BOOX Nova2 (E Ink Android 9 tablet)

BenJackson

举人
I just got one of these and I'm happy to answer questions about reading Chinese on it (or using Pleco). It's a little rough around the edges, but as long as you're a little technically inclined it's pretty easy to get set up. You can activate the Play store and install basically anything.

Pleco itself works fine. After importing my phone settings, all I really did was manually choose a black & white theme and disable some of the BOOX "optimizations" that were hurting instead of helping.

I've tried several readers on it: The built-in one, Kindle, Google Play Books, 豆瓣阅读, and of course Pleco. They all work fine. The built-in reader is really the best one, offering the most text spacing options (which can make Chinese much more attractive and easier to read) plus the native pen support allows nearly zero lag on pen annotation. All of them work best with their settings adjusted (avoiding animations) and the BOOX "optimizations" which override some rendering for better E Ink behavior.

This E Ink is much, much more responsive than the older Kindle E Ink readers I've used before. Scrolling, pinch zooming, dragging, etc are all possible when the panel is in one of its faster modes. However, the experience with things like readers, menus, etc is nicer if the animations are minimized and you use the slowest/cleanest refresh setting. The tablet has a pretty capable CPU, so most of the time when things feel laggy it's down to the way the display is updating.

The other readers are so much nicer to use than Pleco's that I find I do not use Pleco to read ebooks despite the nice dictionary integration. Instead, there are a couple other ways to interact with the dictionary from other readers:
  • Turn on Pleco's "automatically look up clipboard" feature, cut the word, then launch Pleco. The BOOX "navigation ball" makes it possible to launch Pleco with two touches from anywhere, so this works okay. Cutting is awkward (using your finger to select on a tablet is always fussy and the latency of E Ink makes it worse). Cutting is improved by using one of the faster panel modes, but those leave more noise on the screen, and are not normally needed for readers.
  • Share to Pleco. This is handy in readers like 豆瓣阅读 which include it in the cut & paste popup menu. You can also be sloppier about cutting because it shares it to the clip reader so you can then re-select the target word.
  • Pleco's screen reader (whichever one OCRs the current screen into the clip reader): This is pretty terrible because it turns the current page into a wall of text in Pleco with zero formatting and you have to find the word you're interested in again.
  • Pleco's screen OCR: This is a little rough around the edges, but my general preference. You can add this to the quick actions menu in Android (like where the Wifi button is when you drag down from the top of the screen). You need to set the "basic overlay color" to black in Pleco settings. Ideally you'd set it to "none", but that's not possible. Pleco will OCR the whole screen, and then you can click on the words you want to define. Because of the unavoidable overlay, the text will be less legible than it was, but setting overlay to black basically makes it "ugly bold". The main issue with this is getting out of it requires clicking "back". The Pleco overlay covers the "navigation ball" overlay (although it includes the image of it, which is confusing) so that option is not available. If back is still bound to the main physical button, that works great. Otherwise you have to swipe down to get to the soft back button there.
Some other general notes about using it to learn Chinese:
  • It has good Chinese support (in fact simplified Chinese is the default language option) but it doesn't have good mixed language support. You can set the built-in note app to be searchable in Chinese (independent of system locale) but then the English searching is not as good. Also switching modes resets the cache so the next search is very slow as it re-does all the recognition. The handwriting recognition of the notes is good in both languages, though.
  • Similarly you will want to install gboard or some other replacement keyboard that has quick access to switch between English and Chinese.
  • Pen input in non-native pen apps (like Pleco, or OneNote) is much, much laggier than the native apps. Pleco is generally usable for single character input, although a few times I've seen it get in a state where the lag is 10x worse and unusable. There are many refresh settings that interact, so I suspect it's due to one of those.
  • It will easily read a PDF textbook. There are lots of videos of these tablets working with PDFs (including exportable annotations) if you look on youtube. You might prefer the larger (10") tablet for that, though.
  • No speakers, no microphone, and no headphone jack. It does have USB-C, and the adapter that came with my Pixel 2 worked. It also has bluetooth.
  • Did you know you can only be logged onto WeChat from one device at a time? Can be awkward if you used it as a single sign-on for other services like 豆瓣.
 

BenJackson

举人
Some features Pleco could add to make it work better on E Ink:
  • A built-in black and white theme. This would just save a few clicks vs manually setting up colors.
  • Automatic E Ink detection to set the B&W theme :)
  • Disabling animations, like page turning, menu fly-outs, etc. They work, and they look okay, but effectively they just mean it takes longer before you can interact because of the low framerate.
  • Avoid graying out the background when activating the menu. This brings out all the worst traits of E Ink. The darkened area is very murky, and then when the menu goes away the contrast in the whole area is reduced until a full-screen refresh.
  • Control over whether the search box gets focus when opening the app in dictionary mode. With default DPI settings it comes up in "tablet" mode (which I haven't used much before) and the search box gets focus and pops the keyboard over half the screen.
If BOOX has a way to declare some kind of manifest with their custom "optimization" settings it would be nice to ship those set up in a way compatible with Pleco's own behavior. The main one Pleco wants off is "Enhance Font Color" (which is a subset of "Whiten Apps Background"). It causes all of the white-on-dark text (like in the top bar) to render as black-on-white-outline-on-black.

(I forgot to mention above that the BOOX "optimiaztion" settings include a DPI slider which can influence which layout Pleco decides to use, in addition to the general font sizes etc. By default it ends up in a tablet-y multi-column layout)
 

BenJackson

举人
Because of the unavoidable overlay, the text will be less legible than it was, but setting overlay to black basically makes it "ugly bold".
I just realized this is avoidable. The option is just very far away from the overlay color, under "External access", "Hide characters in Screen OCR"
 

mikelove

皇帝
Staff member
Thanks, but to be honest, the direction we're heading with document reading is mostly towards *more* visual richness (tone coloring, ruby, highlights based on flashcard status, etc), so I don't know how much effort we're going to want to put into optimizing reading on e-ink devices when they'll soon be missing out on substantially more functionality than they do now.
 

scoff

Member
I just realized this is avoidable. The option is just very far away from the overlay color, under "External access", "Hide characters in Screen OCR"
Would you be willing to post a short clip of how the pleco reader works and how much lag there is with dictionary lookups and page transitions?

I've been considering a Nova2 for a couple weeks and would be getting it solely to run the pleco reader. Your post was very informative (appreciate the tips) but now I'm even more unsure of whether or not to pull the trigger since you've found the pleco reader experience on the Nova2 not even worth using.
 

BenJackson

举人
since you've found the pleco reader experience on the Nova2 not even worth using
I do prefer other readers to the Pleco reader, but that's not because of E Ink or the Nova2. The usability, appearance, and document compatibility, and integrated stores of other readers make for a superior reading experience. Maybe a slight drawback of Pleco reader on E Ink is the necessity of swiping (instead of clicking) for page turn because you do it more "blind" but it's not a big deal. For context, I'm looking up words one every few pages, so lookup overhead is not that big a deal. I might put up with Pleco's reader quirks if I had to look up half the words.

I often use 豆瓣阅读 built-in dictionary (press and hold to hilite, then click lookup) which gives you a Chinese definition. The main drawback is that the font is super tiny and with the added noise of E ink overdraw it's hard to read. When I want Pleco, I swipe down for the quick access button and do screen OCR. I have not found E Ink to be an obstacle to doing whatever lookups I want in Pleco. I don't use features like flashcards because without cloud save for the database it doesn't make sense (my primary Pleco device is my phone).

Would you be willing to post a short clip
I'm not sure when I'll have time. There are several other reviews which will give you a general idea of the speed. The thing is that there are several settings that affect it, and you can choose different experiences based on your preferences. For example, Kindle and Pleco both animate page turns. If you set the Nova2 to the highest quality/slowest erase mode, it has a per-app setting to ignore animations so it does one refresh to the final image. If you set that up, you get nice crisp text. But it feels slow because you don't see the animation, even though it's not actually any slower. If you set it to the most aggressive update mode, you will actually see a (still relatively low framerate) version of it animating. So the feedback is faster, but you still can't read the page as it scrolls in. This is why I suggested Pleco offer an option to disable the animation.
 

scoff

Member
I do prefer other readers to the Pleco reader, but that's not because of E Ink or the Nova2. The usability, appearance, and document compatibility, and integrated stores of other readers make for a superior reading experience. Maybe a slight drawback of Pleco reader on E Ink is the necessity of swiping (instead of clicking) for page turn because you do it more "blind" but it's not a big deal. For context, I'm looking up words one every few pages, so lookup overhead is not that big a deal. I might put up with Pleco's reader quirks if I had to look up half the words.

I often use 豆瓣阅读 built-in dictionary (press and hold to hilite, then click lookup) which gives you a Chinese definition. The main drawback is that the font is super tiny and with the added noise of E ink overdraw it's hard to read. When I want Pleco, I swipe down for the quick access button and do screen OCR. I have not found E Ink to be an obstacle to doing whatever lookups I want in Pleco. I don't use features like flashcards because without cloud save for the database it doesn't make sense (my primary Pleco device is my phone).


I'm not sure when I'll have time. There are several other reviews which will give you a general idea of the speed. The thing is that there are several settings that affect it, and you can choose different experiences based on your preferences. For example, Kindle and Pleco both animate page turns. If you set the Nova2 to the highest quality/slowest erase mode, it has a per-app setting to ignore animations so it does one refresh to the final image. If you set that up, you get nice crisp text. But it feels slow because you don't see the animation, even though it's not actually any slower. If you set it to the most aggressive update mode, you will actually see a (still relatively low framerate) version of it animating. So the feedback is faster, but you still can't read the page as it scrolls in. This is why I suggested Pleco offer an option to disable the animation.
Thanks for the info. It sounds like pleco isn't actually slower than other non-BOOX apps. I'll take another look at the review videos on youtube.

I've been using a kindle oasis but want some other dictionaries.
 
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