The Boox Tab Ultra (Reviewed)

I’ve been looking for the perfect travel writing companion for years. I thought the Freewrite would work – it was too bulky and the features were too pared back – and the Kindle Scribe deeply disappointed me. But when I saw the Boox Tab Ultra, I was intrigued if not excited.

The Boox Tab Ultra is a 10.3-inch e-ink tablet that can run Android apps. In this configuration, it costs $625.99 online, about $200 more than the bare-bones Kindle Scribe and the same price as the Remarkable 2 tablet with keyboard. The device looks like an e-ink iPad and features a very readable backlit screen and a long-lasting battery that runs for a week without a charge. The device has 4GB of RAM and 128GB of onboard storage. It runs a Qualcomm Octa-core chip and ships with Android 11.

It has a rear 16-megapixel camera designed specifically for scanning documents and the keyboard case and stylus turn this into what is essentially an e-ink laptop.

Check out the video version of this post here!

About the Boox Tab Ultra

The device itself is quite slim and portable. As an e-ink tablet, it works perfectly fine and allows you to make sketches, take notes, and read e-books. In short, if you’re looking for a huge kindle with lots of touchscreen features, this thing is great. It even lets you take screenshots and scan in the text in the image using OCR.

The optional keyboard case is what really makes this product shine and I loved the way the device went from a fairly large e-reader into a fully-fledged computer. The e-ink screen has multiple modes, including a dedicated app mode that offers faster refresh times. You won’t ever mistake this device for a laptop because e-ink just isn’t fast enough to create a seamless experience. That said, when I used this as an editing machine on the road, I had great success.

The Boox Tab Ultra

Boox includes a number of apps on the device including Bookdrop which turns the device into a web server that lets you upload and download content to the device. A separate app, called PushRead, is a webpage and RSS reader that lets you send articles to the device.

It has a gallery application, text scanner, and music app. There’s even a web browser built-in. The device supports the Android app store but don’t expect to play Angry Birds on this. It works best with sketch and notetaking apps and Google Docs works natively and well.

On the whole, you feel like you’re using a laptop until, well, you don’t. The device is just a bit slower to update than you’d like, so jumping from one fullscreen app to the next has a bit of lag. The notepad app, on the other hand, is very performant and the sketching apps are great.

For example, I drew this charming ninja dog that I used to draw as a kid, something called a Kung-Fu Canine. Your results may vary.

As long as you understand and accept e-ink’s limitations, you’ll be fine. I used this device as my primary writing device for a week and was very pleased. It doesn’t support my favorite writing app, Scrivener, but neither does the iPad. As for Google Docs, I was able to do lots of editing with the device and plenty of writing. In fact, the Tab Ultra is a distraction-free dream and well worth the price.

The Boox Tab Ultra Keyboard

The Boox Tab Ultra Keyboard

As a writer, keyboards are vital. This keyboard has fairly low key travel but that’s because the whole thing is so thin. I enjoy using the keyboard but you’ll find it hard if you’re trying to type in the dark as it has no internal backlight. Obviously, that’s nearly impossible with a device this size, but it’s a minor issue if you’re looking for something to use on a red-eye flight.

That said, the whole device works surprisingly well, and barring a problematic window that occasionally pops up when typing that attempts to autocomplete your sentence, I have no criticisms. It works great with the device and it’s a must-have.

The Apps

The apps on this device are very basic and usable. I like the BOOXDrop app which essentially turns the device into a web-based storage system. I also like the document scanner and note-taker although I’d love a text-writing app that is as fully featured as the note-taking app which, instead, focuses on the stylus. There are a few wonky interfaces in this device including the floating selector that features a set of cryptic and unlabelled icons that, we assume, activate various features. For example, you have two camera icons, one which activates the screenshot system and another that activates the rear camera.

I would love to see the interface cleaned up and improved but as long as you ignore the OS’s various peccadilloes you’ll be fine.

Is the Boox Tab Ultra a good tablet?

Yes, it’s great. It’s very usable, very poweful, and it makes for a great notetaking and writing station. Again, don’t expect massive power out of this thing but if you limit yourself to writing, reading, and sketching, you’ll be pleased. The Tab Ultra is what the Kindle Scribe should have been but unfortunately, Amazon focused on the Kindle concept rather than the tablet concept. The Tab Ultra gives you the best of both worlds and is well worth the price if you’re looking for an exciting and usable e-ink device.

John Biggs

John Biggs is an entrepreneur, consultant, writer, and maker. He spent fifteen years as an editor for Gizmodo, CrunchGear, and TechCrunch and has a deep background in hardware startups, 3D printing, and blockchain. His work has appeared in Men’s Health, Wired, and the New York Times.

View all posts by John Biggs →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *