When I think back on all the years I used a Kindle, I’m amazed it took so long for a thriving alternative to pop up. Kindles are great, don’t get me wrong, but they’re very much entrenched in Amazon’s walled garden, and it takes a lot of work to get out of that.
Enter Onyx, a company that makes the best e-ink tablets that are all powered by Android. The Boox Palma is one of the newest “tablets” by the company, but it doesn’t fit that description particularly well because it’s the size of a phone, not a tablet. And this size is just one of the many things that makes the Palma the perfect e-reader.
Unlike a Kindle, you can get your books, apps, or whatever you want from anywhere you want. It’s got the Google Play Store preinstalled, but any Android app can be installed here, opening up the number of reading resources by several magnitudes. The display is even good enough to watch videos or play games on, and the processor delivers not only impressive power but also better battery life.
In a nutshell, you won’t find a better e-reader anywhere unless you want something larger, of course.
Where can you buy the Onyx Boox Palma?
The Onyx Boox Palma released in mid-September at a price of $279.99. The Palma comes in white and black colorways and is sold at retailers like B&H Photo as well as the official Boox website.
In the box, you’ll the the Palma unit, a USB-A to USB-C cable, a tool to eject the MicroSD card tray, and a small manual. At the time of this writing, Onyx ships each Palma with a free TPU case, although that could change in the future.
|6.13-inch, E Ink Carta 1200, 824 x 1648 resolution (300 ppi), variable refresh rate
|Qualcomm Octacore processor (4 cores @ 1.8GHz, 4 cores @ 2.02GHz)
|128GB UFS 2.1
|Wi-Fi 5 (2.4/5GHz), Bluetooth 5.0
|Front light with color temperature adjustment
|16MP rear camera, LED flash
|3,950mAh, USB-C charging
|MicroSD card support
|6.3 x 3.1 x 0.31 inches / 159 x 80 x 8mm
Comfort at the forefront
The Onyx Boox Palma feels incredibly good to hold in hand for a long time. It’s far more comfortable than any book I’ve ever held, and it’s 20-30% lighter than popular e-readers like the Kindle Paperwhite.
Onyx even decked out the back with a rough paper-like texture, which can add some minor additional grip. I still prefer a soft-touch or leather-like material, but there’s no case that offers this just yet.
Onyx has its own TPU case that ships for free with any Palma, but I’m not a huge fan of these kinds of rubbery, flimsy cases. Hopefully, someone will have a decent case for the thing on Amazon soon.
Since it’s the size of a phone, it’s easy to bring with you anywhere you want to go, and the all-plastic build — yes, even over the display — means it’s not likely you’ll break it even if you drop it.
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It’s got a USB-C port on the bottom, a single bottom-firing speaker, a power button and volume rocker on the right side, and a microSD tray next to a customizable side key on the left side. There’s even a camera around the back with an LED flash that can be used for anything, although Onyx intends it mainly for document scanning.
The sides are nicely contoured and built with a plastic that’s grippier than the hard, slippery plastic that some cheaper phones are built with. That’s great for holding in the hand for long periods of time.
The only thing really missing from the hardware is a haptic feedback engine, which means you won’t feel rumble feedback when typing on the virtual keyboard or playing games.
The real star of the show is Onyx’s E Ink Carta 1200 display which shines below the matte covering on top. This display isn’t just beautifully pixel-dense and crisp, its ultrafast refresh rate means you can even watch videos or play games on this e-ink device.
Not all games and videos will work as well, though, as E Ink still struggles with high-contrast or dark imagery, so your mileage may vary here. Still, I was impressed with the breadth of possibilities on what I initially only thought of as a fancy e-reader.
You’ll be able to choose from five different refresh rate types by swiping up on the bottom-right corner of the display, each of which is built for different types of apps. Each selection sports an easy-to-understand description below, helping make your decision clearer. When in doubt, the Balanced mode is usually best.
Better yet, the backlight behind the display is completely PWM-free, making it the perfect choice for folks who are PWM-sensitive. It even has a color temperature adjustment option right in the notification shade, letting you effortlessly adjust the brightness and color temperature with a flick, no matter what app you’re using.
Android does it all
Because this is powered by Android 11 and comes with the Google Play Store preinstalled, you can do quite literally anything you want on this pocket-sized e-reader. I promptly installed the library app Libby, as well as Google Play Books, the Kindle app, and the Bible, and I have regularly used all of these apps for the past few months since I started the review process.
Sure, you can link your Kindle or Kobo to the Libby app and have it sync with what you choose on your phone, but isn’t it just nicer to do it all from one app on one device? Not to mention all the books I regularly buy on Google Play Books because of the regular sales Google holds.
I can even read my legacy Kindle library on it, although Amazon makes it notoriously difficult to buy books from the Kindle app these days. Still, if you’re already well-entrenched in Amazon’s Kindle store and don’t want to give up the library, this device is the perfect choice since you won’t have to.
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When using the Palma mainly for reading books or light web browsing, you’ll find the battery lasts for months at a time. After the first 64 days of use, the Palma still had 24% battery left.
On my second charge, I installed a bunch of additional apps, watched a few videos for testing, and played a few games. After nine days of use, it’s still at 67%, with the device estimating I’ll get another 21 days of use before needing to charge it again. I mostly used it with the backlight off, but the Palma will still last you several days on a single charge if you choose to use the backlight all the time.
In other words, you’ll never worry about battery life. And since it’s USB-C, finding a charger won’t be a problem, either.
Despite this epic battery life, the octa-core processor inside was powerful enough to run games like Warcraft Rumble and Vampire Survivors, although I probably wouldn’t recommend the latter very much since the lack of color makes it difficult to identify things in the game when it gets hectic.
And don’t get me wrong, this thing isn’t blazing fast. It’s not going to replace your phone unless you’re very patient, and although you can play something like Minecraft on it, you probably won’t want to. Still, it’s impressive that both the processor and display are capable enough to run things like this, even if they’re only mainly good for demonstration purposes.
A note on security
Videos as recent as last year show the Ksync process “phones home” at regular intervals but doesn’t transmit any data beyond a ping. Using the same NetGuard tool, I was able to verify that Ksync does not ping QQ servers or Ali Express on the Palma.
From what I can tell, this is a far more secure and private device than Onyx Boox devices of old.
The best small e-reader today
If you’re buying the Palma as an e-reader to replace an old Kindle or are just looking into getting something a little more eye-friendly than your phone for reading or browsing, the Onyx Boox Palma will blow you away.
When I started looking for e-readers with more functionality earlier this year, I didn’t imagine something like the Boox Palma would show up so soon. If nothing, the worst part of the Palma is finding where to buy one. The product has been notoriously out of stock since its launch.
But if you can find one, I guarantee you’ll be impressed. This is the best e-reader I’ve ever used.
The Onyx Boox Palma may look like a smartphone, but it’s here to put the power of an e-ink e-reader in the palm of your hand. However, with Android and the Play Store, you can still do things like play games, watch videos, browse the web, and more!