Onyx Boox Tab Ultra Review: Not Your Average Android Tablet

PROS:


  • Eye-friendly E INK screen

  • Sleek and stylish design

  • Full access to Google Play Store

  • Support for stylus and keyboard input

CONS:


  • Heavier than typical e-readers

  • Old Android version


RATINGS:

AESTHETICS
ERGONOMICS
PERFORMANCE
SUSTAINABILITY / REPAIRABILITY
VALUE FOR MONEY

EDITOR'S QUOTE:

Bringing together the best of both worlds, the Onyx Boox Tab Ultra delivers an eye-friendly e-book reader when you want it and a flexible Android tablet when you need it.

Our modern lives seem to be surrounded by screens, be it on the phones glued to faces, the computers we use at work, or the TVs we chill at night with. While vibrant and colorful, these screens have also proven to be harmful to our health, especially to our eyes, when overused. That might be unavoidable if you read a lot of digital content, but e-paper technologies like E INK have long offered a better alternative. There are plenty of e-readers these days, especially with Amazon and Kobo finally upgrading their devices with more features. Truth be told, however, these industry giants are quite behind the times, especially with the likes of Onyx, which has been pushing the boundaries of the e-reader market for years now. So while Amazon and Kobo play catch up, Onyx is venturing into new territory with the Boox Tab Ultra, and we take this rather novel tablet for a spin to verify that this is not your grandparents’ e-reader.

Designer: Onyx

Aesthetics

Forget what you know about even the most advanced e-book readers, even the ones running Android, because the Onyx Boox Tab Ultra is clearly a cut above the rest. Technically, it is more an Android tablet than an e-reader running Android, a distinction that makes more sense as we go through its various aspects. That said, even among Android tablets, it is quite special, and not just because of its E INK display.

The Boox Tab Ultra easily sets itself apart from other e-readers with its handsome design. Instead of rather cheap-looking slabs of plastic, Onyx applied a touch of aluminum to improve the tablet’s durability since it would see use outside of just reading books and PDFs. The form of the Boox Tab Ultra is boxier with sharp corners and flat edges, not that different from modern iPads. There is also a sizable camera bump on its back, though it is rightfully labeled as a “Smart Scanner” than a typical photography tool.

Contrary to standard tablet designs these days, there are large bezels surrounding the Boox Tab Ultra’s screen. Of course, that is typical for e-readers, so that wouldn’t surprise any Onyx customer. It also doesn’t detract from the device’s appearance since it is tastefully done. There is an extended part on the left side of the device that resembles the spine or margin of a book. In addition to providing a place for branding, it also offers a more convenient place to hold the device without your hand getting in the way. The back of this area has a peculiar strip of repeating icons that adds a bit of visual flair but is pretty much unnecessary.

The edges of the Boox Tab Ultra are also pretty bare. The only things that will catch your attention are the holes for the speakers, the USB-C port, a tray for a microSD card, and a row of pogo pin connectors. This last bit is critical for enabling the optional keyboard cover that truly transforms the E INK tablet from a content consumption device into a productivity tool.

Ergonomics

The biggest draw of an e-reader is its screen, and it is the defining feature that Onyx brings to the tablet world with the Boox Tab Ultra. Unlike a regular LCD or OLED display, E INK doesn’t emit light of its own and is gentler on the eyes. This is what makes these devices ideal for long periods of reading, even at night when blue light could have adverse effects on your sleeping patterns. E-paper displays also tend to be very energy-efficient, so they don’t require that much power to use.

Of course, such a display wouldn’t normally be usable if there is no light around, which is one of the biggest limitations of the early generations of e-readers. To solve this problem, modern e-readers have added some lights to the display. Rather than backlights directed towards the reader, however, the Boox Tab Ultra uses front lights that illuminate just the screen. There are also two kinds of lights available, white and warm, and you can mix the brightness of these lights to your taste and comfort.

The Amazon Kindle and early e-book readers created the expectation that these devices should be small and lightweight pieces of plastic that could even fit in some larger handbags. While there will always be a market for basic e-readers, some want a little bit more from their devices. The Boox Tab Ultra is definitely not your typical e-reader, even in size. The 10.3-inch E INK display, in addition to the bezels, make it already significantly larger than its peers, but that’s only half of it. It also has a 6,300 mAh battery, a giant by e-reader standards, that also gives it a substantial heft.

While it’s still lighter than a typical tablet of that size at around 480g, it’s bound to cause a bit of strain on your wrist or arm if you’ll be holding it up for a long period of time. The “spine” on the left side and its textured back do offer a better grip, but some might still find it uncomfortable to use for hours on end. Then again, that might also be a good time to take a break anyway.

Performance

At its core, the Onyx Boox Tab Ultra is an Android tablet that just happens to have an E INK screen similar to e-readers. It’s more akin to a mid-tier tablet with its Qualcomm Snapdragon 662, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage that you can expand up to 2TB more with a microSD card. At the same time, however, these specs also put it above almost every e-reader in the market, and its power definitely shows in its performance.

The Boox Tab Ultra runs smoothly and is very responsive. Even its E INK display at standard “HD” speed is quite fast, even if touch screen accuracy isn’t perfect. Of course, it’s not going to be as fast as even the slowest LCD panel, but it’s actually good enough for some games and videos, depending on your tolerance levels. You will still see clear signs of screen refreshing, especially when switching pages or zooming in and out, but those are on par with any e-paper display. There are different speed modes you can choose from, depending on what you need, but do know that faster refresh speeds come at the price of quality. Even at Ultrafast, however, the Boox Tab Ultra’s 1872×1404 E INK Carta panel produces crisp and clear text, and its 10.3-inch A5 screen size makes it perfect for documents and even manga.

Onyx ships this E INK tablet with a free Boox Pen 2 Pro stylus, which adds a whole new level of functionality to the device. In addition to annotating PDFs, this pen lets you jot down notes or even make some art. Of course, you won’t be able to see any colors, but they’re there and will be completely visible when you transfer the image or note to a computer or phone. Onyx also sells a keyboard cover accessory specifically designed to connect to the Boox Tab Ultra’s pogo pins. This means that the keyboard doesn’t require charging and has a more stable connection than, say, a Bluetooth keyboard. This cements the device’s nature as a tablet more than an e-reader because of its flexibility in typing documents and emails. Of course, you can also do that with Onyx’s more recent e-readers, but the Boox Tab Ultra makes it a lot easier with its large screen and keyboard accessory.

The tablet also has dual speakers, more for listening to audiobooks than music, as well as dual microphones that can help you record notes. There is no headphone jack, sadly, but you can connect wireless earbuds and speakers via Bluetooth. The Boox Tab Ultra surprisingly has a 16MP camera on its back which required putting a very noticeable but stylish bump there. You can use it to take photos, of course, but its main purpose is really to be a portable document scanner. The built-in camera app actually has an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) feature that lets you convert text in the image into text you can copy and edit, though your results will vary depending on the clarity of the photo and supported languages.

Orchestrating all of these features is Android 11 with a special “Boox OS” that gives the mobile platform a very unique user interface that’s more familiar to e-reader owners. Despite that, the Boox Tab Ultra actually comes with Google Play Store pre-installed, which is no trivial matter. This means that you can practically install any Android app or game, even ones that might not make sense on an E INK device. You have the entire library of Google Play content at your disposal, just like a regular Android tablet.

Sustainability

While the majority of e-readers today still bear their predecessors’ plastic DNA, a few have ventured outside the norm to use more premium materials. Fortunately, that means there is less use of plastic here, even if it isn’t completely free of them. The Boox Tab Ultra is no different and uses a moderate amount of aluminum for its case, which does contribute a bit to its heavier weight. Unfortunately, it is also no different when it comes to other materials, and Onyx as a company hasn’t made big announcements regarding sustainability, at least not yet.

It’s the same story for the tablet’s packaging, which is at least minimal and compact. Onyx doesn’t ship a charger with the device, but it does come with the appropriate USB-C charging cable. Instead, the Boox Tab Ultra comes with that free Boox Pen 2 Pro stylus and some extra nibs. The pen itself is made from aluminum, giving it both some necessary weight as well as a bit of longevity.

Value

For many people interested in one of Onyx’s newest devices, the price tag will be one of the most important deciding factors. At $599.99, the Boox Tab Ultra is definitely one of its most expensive products, and that doesn’t even come with accessories other than the stylus. Even among tablets with the same specs, that’s quite a steep price, especially if you consider that an E INK screen should be cheaper than an LCD panel, even if it includes touch support and a Wacom digitizer.

You can’t simply judge a product by its price, though, especially for a category-defining product such as this. Compared to other e-readers, the Boox Tab Ultra is definitely the cream of the crop, especially when it comes to performance and capabilities. It is admittedly heavier than some might be comfortable with, but that comes with the territory of having a large screen and a large battery. It is also quite the novel tablet, which is able to do anything a regular Android tablet can, with the exception of displaying any sort of color.

The problem, however, is whether the Boox Tab Ultra addresses a need that others in either category of devices can’t. It might not be the most comfortable e-reader, given its size and heft, and Onyx itself has plenty of competitive models to choose from. It might not even be the best Android tablet given its mid-range specs, and the fact that it can only display shades of gray make it impractical for enjoying videos and games. If, however, you have been dreaming of a battery-saving Android tablet that’s easy on the eyes, this device might be perfect for you.

Verdict

The Onyx Boox Tab Ultra is a wonderful device that pushes the boundaries of what an e-reader could potentially do. Its fast and responsive display, powerful and flexible software, and keyboard cover accessory add to the already convincing features of an E INK device that won’t strain your eyes while you enjoy that novel or pour over work documents for hours. It is a jack of all trades that has few flaws aside from its noticeably heavier body. Those who love reading but also need the apps only available on Android devices with Google Play will definitely feel at home with this spin on the typical tablet.

At the same time, however, it serves a very niche market with a price that might seem too high even for e-book lovers. It is an Android tablet, first and foremost, but the appeal of an E INK screen on such a type of device is still alien to all but seasoned e-reader users. At the same time, however, we are seeing a growing interest in standalone E INK monitors or even laptops with secondary E INK screens. It might only be a matter of time before something like the Boox Tab Ultra becomes a more common sight, but until then, it’s definitely in a league of its own, even if it’s the only one playing that game for now.

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Razer Edge is an Android tablet that is taking the Nintendo Switch head-on

Gaming accessory giant Razer has finally taken off the veils from its newest device, which borrows its name from an ill-fated gaming handheld launched almost a decade ago. The original Razer Edge might have sadly been too far ahead of its time but would probably have a better chance today in light of the Valve Steam Deck. Unfortunately, that’s not the direction that the company decided to take for this revival, and it has designed the new Razer Edge to be a proper mobile device. Rather than just adding to the slowly growing number of Android-powered gaming handhelds, however, the Razer Edge’s design does try to offer something a little bit more practical, which coincidentally puts it in direct competition with the Nintendo Switch.

Designer: Razer

While many in the new breed of handheld gaming devices are trying to recreate the magic and the success of the Nintendo Switch, almost all of them follow the design of the Switch Lite instead. That means that the controllers of these devices are fused to the main body and can’t be removed, unlike the Switch’s Joy-cons. That does simplify the design a bit, but Razer isn’t content to settle on that trend. Fortunately, it has the experience and expertise to change the game a bit.

The Razer Edge is, in reality, an Android tablet that comes with a new version of the company’s Kishi V2 controller, now with a “Pro” attached to it. It’s a rather chunky tablet by today’s standards, but that’s mostly because of things like built-in active cooling. Regardless of the form it has taken, it’s still an Android tablet at heart, which could actually be its biggest selling point compared to rivals like the Logitech G Cloud.

The Razer Edge has access to an expansive suite of games and apps coming from streaming services and Google Play Store. Xbox Game Pass, NVIDIA GeForce NOW, and Steam Link are all pre-installed, covering the majority of these services. The outgoing Google Stadia is, of course, tragically absent. More than just the games, though, you can also use the Edge as a normal tablet for both games and anything else, with or without the controllers attached. The latter opens the doors to more use cases beyond entertainment, including reading, browsing, checking emails, or social media.

Admittedly, the Razer Edge will still be a hard sell for people with gaming-worthy smartphones already, especially ones that are compatible with Razer’s own Kishi V2 controller (or the upcoming Kishi V2 Pro when it becomes widely available). For those with less powerful phones, however, it makes a better proposition than something like the Logitech G Cloud, precisely because it can be used as a normal but chunky Android tablet. The flexibility of its functions, on top of having access to games from almost all major platforms, gives it a very sharp edge (pun intended) against the Nintendo Switch. The Wi-Fi model of the Razer Edge is launching in January for $399, while a Verizon-exclusive Razer Edge 5G will also be arriving with still undisclosed availability details.

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Razer Edge 5G is another stab at an Android gaming handheld device

Although it has been a while since the last Nintendo DS and PS Vita sold on the market, handheld gaming devices haven’t really disappeared. One might say that the somewhat niche market has grown even bigger than before, thanks to the confluence of several factors. Mobile games on smartphones have formed a billion dollar industry, and the success of the Nintendo Switch has spurred many new devices, including Valve’s rare Steam Deck. While handheld PCs are now sprouting up left and right, there seems to be another current that’s building momentum. Handheld gaming devices powered by the mobile Android platform seem to be making a comeback, and the latest to show their vision include three of the tech industry’s biggest names.

Designer: Razer

Razer made a name for itself with its cool-looking, high-performance computer accessories designed for gamers. Over time, it has also produced gaming laptops so that everything will look coherent and function together properly. Razer has even dabbled in making its own gaming smartphone, using Android, of course, but that fell by the wayside quickly. It’s not throwing in the towel just yet, though, and its partners just teased a new mobile gaming device that will be fully unveiled next month.

The Razer Edge 5G is a collaboration with Verizon, which will be power the 5G experience, and Qualcomm, whose silicon will be powering the device. The name actually comes from a much older product from Razer and one if its first attempts at mobile gaming. That ill-fated Razer Edge, however, may have been far too ahead of its time, offering a PC tablet that could be equipped with a gaming controller and a keyboard.

In contrast, the Razer Edge 5G will be more familiar to mobile gamers in more ways than one. Late last year, Razer and Qualcomm already announced a partnership that created a development kit for Qualcomm’s new gaming-centric processor. This “dev kit” came in the form of a gaming handheld not unlike the Nintendo Switch Lite in appearance, though with a more interesting curvature on top that makes it look more like a gigantic “Game & Watch” of old. At this point in time, gaming handhelds with a large screen in the middle flanked by buttons, D-pads, and joysticks are no longer a novel appearance.

The teaser of the Razer Edge 5G that Verizon shared suggests something that looks less like that prototype and more like a Switch with flat top and bottom edges. The design of the buttons and shoulder triggers are also different, and the branding definitely leans more towards a Razer device. Nothing else has been mentioned, and we’ll be hearing all the details on October 15th at RazerCon.

Although such a design is familiar by now, it still raises the question if it will be a commercial success. This wouldn’t be the first time someone tried to sell an Android device dedicated to gaming, and previous attempts all died out in favor of plain smartphones with some accessories or gaming gimmicks. Perhaps the time is ripe, now that there is an abundance of handheld gaming devices, so we’ll have tow wait for the Logitech G Cloud and Razer Edge 5G to hit the market to see if that’s the case.

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Logitech G Cloud handheld device puts a different spin on mobile gaming

For gamers, being able to play anywhere at any time is a bit of a dream come true. Of course, that has always been possible with certain game systems, like the Nintendo Game Boy, the Sony PlayStation Portable, or even smartphones, but a single device that is able to do all of these is still an unreachable goal. Thanks to advancements in technology, particularly in cloud computing, that dream is slowly becoming a reality. And it’s that kind of reality that Logitech’s latest device is trying to achieve with a gaming handheld that lets you play almost any game available, at least any game that’s available on smartphones or through the cloud.

Designer: Logitech

Logitech is best known for its line of computer accessories ranging from keyboards and mice to webcams. It doesn’t make nor sell computers, and this Logitech G Cloud handheld would be one of, if not its first, computing device. It’s a device aimed at a rather niche market that straddles the line between smartphone and gaming console, and it’s a market that it might have difficulty winning unless it plays its cards right.

This isn’t the first handheld gaming device to come in this form, after all, with the Nintendo Switch and Valve’s Steam Deck leading the market in terms of popularity. It isn’t even the first dedicated Android-powered gaming handheld to make its way to the market. And as those other attempts might have proven, it’s not an easy market to conquer. Then again, they might have just been ahead of their time.

In terms of design, the Logitech G Cloud aims for comfort and convenience to set it apart from both smartphones as well as other gaming handhelds. It’s relatively light, thanks to having nearly the same specs as a 7-inch mid-range Android tablet. Compared to a smartphone or tablet, however, it has dedicated physical controls that make playing many games easier. Logitech has even set its sights beyond just technical performance, boasting of the device’s carbon neutrality and sustainable packaging.

In terms of user experience, the gaming handheld is pretty much an Android tablet with a few built-in features related to gaming. In addition to a game launcher that takes a page out of the Nintendo Switch, it also has built-in support for cloud gaming services like Xbox Cloud Game Pass and NVIDIA GeForce Now. Additionally, it can also stream games running on an Xbox console or Steam PC at home, thanks to remote play functionality available on these platforms. In other words, the device can practically run any game from any platform except the PlayStation, presuming those services and features are available in the owner’s region, of course.

While it sounds like heaven for gamers, it’s still uncertain whether it will be a commercial success for Logitech. Many of these features can also be enjoyed on a large smartphone these days, so the Logitech G Cloud doesn’t really sound too unique. It does have the convenience of having a single device for gaming with built-in controls, but almost everyone has that kind of device in their pockets these days; they just need a good controller to go along with it.

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This gaming handheld wants to be the Nintendo Switch of Android

Handheld gaming devices have exploded in popularity after the success of the Nintendo Switch. None of the other console makers, namely Microsoft and Sony, seem to be eager to jump on that train yet, but PC makers have started to show interest, particularly with the launch of Valve’s Steam Deck. Of course, when it comes to being a portable gaming device, nothing really beats a smartphone, especially when you’re talking about games that are designed from the start to be enjoyed in bite-sized parts while on the go. It is arguable, however, whether a smartphone is a proper gaming handheld, considering its multi-functional nature, so Logitech is attempting to solve that by creating an Android device designed and dedicated solely to gaming.

Designer: Logitech (via Evan Blass)

Mobile games have been around ever since Snake first appeared on Nokia handsets, but truly immersive and addictive ones didn’t appear until smartphones did. There are hundreds of games today that you can play on smartphones, plus a thousand more copycats and malware-bearing Trojan horses. What all these games have in common is that they were developed with a touch screen in mind as the primary input method. In fact, many titles don’t even work with a controller, even a Bluetooth gamepad connected to the phone.

That’s what makes the idea of a dedicated Android gaming handheld in the style of the Nintendo Switch a bit less exciting than it is for Steam Deck PC. What would be the point of having physical gaming controls flanking a big screen if the game being played only responds to touch input? That doesn’t seem to worry Logitech, who partnered with Chinese gaming giant Tencent to create a “cloud gaming handheld” device. A leak of the device shows a rather uninspiring design that houses a curious gaming experience.

The white Logitech G Gaming Handheld, as it is being called, easily resembles a Nintendo Switch Lite, which doesn’t have the removable Joy-Cons. While it looks more like a tablet than a phone, it’s what’s running on the screen that makes it really interesting. It shows not just Google Play, which would be a no-brainer for an Android device, but also Xbox, NVIDIA, and even Steam, suggesting it can handle those brand’s cloud streaming services. It seems that Logitech and Tencent are aiming for an all-around handheld gaming device, which would make those buttons and joysticks more useful indeed.

Designer: AYN Technologies

Of course, Logitech is hardly the first to try making an Android-based gaming handheld, and it definitely won’t be the last. The past two years alone have seen a sudden rise in gaming handhelds running Android inside. To some extent, that’s unsurprising because Android is the easiest and cheapest operating system to put on any device. It’s arguable, however, if it has the best selection of mobile games.

The bigger question, however, is whether it actually makes sense for an Android device to have permanent controllers flanking the screen, even if one of them can be removed. Android can be used for more than just gaming, of course, but the fixed controller almost limits how the device can be used for a single purpose only. That’s why Bluetooth controllers that can be attached to smartphones and then removed as needed have somewhat become more popular, offering that same gaming experience without imposing arbitrary limitations.

Designer: GPD

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OPPO ColorOS 13 brings a touch of nature to its smartphones

The design field covers a wide range of industries, from physical artifacts of product design to the virtual elements of user interface design. It’s sometimes too easy to take for granted the importance of a well-designed user experience, but even the most beautiful computer or smartphone becomes just an expensive paperweight if the software running on it is unusable. Smartphone user experiences or UX have come a long way ever since the first iPhone and Android phones launched, embracing different aesthetics and design languages over the years. From skeuomorphism to minimalism, UX has taken inspiration from many beautiful things in our world, and OPPO’s latest iteration of ColorOS tries to take a page from the greatest artist and designer in the world, Mother Nature.

Designer: OPPO

Smartphone UI designs have gone from trying to recreate physical objects in the digital realm to designing completely new metaphors that would be impossible to produce in the real world. The trend these days has swung towards minimalism, though the pendulum has started to move to a middle ground that adds a few embellishments to give a bit of life to what would normally be a literally flat design. This, in turn, has opened the doors to design languages that build on top of conventional minimalism, adding some character to a user interface.

ColorOS 13, for example, introduces what OPPO calls its “Aquamorphic Design” language, taking inspiration from how water flows in nature. In its calmer state, water is naturally fluid, smooth, and compliant, preferring the path of least resistance and flowing around obstacles rather, slowly eroding rocks rather than trying to smash them. Whether intentional or not, it’s a fitting metaphor for the serene design language that OPPO adopted for its award-winning Find X5 Pro flagship earlier this year.

In practice, this Aquamorphic Design manifests itself in colors, shapes, and animations that feel smoother and more natural. The default color scheme, for example, tries to take hues from dusk at sea level. Icons are larger but also have smooth rounded corners as if they were pebbles picked up from the banks of a gently flowing river. Transition animations between various parts of the phone are also smoother and more fluid, trying to imitate the natural cadence of water rather than something as simple as a timer. Many people take animations for granted, and some even despise them as a waste of CPU time or battery, but properly designed animations actually help our brains form associations when parts of the screen move around. After all, nothing in real life just pops up out of thin air, something that would be jarring to our minds, whether physical or digital.

OPPO ColorOS 13’s nod to nature doesn’t stop with its appearance. A new Always-on-Display feature called Homeland, for example, tries to raise awareness of how even a minute change in temperature caused by global warming could affect wildlife. The Blossom live wallpaper, on the other hand, ties the idea of growing a plant with your screen time. If you go over your set screen time, the plant stops growing and starts to wither.

On the technology side, ColorOS 13 promises not just smoother animations but also more efficient battery usage. In addition to a 30% reduction in power consumption with Always-on-Display mode, this version of OPPO’s Android user experience tries to save as much battery as it can, which means fewer charging times and longer battery life. These may sound like minor improvements, but they are still small steps forward that increase a phone’s longevity and sustainability in the long run.

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Huawei P50 Pocket Foldable Phone Review: Beautiful Symmetry of Tech and Art

PROS:


  • Stylish and elegant design

  • Crease-free hinge folds the phone flat

  • Impressive performance and camera output

CONS:


  • No formal IP dust and resistance rating

RATINGS:

AESTHETICS
ERGONOMICS
PERFORMANCE
VALUE FOR MONEY

EDITOR'S QUOTE:

The Huawei P50 Pocket masterfully embodies the symphony of art and technology in a design that perfectly marries form and function.

Beauty and power that fits in the palm of your hand, literally.

Smartphones are, at their heart, computing devices, but thanks to advancements in technology, manufacturing, and design, manufacturers are free to go beyond utilitarian purposes. These gadgets have, in fact, become so ingrained in our lives that they are now almost an extension of ourselves. They have become expressions of our personalities and uniqueness, reflecting tastes, passions, aspirations, and perception. We are now in an age where the design of a smartphone is becoming more than just a marketing point but a critical part of a buyer’s decision-making process. Sometimes, the things that people want are on opposing sides: large screen but pocket-friendly, luxurious but affordable, powerful but uncomplicated. It’s a delicate balancing act that very few smartphone makers have managed to achieve but which the Huawei P50 Pocket manages with the grace of royalty.

Designer: Huawei and Iris van Herpen

Aesthetics

We’ve seen our fair share of luxury phones, particularly from companies whose business revolves around coating regular smartphones with extravagant pieces and designs. To say that those often look gaudy and almost garish wouldn’t be an understatement. The Huawei P50 Pocket, the brand’s first foldable phone in clamshell form, is thankfully none of those, exuding a aura that is almost ethereal yet also sublime in its beauty.

The secret to the Huawei P50 Pocket is the symmetry that permeates its design, both in concept and in execution. As a phone, it folds horizontally exactly in half, resulting in a nearly perfect square device you can easily slip in and out of your pocket or bag. Each half of the phone is also symmetrical, aside from the presence of buttons, and the two circles on its cover form a perfectly balanced square.

You can both feel and see the balance all throughout the phone’s design and form, particularly with the Premium Gold edition. Gold is not something you would easily come by in nature, often used as a product of mechanical and artificial processes. It is often a symbol of affluence and the power of technology, like the technology that is used to engrave 3D micro patterns on glass. Yet at the same time, the delicate and flowing patterns on the back of the phone resemble leaves and the irregularity of life. Designed in collaboration with famed haute couture designer Iris van Herpen, this motif represents a symbiosis, a balance and symmetry, between two seemingly opposing ideas, the power of cutting-edge technology and the artistic beauty of nature.

Even when the surface of the P50 Pocket’s surface is broken by two circles, there is still an unmistakable element of harmony and symphony. These two circles is a nod to the groundbreaking Huawei P9 that raised the company’s profile in the field of mobile photography. The two circles are perfectly identical in size yet also distinctly contrasting. One lies flush against the phone’s back, displaying vibrant colors and dynamic images. The other is mostly black and unchanging yet rises from the surface to put itself in focus, literally and figuratively as it houses the phone’s powerful cameras.

The Huawei P50 Pocket is truly a work of art but its elegance isn’t loud or overbearing. It conveys its presence in harmony and symmetry, both in shapes and in themes, pulling in opposites to dance on its surface in a delightful play for form and light, the latter thanks to Huawei’s innovative 3D micro-sculpture design that creates a unique double-sided 3D design. And just as important, it also brings that balance that smartphone users need, delivering a powerful piece of technology that looks stylish, especially when they fold it close and slip it into their pocket in style.

Ergonomics

A well-designed smartphone shouldn’t just be a beauty to behold but also to hold. As a tool that you will use day in and day out, fold and unfold multiple times a day, a foldable phone such as this needs to be comfortable to use and inspire confidence in its longevity. In other words, ergonomics also plays a critical role, and, fortunately, the Huawei P50 Pocket doesn’t disappoint here either.

The point of a foldable phone, particularly a clamshell phone, is to enhance the device’s portability without sacrificing its usefulness. Thanks to the P50 Pocket’s slim profile and foldable design, it does exactly that, whether it’s opened or closed. When unfolded, its lightweight and slender body won’t weigh your hand down, though some might prefer holding it with two hands, just like any phablet these days. When folded shut, the P50 Pocket is a glamorous pocket device that you can still be able to use, thanks to that Cover Screen beneath the camera island.

Opening and closing the phone is something you will naturally do multiple times a day, and there’s no reason to be worried about the hinge giving out, which we will get to in a bit. Suffice it to say, the hinge is strong and gives a satisfying feeling whenever you fold and unfold the phone. While it is certainly possible to do those actions using only one hand, some people might find it difficult or a bit worrying. To open the phone with one hand, you’ll have to wedge your finger into that tight space in between the two halves, and some might be concerned that they will accidentally damage the foldable screen. To fold the phone closed, you might have to adjust your hand a bit to push down the top half, which could lead to some unfortunate accidents.

Fortunately, the phone isn’t as fragile as its luxurious appearance might suggest, and is made from durable materials all around. It doesn’t have a formal IP rating for dust and water resistance, but that doesn’t mean it will die at its first encounter with water. Huawei has taken measures to protect the phone from ingress, and might have decided that the expensive certification wasn’t worth the cost. Its glass back might make it feel slippery for some people, but its narrow frame also makes it easier to grip with your hand. Huawei also provides a clear case to offer added protection without hiding the P50 Pocket’s eye-catching visage.

Performance

Of course, the Huawei P50 Pocket isn’t just a fashion accessory. It is a smartphone that has to meet people’s needs when it comes to Web browsing, communication, social media, and even gaming. Huawei provides this foldable beauty with all the power to deliver that and then some. Given how lightweight and slim it is, it’s almost unbelievable that it manages to cram a 4,000 mAh battery inside. Don’t let the numbers fool you, it’s enough to get you through a day’s worth of use. And when you do need to reach for that charger, the fast 40W charging tech will minimize the downtime so you can be up and about your day as soon as possible.

While the phone’s intricate patterns and luxurious finish gives it its personality from the back, it’s the foldable screen that gives it its defining feature from the front. After all, what would a foldable phone be without a foldable screen. As one of the pioneers in this field, Huawei has been able to advance the technology and the design of flexible panels ahead of the competition. The result is a large and equally beautiful screen that brings delight and comfort to the eyes, whether you’re flicking through social media, watching your favorite shows, or simply reminiscing your last “revenge travel” experience. Best of all, that flexible screen barely shows any crease that tends to plague others of its kind.

That feat was made possible by Huawei’s newest Multi-Dimensional Hinge that creates that famed waterdrop-shaped cavity when the screen is folded. This is also the reason why, unlike other foldable clamshells, the P50 Pocket is able to fold completely flat without any gap. At the same time, a new Multi-Dimesnional Linkage Lifting design is responsible for elevating that part of the screen and remain flat without increasing the weight of the phone with unnecessary components. Watching the screen rise and fall is almost mesmerizing, and you don’t have to worry about doing it over and over again thanks to the use of Zirconium-based liquid metal and 2,100MPa Ultra-High Strength Steel to build the hinge, bringing both durability and reliability to the mechanism.

The hinge offers just enough resistance to avoid making it feel flimsy, but it won’t get in your way when using the phone. It doesn’t, however, support variable angles and will either fold shut or lie completely flat unless you leave it open at a right angle. This position is best for taking selfies or multi-tasking with a video, and it’s unlikely that there will be an important use for leaving the phone open at odd angles anyway.

Value

It’s hard to fully compare the Huawei P50 Pocket with other foldable phones, because while they share the same basic form and function, Huawei’s piece goes above and beyond being just a gadget that fits your pocket. At a time when smartphones have started looking alike and are becoming extensions of our own personalities, the P50 Pocket is both a statement and a testament to what these devices can and should be. It is, just like its overall design, a symphony of art and technology, one that you can proudly put on display and then fold and hide in your pocket.

It’s not inexpensive, mind, and there are other considerations beyond the scope of this review that may make or break people’s decisions. It is a rather weighty investment, one that is fortunately made to last a very long while. As far as design is concerned, with its definitely worth its weight in gold, even if you grab the equally elegant White edition with its shimmering diamond-inspired design.

Verdict

It’s hard to fully compare the Huawei P50 Pocket with other foldable phones, because while they share the same basic form and function, Huawei’s piece goes above and beyond being just a gadget that fits your pocket. At a time when smartphones have started looking alike and are becoming extensions of our own personalities, the P50 Pocket is both a statement and a testament to what these devices can and should be. It is, just like its overall design, a symphony of art and technology, one that you can proudly put on display and then fold and hide in your pocket.

It’s not inexpensive, mind, and there are other considerations beyond the scope of this review that may make or break people’s decisions. It is a rather weighty investment, one that is fortunately made to last a very long while. As far as design is concerned, with its definitely worth its weight in gold, even if you grab the equally elegant White edition with its shimmering diamond-inspired design.

The post Huawei P50 Pocket Foldable Phone Review: Beautiful Symmetry of Tech and Art first appeared on Yanko Design.

Nothing Phone(1) looks a little busier in black

There is probably nothing more frustrating than being emotionally invested in an upcoming product, only for its very creators to take the wind out of its sails. That is undoubtedly what some of the believers of Nothing’s inaugural smartphone felt when the company officially revealed what the phone would actually look like. On the one hand, the startup tried to beat leaks to the punch so that no one could claim they didn’t protect their secrets well enough. On the other hand, they are tempting fate by either confirming fears or calming them, and, as expected, camps are split on whether the white Phone(1) does live up to the hype that Nothing itself built. Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there completely, and the black finish of the same phone could still win some people over. Or it could cement their decision to stay away completely.

Designer: Nothing (via Roland Quandt)

It almost seems like Nothing’s early years will be marked by a lot of controversies, partly thanks to how it has been building up expectations about the company’s mission. Just like OnePlus, which Carl Pei also helped found, Nothing presents itself as a revolutionary that is trying to go against the excesses of the smartphone industry. Well aware of the current trends in the design industry, Nothing espoused values like transparency and minimalism, which would translate to both product design and company management.

Its first product, the Nothing Ear(1) TWS buds, already divided people between those who lauded its unique, partly transparent design and those that felt short-changed from the brief hype that preceded it. History is repeating itself with the Phone(1), which Nothing has been teasing as nothing short of revolutionary, pardon the pun. That, however, might only be in relation to what is available in the market, so it’s not exactly lying in that regard.

After official revealing the transparent yet occluded back of a white Nothing Phone(1), unofficial images of a black variant have now become available for everyone to see. Compared to the white phone, the black plate underneath makes the “glyph” lights even more visible. In a way, this makes the back look even busier compared to the white model, which sort of takes away from the minimalism appeal of the phone. Then again, if the Nothing Phone(1)’s back were completely transparent, it would definitely be a lot more chaotic inside.

There is also some disappointment or at least growing concern about the choice of hardware that will go inside the Phone(1). Nothing has already confirmed that it will use a custom Snapdragon 778G+ processor, which was made specifically for it, adding wireless charging and reverse wireless charging capabilities that are absent in the plain version of the silicon. It is, however, what would be considered a mid-range chip, which sounds a little disheartening for a new flagship phone. Pei explains to Input magazine, however, that the choice goes in line with the company’s message that tech specs aren’t always relevant. In terms of balancing performance, thermal management, efficiency, and overall sustainability, the Phone(1) will do just fine.

Whether that will be enough to translate interest into sales, we’ll see in two weeks when the Nothing Phone(1) is officially launched. The company is taking a more cautious approach, however, mimicking the chaotic invite-only system from the early years of OnePlus. Of course, that also creates an artificial scarcity that makes the product look like a very limited edition, pumping up the hype even more.

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Onyx Boox Note Air 2 Plus Review: e-Readers have grown up

PROS:


  • Stylish, business-minded design

  • Runs Android 11 with Google Play Store

  • Responsive and accurate stylus with paper-like screen

  • Crisp and clear display for text and images

CONS:


  • A bit heavy to hold for long periods of time

  • No buttons for page-turning

  • Localization in some languages is incomplete

RATINGS:

AESTHETICS
ERGONOMICS
PERFORMANCE
SUSTAINABILITY / REPAIRABILITY
VALUE FOR MONEY

EDITOR'S QUOTE:

The handsome Onyx Boox Note Air 2 Plus takes e-Readers from consumption to creation, giving book lovers the power to take what they read and put them into action.

E-Book readers, or e-Readers for short, have endeared themselves to book lovers for their simplicity and, to be honest, their dirt-cheap prices. Devices like the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble NOOK allowed them to take hundreds if not thousands of books, magazines, and work documents in a device that might even be lighter than some smartphones. But just as the audience that flocked to these pocket libraries has grown up, so have the devices themselves evolved through the years. Sure, Kindles have mostly remained unchanged through the years, and some might even see them as being stuck in the past. Other e-Readers, however, have changed drastically, for better or for worse, and have become something almost unrecognizable to long-time users of e-Book readers. The new Onyx Boox Note Air 2 Plus is one such creature, and we give it a closer look to see how much e-Readers have grown by now.

Designer: Onyx Boox

Aesthetics

Traditional e-Readers were designed to put the focus on text and get out of the way, pretty much like a normal paper book. Given the cost of E Ink displays back then and the product’s target price, a lot of compromises were made on the device’s design, both in terms of appearance and material. To put it bluntly, the earliest versions of e-Book readers were unappealing slabs of plastic meant to be cheap and functional but nothing more. While some might scoff at any attempt to make e-Readers pretty and premium, the mediocre form of the device only reinforces the perception that it is so far removed from an actual book. It doesn’t capture the joy of holding and seeing a well-made book, especially those with some gimmicks on materials and textures.

Fortunately, the new breed of e-Readers has started paying attention to good product design lessons, and the Onyx Boox Note Air 2 Plus is one of the shining examples of this new trend. For one, its body is made of an aluminum-magnesium alloy that gives it both durability as well as a degree of class. It also has an asymmetrical design with an extended band of metal to the left, looking like the margin of a notebook. The device’s straight edges and sharp corners give it an air of professionalism in contrast to the sometimes toy-like appearance of run-of-the-mill e-Readers.

There are a few other details that strengthen the visual and tactile association with books and notebooks. While the edges are all black, thin strips of color make it resemble the spine of a book. The official case that ships with the device has a felt surface almost similar in texture to some hardbound books or notebook covers. All in all, the Onyx Boox Note Air 2 Plus tries its best to actually look and feel like the next evolution of books rather than just a device for displaying text and whatnot.

Ergonomics

The Boox Note Air 2 Plus is admittedly larger than your typical Kindle or NOOK, with a 10.3-inch e-paper display and a 229.4×195.4×5.8 mm (9.03×7.69×0.23 in) frame. It also has a metal body that is naturally heavier than those traditional e-Readers at around 445g (0.98lbs). The design does distribute the weight evenly across the device, but there’s no going around the fact that it is going to tire your arm if you hold it up long enough. That might not make it a suitable bedtime companion, though its size would also let you stand it on your chest for support.

Given the wider left edge, the Boox Note Air 2 Plus is biased towards being held with the left hand and using the right hand to swipe on the screen to turn pages. That might be uncomfortable for those used to holding devices with their right hand instead. Additionally, there are no hardware buttons to help with page-turning, so faster readers might find their arms or wrists getting tired easily.

The device ships with a stylus that magnetically latches onto its side to make sure it doesn’t get lost easily. The pen’s barrel has flat edges that not only prevent it from rolling off tables but also provide a more ergonomic grip. Given the size of that barrel and the length of the pen, the Onyx Pen Plus is very comfortable to hold and use, even for long stretches of time. The e-Reader’s paper-like screen texture makes it feel like you’re writing with a real pen on paper or at least a close approximation of the experience. It might surprise some to hear that the authenticity of that experience can be a major deciding factor for many people trying to cross the bridge from analog notebooks to digital ones.

Performance

The Onyx Boox Note Air 2 Plus’ specs, which include an octa-core processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage, might sound overkill for an e-Book reader, but that’s also where this new generation of devices break away from the fold. Rather than being simple e-Readers, they are pretty much full-blown tablets with E Ink displays and custom user experiences. This one, in fact, runs Android 11 and even comes with Google Play Store right out of the box. That means that the device has plenty of power to run many of the familiar apps you’d have on your phone or tablet if you’re fine with using them on a black and white screen.

That screen is, of course, a 10.3-inch 1872×1404 E Ink Carta that has a rather high 227 dpi, at least for an e-paper display. Text comes out clean and crisp, and images from magazines and comics or manga are also clear. Page-turning is fast under default settings, about half a second to redraw a manga page, but you can kick the refresh rate up a few notches by sacrificing image quality. You can even watch videos in a pinch, but don’t expect an enjoyable experience, of course. The device has speakers on its bottom edge to enable listening to audiobooks, but you might want to use your favorite Bluetooth speakers or headphones for better-quality audio.

The Boox Note Air 2 Plus goes beyond just reading books or even typing out notes on books. Where it really shines is in how it is pretty much an all-in-one learning and productivity device that barely crosses the line over into tablet territory. You can open almost any digital book format and install almost any Android app you want, but the display and hardware limitations will pretty much make sure you won’t go overboard and install distracting social media or games. You might, instead, focus on apps you can use to boost your productivity, both at home and at work.

Onyx’s Pen really shines in this regard, especially when used with the built-in app. Designers might miss the colors, but those who often scribble notes or rough sketches with pencils and paper will feel at home. The note app supports multiple layers and a variety of brushes that goes perfectly with the pen’s 4096 degrees of pressure sensitivity, so all that you’re really missing is the color palette. And if Onyx’s note app isn’t to your taste, you can also install your favorite Android note-taking app. And since it’s running Android 11, you can also turn the device on its side and split the screen between two apps to maximize your productivity.

Sustainability

The one area where all generations of e-Book readers haven’t yet grown out of is their impact on the environment. Most e-Readers still use environment-unfriendly materials like plastic, but some, like the Boox Note Air 2 Plus, have fortunately started incorporating more metal into their products. That said, these devices are all built to be as tightly closed as possible, making repairs and replacements difficult and costly, especially since service centers for these devices are far and few in between.

Very few e-Reader manufacturers have made any strong statement or commitment towards sustainability, such as in the materials they use, how they source those materials, and how they plan on making sure their devices are disposed of responsibly. Given how affordable many of these devices are, they almost seem like disposable electronics. The one thing going in favor of e-Readers, in general, is that they are more resilient and more long-lasting than more expensive tablets, so they are thrown away less often. They also consume significantly less power, decreasing their overall carbon footprint.

Value

Why would you spend $500 for an e-Book reader when you can get a Kindle for a fifth of that price? If reading plain text from Amazon’s library is all you ever want to do, then there is really no reason for you to break the bank. What the Onyx Boox Note Air 2 Plus offers, however, is the capability to do more, a lot more, without drowning you in the complexities and distractions that come with a smartphone or tablet. It is still an e-Reader at heart, but it also supports the activities and tasks related to reading, such as learning and taking action.

The Boox Note Air 2 Plus is technically an Android tablet, but one whose design and user experience have been distilled for a very specific purpose. It is a digital library and notebook in one, and it excels in both areas with very few problems. It might not be the most affordable e-Reader, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an e-Reader and digital notebook in a single device that performs as well as this. Especially one that can actually play games and videos in black and white if you ever want to go down that rabbit hole.

Verdict

Considering the very first commercial e-Reader, E Ink’s own Rocket Book, launched more than two decades ago, it is almost surprising how the device has practically remained unchanged to this day. It may be in Amazon’s and B&N’s best interests to keep devices cheap and basic in order to sell more e-Books, but the stagnation of the market and the device category doesn’t benefit anyone in the long run. Fortunately, companies like Onyx Boox are pushing the boundaries of e-Readers with much success, and the Boox Note Air 2 Plus is one shining example of that thrust.

Going beyond just consuming content, the Onyx Boox Note Air 2 Plus opens the doors to taking action on what you read, whether it involves annotating a work document, sketching a design for a new product, or scribbling ideas for your next novel. Using the Pen for that purpose is enjoyable thanks to the responsive stylus and the textured screen that feels almost like the real deal. The Note Air 2 Plus supports these use cases and then some, thanks to its decent hardware and support for Android and Google Play. And it looks good while doing it, too, throwing e-Reader design conventions outside the window. It does require you to make a bit of an investment, but it’s one that will last you quite a long, long time.

Hiromu Nakamura contributed to this review.

The post Onyx Boox Note Air 2 Plus Review: e-Readers have grown up first appeared on Yanko Design.

Realme GT Neo 3 Naruto Edition Hands-on: Design Ninja Moves

You might not be a Naruto or anime fan, but you still have to give Realme mad props for its manufacturing trick.

Smartphones have become so important to our daily lives that they are pretty much extensions and expressions of ourselves. Sometimes, you can tell a lot about a person based on the phone they’re using, especially if the devices are adorned with accessories or decals showing off their preferences. There are plenty of ways to customize a smartphone, and there’s an almost endless supply of cases and themes catering to different fandoms, but there’s still something to be said when a phone maker officially creates a special edition for a specific franchise, especially when that manufacturer bends over backward to create that special design, just like what Realme did for the Limited Naruto Edition of the GT Neo 3.

Designer: Realme

Realme is a brand that was born out of the desire to tap a younger market than most smartphone companies do. That focus is reflected in Realme’s business model and, of course, its designs. Realme phones often get editions themed around activities and brands that a more youthful audience gravitates towards. And there is perhaps nothing more “youthful” (despite embracing fans of all ages) than one of the most popular anime characters in recent memory, the ironically boisterous ninja Naruto.

It would have probably been easier, simpler, and cheaper for Realme to just throw in a custom case specially themed around Naruto, alongside themes and accessories designed the same way. In fact, Realme does have that, though some, like the customized GT Neo 3 case and a Power Bank 3 Pro Naruto Edition, are sold separately. The large and rather hefty 160W SuperDART charger that ships with this Naruto Edition phone do have the character’s iconic flaming orange color as its main hue. The USB-C cable, on the other hand, is predominantly black but does have orange bands on each end. Even the SIM tray ejector pin is designed to match the theme.

Realme, however, went the extra mile and gave the GT Neo 3 phone itself a Naruto makeover, inside and, most especially, outside. You might immediately be taken by the phone’s rear design, sporting that same fiery orange and black motif that the shinobi (Japanese for “ninja”) wore during his Shippuden era. The camera area even looks like the standard headband for ninjas hailing from Naruto’s hometown of Konohagakure, completing the semblance of a “Naruto Phone.”

What makes this Naruto Edition particularly intriguing is the design and manufacturing process that went into producing that design. Rather than simply painting over or under the matte glass back, Realme employed a painstaking and costly process that allowed them to have different textures and colors on the same single piece of glass. The orange and black areas of the case are easy enough to tell apart, but the Uzumaki clan’s crest in the middle is also part of that same whole piece. More impressive, perhaps, is that metallic section that does feel almost like metal and is even a fingerprint magnet like the real thing. They even used micro 3D patterns to create the illusion of rivets on the metal plate.

This is definitely more than what you might expect, even from a company like Realme that has been putting unique and unorthodox designs on the back of its phones. It also shows its attention even to the minutest details that may escape most people’s notice. The matte black area, for example, features three glossy stripes on each side, symbolizing Naruto’s distinctive facial feature.” You can even feel the difference between the two areas as if those stripes were engraved into the phone’s back and coated with a different material. Fortunately, most of the phone’s back has a matte texture for better grip, but those who still find it slippery can use the clear gel case included in the box.

As for the hardware, the Realme GT Neo 3 is quite on par with many flagships launched early this year. The 6.7-inch Full HD+ display is bright and colorful, making it the perfect canvas to show off Naruto-themed wallpapers and icons. The MediaTek Dimensity 8100 5G processor and 12GB of RAM (expandable up to 7GB) handle mobile games without breaking a sweat. The phone’s superpower, much like Naruto’s Rasengan, is its super-fast 150W charging capability. And in line with that theme, the phone plays a custom lock screen animation when it’s being charged (using that UltraDart brick), which also happens to be a five-element Rasengan.

Sadly, the special manufacturing process used to create that striking design is also part of the reason why this has to be a limited edition phone. Realme says that only 5,000 units (shadow clones) of the GT Neo 3 Naruto Edition are being sold, and all of them are in China only. It is definitely worthy of a Naruto fan’s attention, especially when they learn how much work Realme put into delivering something that isn’t just a faithful tribute to the character but also one that pushes the limits of phone designs.

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