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Onyx Boox Tab Ultra review: an Android tablet unlike any other

Boox Tab Ultra on top of keyboard case.
Boox Tab Ultra
MSRP $600.00
“The Boox Tab Ultra is an Android tablet unlike anything else on the market. With a premium design and lovely e-ink screen, there's a lot to like.”
  • Big anti-glare display with a matte finish
  • Fast for an e-ink device
  • Excellent battery life
  • Brilliant keyboard case
  • Comes with a stylus
  • Expensive
  • Keyboard is sold separately

The Boox Tab Ultra is more than just an e-ink reader with scribbling capabilities. Unlike other devices with e-ink displays, the Tab Ultra runs Android. Yes, the same Android you know and love, just on a device with an e-ink screen.

As a result, you can run a full suite of Google apps, watch YouTube videos or browse the internet on Chrome. It is filled to the brim with features, which make it a unique proposition. But at $600, it costs a premium. Should you spend that much on the most powerful e-ink tablet on the market? I used the device for more than a month, and I have a definite answer for you.

Onyx Boox Tab Ultra: design and display

The Boox Tab Ultra is built out of aluminum, and it feels solid in the hand. The 0.26-inch thickness combined with 480 grams of weight makes it a bit difficult to use with one hand while reading. However, it’s not just another e-reader but a full-fledged Android tablet, so the weight is justified.

On the top of the device lies a power button, which doubles as a fingerprint sensor that works well. There are no other buttons on the tablet. Despite the presence of speakers at the top and bottom, the Boox Tab Ultra doesn’t offer volume rockers. To adjust the volume, you can either use the keyboard or change the levels via the software. It makes sense because you are unlikely to listen to music or watch videos on this device. But on the off chance you do, the speakers are there.

At the bottom of the Boox Tab Ultra is a USB-C charging port and microSD card slot for expandable storage, which wouldn’t be needed by many since you get 128GB of onboard storage. You might only need it if you have a lot of documents you need to scan and save, and/or a big e-book collection.

Boox Tab Ultra display,
Prakhar Khanna / Digital Trends

The Boox Tab Ultra features a 10.3-inch e-ink display. It’s a brilliant panel that delivers rich contrast with deep blacks. The display lies under an anti-glare coating, which makes it easier for you to read in brightly-lit conditions. The matte finish is pleasing to the eye as well.

On the back lies a 16MP camera, which can only be used to scan documents. All you need to do is point the camera at the paper document and click a photo. Boox’s proprietary software turns it into a digital scan. Optical character recognition can also turn English words from photos into a text file.

Onyx Boox Tab Ultra: accessories

Boox Tab Ultra display.
Prakhar Khanna / Digital Trends

The Boox Tab Ultra has a keyboard accessory that costs an extra $110. It is on the pricier side, but if you plan on doing anything related to word processing, you might want to buy it anyway. It uses pogo pins to attach to the tablet. Notably, you get only one slant angle to work on, but it should be enough for your browsing and typing needs.

After writing a few articles on the tablet using the keyboard, I can confidently say that there has been no cost-cutting with the experience. The keys have good travel with an evenly spaced layout and feel good to type on. But you might experience a delay between you typing a letter and it appearing on the screen. There is no keyboard latency, but it’s likely because of the screen refresh rate. You get used to it after a while, but as with any e-ink screen, it’s not instantaneous. There is no trackpad, so you’ll need to scroll with your fingers on the screen.

Boox Tab Ultra case.
Prakhar Khanna / Digital Trends

The keyboard also doubles as a cover with a leather finish, which feels nice in the hand, and makes the device look more premium.

The Boox Tab Ultra comes with the Pen 2 Pro stylus, which is one of the better styli I have used on any device. It magnetically attaches to the right side of the tablet and can detect over 4,000 levels of pressure.

There is minimal latency, so you’ll enjoy sketching on the Boox Tab Ultra. However, it misses out on tilt sensitivity. That said, using the Pen 2 Pro is a delightful experience. I used it mostly to sign documents, but the rubber tip makes for a good build because it offers friction against the display, which is important for sketching. The palm rejection is on point as well, and I didn’t experience any false touch issues.

Onyx Boox Tab Ultra: performance and software

Boox Tab Ultra docked into keyboard.
Prakhar Khanna / Digital Trends

The Boox Tab Ultra is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 662 chip, paired with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. It might not look enough on paper for an Android tablet, but these specs make the Boox Tab Ultra the most powerful e-ink tablet. It runs two-versions-old Android 11, but since it’s heavily skinned with Boox’s software, it’s not a big deal.

I got used to the gestures and navigation easily. You can swipe down from the top to access the notification panel. The apps you download can be reached by a swipe from the right to move to the next page.

A swipe up from the bottom right leads you to adjust the refresh rate with four options: HD, Balanced, Fast, and Ultrafast. It also lets you adjust the dark and light colors to soothe your eyes. The Ultrafast option makes the tablet feel like a usual Android device. The slower refresh rate is for reading.

These specs make the Boox Tab Ultra the most powerful e-ink tablet.

If you compare it with other Android tablets or an iPad, the Boox Tab Ultra is a slow tablet. But if you compare it with other e-ink tablets, the device is on the faster side. Once you get used to the speeds of e-ink, you’ll be comfortable using the tablet. But it includes getting used to an app launch taking one or two seconds.

The presence of the Google Play Store means you can practically install any app, even high-end games. But I’ll advise you not to install games on the Boox Tab Ultra because the refresh rate will kill the gaming experience. It is in no way a gaming tablet. I installed apps like YouTube, Google Chrome, Docs, and even Twitter – they all worked well.

The Boox Tab Ultra ships with a native e-book reader, which offers Shakespeare’s complete works. I used the Amazon Kindle app to read e-books, and Chrome to browse through articles.

The tablet lasts for weeks on a single charge. I have only charged it once during my six-week usage. I took the device around cafes and made it my bedtime reading companion. The battery life is excellent.

Onyx Boox Tab Ultra: price and availability

The Boox Tab Ultra costs $600 for the tablet and stylus, while the keyboard case costs an extra $110. It is available via Amazon and other retailers in the U.S.

Onyx Boox Tab Ultra: verdict

Boox Tab Ultra camera.
Prakhar Khanna / Digital Trends

The Boox Tab Ultra is expensive at $600, and add to that the $110 keyboard case, it will set you back at $710. There is a very specific use case that appeals to me.

If you want an e-ink display that is not just another e-reader but also doubles as your browsing device, allowing you to read online articles, and write blogs, the Boox Tab Ultra is your device. With its extra capabilities like browsing and sketching, it has the potential to replace your Kindle and tablet if you do not consume content on the latter.

If you want a full-fledged tablet where you can watch videos or sketch professionally, you are better off with an iPad Air at this price. The Kindle Scribe is considerably cheaper and supports drawing/sketching, but the rest of its feature set is considerably limited. If you find yourself in a unique position where you have some extra cash to spend and want a tablet/e-reader combo unlike anything else, only the Boox Tab Ultra fits that bill.

Editors' Recommendations

Prakhar Khanna
Prakhar writes news, reviews and features for Digital Trends. He is an independent tech journalist who has been a part of the…
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