve owned used. The Leaf 2 comes with two physical page-turn buttons on the left side of the device, and thanks to the internal G-sensor, the page will quickly orient itself when you switch hands.
Also new to the Leaf 2, the buttons work with just about any app — whether or not it has a built-in feature to recognize page-turn buttons. Typically, Onyx Boox and other Android E Ink tablet manufacturers 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 voilà – a Kindle or Nook experience as natural as their own e-readers.
But with the Leaf 2, there’s an alternate setting in the menu (under Sidekey settings) that lets you force other apps to recognize page turns as well. So with the Nook and Kindle app I use the Volume Button setting, and with apps like Libby, which has no page turn function at all, I jump back to the Turn Page Button setting. It’s a bit finicky and can be annoying if you’re jumping through multiple apps to read on a daily basis, but it also allows me to neatly turn pages in Libby – something I haven’t been able to do before!
As for battery life…it depends. If you have a lot of Android apps running and Wi-Fi is active, you can expect about a week of battery life. But if I turn off WiFi, I usually only need to charge every few weeks.
The Android apps can drain the battery, but they also give this device flexibility, and it’s the Leaf 2’s flexibility that charms me. The Leaf 2 comes with its own mediocre app store built in, and being a Chinese e-reader, Google Play isn’t available as standard. But Onyx Boox provides a guide to getting the Play Store working – which mainly involves registering the device with your Google account and waiting for Google’s servers to confirm its existence (this takes about two to three hours in my experience, but Onyx Boox warns it could take up to 48 hours ).
Once the store was up and running, this just became a full-fledged E Ink Android tablet, and it was easy to download apps for Libby, Kindle, Barnes & Noble, and even NetGalley – which handles book galleys for publishers. You can also add video apps, if you’re so inclined, but slow-motion black-and-white versions of YouTube and TikTok aren’t an ideal way to use either app, so I wouldn’t recommend it.
Agree to continue: Onyx Boox Leaf 2
Every smart device now requires you to agree to a set of terms and conditions before you can use it – contracts that no one really reads. It is impossible for us to read and analyze all these agreements. But we started counting exactly how many times you have to press “agree” to use devices when we review them, as these are agreements that most people don’t read and certainly can’t negotiate.
By setting up the Onyx Boox Leaf 2 you agree to:
Optionally you can add the Google Play Store. If yes, you agree to:
- Google Terms of Service
Grand total: one mandatory match and two optional.
A real automatic download for me was EinkBro, a browser designed for E Ink. That sounds crazy considering the Leaf 2 comes with its own browser, but EinkBro is fast and will page websites rather than force you to scroll – very useful if you’re reading some 200,000 word coffee shop AU on Archive of Our Own .
In addition to the built-in browser, the Leaf 2 has a lot of other apps that are meant to make it work more like a tablet than I’d like. There’s an audio recorder, a gallery, a music player and, unlike the iPad, even a calculator. With the Play Store installed, I never bothered to use Boox’s app store – the same goes for BooxDrop, the native cloud storage app. You need an Onyx account for both, but I’ve never created one and didn’t miss anything because of it.
Despite the many, many caveats, and despite all the crazy built-in apps that try to style this as a competitor to traditional tablets, the Leaf 2 is simply one of the most enjoyable ways to read books. I’m not restricted by someone’s walled garden and I don’t have to make weird sacrifices to read what I want when I want. I have actual physical buttons to press to turn pages. The Onyx Boox Leaf 2 has finally taken away that itch I had for an ideal e-reader, and I don’t see anything replacing it anytime soon.
Photographed by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The edge