Big-screen E Ink tablets are not like traditional tablets. Unlike offerings from, , Google and , E Ink tablets aren’t made for video games, movies or the web. Instead, they offer a completely different experience by combining the distraction-free and easy-reading environment of a Kindle-style. with the writing and note-taking ability of a traditional tablet.
These devices eschew bright LCD displays and super-fast processors in favor of the sharp and energy-efficient gray scale of E Ink technology. While most E Ink tablets have some kind of rudimentary web browser, these devices are not intended to surf the web or provide the latest updates from social media. They’re meant for reading and writing, with the most paper-like experience possible.
This was exactly what I was looking for when I started rehearsal for my latest play. As a professional actor, I spend a lot of time carrying around printed scripts in a three-ring binder. A large part of any rehearsal process involves reading your lines from the page, while also walking around the stage and interacting with fellow actors.
Actors also tend to take copious notes in the margin of the script. The entire process takes a lot of concentration, and it’s important to have as few distractions as possible in the rehearsal room. This felt like an ideal environment to test some of the latest in distraction-free E Ink tablets.
For this roundup, I included devices with a minimum screen size of 10 inches and stylus support.
Sarah Lord / CNET
The ReMarkable 2 is the best E Ink tablet to take lots of handwritten notes. It is only 0.19 inches thick and 0.88 pounds, which makes it light and easy to carry. This 10.3-inch tablet uses a monochrome digital display with a resolution of 226 DPI. The writing and text looks clear and sharp, and you can choose from over 40 different page templates for notes, including seven options just for musical notation. The software is easy to use, with clear buttons at the top for you to add notebooks and folders. It has 8GB of internal storage and an optional cloud storage service for $ 8 per month (after a 100-day free trial). That Connect service also does handwriting conversion and has Google Drive, Dropbox and OneDrive integration.
The included stylus does not require pairing or charging but supports tilt detection and a standard 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity. Practically speaking, it offers the most realistic writing experience of any tablet I’ve ever used. The screen has a paper-like feel, which gives the pen a level of friction that feels incredibly true to life.
The ReMarkable 2 also shines with PDFs. Highlights automatically straighten themselves and turn a legible shade of gray without any necessary adjustment. You can add pages to PDFs for extra notes or write in the margins with ease. The ReMarkable’s thinness, two-week battery life, pen input and PDF management capabilities made this E Ink tablet my favorite for use in rehearsal.
That being said, the ReMarkable 2 isn’t without faults. The biggest issue is that it lacks any kind of backlight, which could be a deal breaker. Much like an actual book or notebook, this device requires an external light source to use in the dark. Even the cheapest Kindle now has front light illumination for night time use. It also doesn’t function particularly well as an e-reader, as the only formats it supports are PDF and unprotected epub. That means that you won’t be able to access your Kindle content or any other epub books with digital rights management software, which includes almost all legally purchasable ebooks on the market.
Ultimately, I found this tablet to be incredibly useful. This is the cheapest E Ink tablet on our list, but it’s still essentially just a PDF and note-taking device.
Sarah Lord / CNET
The Boox Note Air 2 is the most tablet-like E Ink device I tested. This 10.3-inch tablet features a resolution of 227 DPI, runs on a customized version of the Android 11 operating system and even has its own app store, where you can download third-party apps that have been optimized for the device. And yes, while it doesn’t come pre-baked into the system, there is a way to access the full Google Play store – though I wouldn’t recommend it for anything other than downloading an e-reading app, as the Boox still has an E Ink display and isn’t made for games or video. A step-by-step on how to get the Google Play store installed is in this hands-on review of a previous model.
Also, the Boox comes with only 64GB of nonexpandable storage, so you don’t want apps filling up your system. The company does offer 5GB of cloud storage from its own service for free to help transfer documents to the device, although you can also use Dropbox, Evernote and OneNote.
The biggest benefit of the apps store is that you’ll have access to your entire collection of books from your Kindle, Nook and Kobo library. You can also download the Libby app for library books, and Marvel Unlimited users can download the app and read comics, though not in color. The Note Air 2 includes speakers and a microphone, allowing you to listen to audiobooks from Audible or other audiobook apps.
This is a great selling point of the device, but I found the in-app experience to be less than ideal. Many of the features that make the Note Air 2 unique are disabled in third-party apps. For example, you won’t be able to use the pen to take notes or highlights in books on the Kindle app. Instead, you’ll have to type in the notes you want to take, like using the app on any other tablet. To write directly onto books, you’ll need to have them in DRM-free ebook format. Luckily, the Boox supports a wide range of formats including PDF, epub, DOC and Mobi.
Note taking and PDF management are strong on the Note Air 2 but not as seamless as on the ReMarkable 2. Highlights are not automatically straightened, and users have to choose the color and width of the marker. The Note Air 2 provides 16 options of grayscale color, but they all look the same on the device, leaving highlights looking dark and messy. The included stylus also features 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity but lags ever so slightly when writing across the page. On the plus side, you can include audio recordings for more accurate retention. The Note Air 2 also lets you open a PDF and notebook at the same time in a split-screen view, giving you the ability to read and take notes all at once.
Like the Kindle Paperwhite and Oasis, the Boox Note Air 2 comes with a warm and cold front light to help make the screen easier on the eyes and give it a more paper-like look. You can easily adjust both lights with a swipe-down menu. Plus, it also measures its battery life in weeks, not days.
While this tablet is by far the most expensive on our list, it’s also the most versatile of the E Ink tablets and does a lot well but nothing great.
You might see that the company has recently announced a Note Air 2 Plus. I haven’t tried that one, but it’s almost identical to the original Air 2 – just with a bigger battery, which also makes it very slightly heavier.
Sarah Lord / CNET
Kobo might be a smaller company than Amazon, but it’s been making e-readers for just about as long. While Amazon once made a 9.7-inch Kindle, the product never offered natural input with a touchscreen or stylus and was discontinued in 2014. More recently, Kobo was first with a waterproof e-reader, and it’s the first of the major e-reading players to make a 10.3-inch device with a stylus.
Like most Kobos, the Elipsa is an excellent e-reader and offers battery life measured in weeks, depending on use. Unlike Kindles, Kobos have a seemingly limitless ability to customize the reading experience. You can play continuously with margins, line spacing, fonts and font size to get a page that looks exactly how you want to, no matter the size of the screen. The included stylus can be used on any PDF or Kobo ePub, so it works just as well on library books as it does on books from the Kobo store.
Speaking of the library, Kobo is known for its deep integration with the ebook library service OverDrive. You can easily access, browse and download library books directly from your device, so long as your local library uses OverDrive. Borrowing an ebook from the New York Public Library was a seamless experience and one that makes all of Kobos a must-have for library lovers.
Unfortunately, the Ellipse’s note-taking capabilities are lacking. There is a noticeable lag when writing with the stylus for any length of time, and the notebook features are fairly basic. Only four templates are available in the basic notebooks and only a single lined template in the advanced notebooks. Advanced notebooks do let you insert drawings, diagrams, math equations and a free-form section, while also offering the ability to convert your handwriting to text. There are only a few pen types to choose from and only five pen brush sizes.
I wasn’t able to use the notebook feature for anything other than the most basic scribbles and wouldn’t recommend it for anything more than that.
The Kobo Elipsa has 32GB of storage, a resolution of 227 DPI and a blue front light, but it lacks the warm light of the Boox. While this E Ink tablet misses the mark on long-from writing, it excels as a large-screen, library-friendly e-reader with the ability to scribble in the margins.
How we test E Ink tablets
Every E Ink tablet undergoes extensive hands-on testing. In this case, each tablet was used for one week of rehearsal in a professional theatrical production. This involved evaluating the set-up process, loading PDFs and books onto the devices, and using both the device and included stylus as a script during a full six-hour days of rehearsal. Tasks included highlighting, taking notes in the margins, and creating and taking detailed notes in notebooks. We also downloaded ebooks onto the device and used it as a recreational e-reader.
Anecdotally, we considered the hardware design and features, stylus capabilities, overall ease of use, effective UI layouts, notebook settings, E Ink settings, PDF markup capabilities, e-reading settings and format compatibility, app support and performance, and the overall speed and reliability of the system.
E Ink Tablet FAQ
How is an E Ink tablet different from an e-reader?
Both e-readers and E Ink tablets use E Ink technology to render words and images on the page. They both offer a distraction-free experience that’s easier on the eyes than a traditional LCD color screen.
E-readers tend to be smaller than size and focus only on the experience of reading a book or PDF. E Ink tablets offer e-reading features but also include the ability to use a stylus to write notes in a digital notebook and / or in the margins of PDFs and ebooks. Since handwriting is integral to the E Ink tablet experience, the devices themselves tend to be larger in order to more closely approximate the size of a sheet of paper.
Why isn’t a Kindle on this list?
Amazon’s Kindle lineup of e-readers are some of the best known and most popular E Ink devices. However, the company doesn’t make an E Ink device larger than 7 inches (although it used to), nor does it make one that offers the ability to take handwritten notes in Kindle books or in digital notebooks.
Who are E Ink tablets for?
E Ink tablets are best suited for people who enjoy writing notes or sketching by hand and who need to read and markup lots of PDF or DRM-free ebooks. They could be a particularly good fit for students, lawyers or any other professional in need of a digital, distraction-free note-taking device.
They aren’t for people who want constant notifications, fast processing speeds, to watch videos or play games.