Technology

The Boox Poke three is my new favourite e-reader

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There are many e-readers to choose from, but never enough for me. I'm always looking for the one who will make me forget that others are available, and at the Onyx Boox Poke 3, I believe I found it – at least for now. The Chinese e-paper machine maker nailed the size and screen, adding a ton of versatility that I didn't know I was missing.

The Poke 3 fits in the same category as the Kindle Paperwhite and Kobo Clara HD: 6 inches, 300 PPI or so (which makes for very clear text), and anywhere between $ 100 and $ 200.

In contrast to the larger Oasis and the even larger format, these readers fit easily into a pocket. They usually lack anything but an on / off switch and they are very focused on books and saved articles.

But the Kindle and Clara both have major shortcomings. The Kindle is tied to Amazon in every way that I can't stand, including standard displays on the device, and the Clara … well, besides the screen, the hardware is just bad to be honest. Kobo has made my favorite e-reading device to date, the compact and flush Aura, and I've finally found a worthy successor to this popular device.

The Poke 3 is the newest device from Boox, the e-reader line from parent company Onyx. The company was mainly present in Southeast Asia, particularly in its home country China. So don't be surprised if you've never heard of it. Boox makes a variety of e-paper devices (which I'll review in a separate article), and the Poke 3 is the simplest and smallest of them.

Credit: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

I will first highlight the strengths of the device. Most of all, it's a nice piece of hardware. Reading the flush front is a pleasure as there is no raised bezel to shade the text or collect dirt. The power button is well positioned and clicks. There are just enough bezels to hold on to without worrying about smearing or waking up the screen, and a bit more space at the bottom allows for lots of convenient grips.

It's thinner than the competition and the build quality is excellent. The front is made of tempered glass from Partner Asahi, which hopefully doesn't require a cover.

Credit: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

The finish is, to be honest, something like a fingerprint and an oil magnet and could be more grippy. The Paperwhite hit it on texture, but I prefer the smooth back over the Clara’s oddly perforated one.

At 150 grams, it is 16 lighter than the Clara and 32 lighter than the Paperwhite. That doesn't sound like a lot, but when you hold a device in your hand for hours, every little bit counts, and at this size it also helps with balance.

The 6-inch screen is not that different from the Kindle or Kobo devices in terms of resolution or font rendering. I examined the Poke 3 alongside the Clara HD and Forma and didn't find any differences that anyone would notice reading from 10 to 20 inches away.

Credit: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

It differs in its approach to lighting, but whether this makes sense is a matter of opinion. Instead of having a brightness controller and a temperature controller, it has a warm and a cool controller, and increasing or decreasing either controller changes both the brightness and temperature. You can either disable one entirely or link them together so that they can be customized as a unit.

If it sounds more complicated … it is. I don't see it really adding any new features, but once you get the feel of it, it's not much harder to use either. I wish when you link the two sliders together they keep their position relative to each other. The whole system feels a bit baroque and I hope Boox streamlines it. That said, the quality of the light is equally good and once you dial it in, it looks great.

The font formatting is good, with plenty of options for tweaking the look of the many (too many …) fonts in it, as well as making even adjustments to weight and contrast to really optimize them. Adding custom fonts is as easy as dragging and dropping them as documents.

The Boox's operating system offers far more options than the Kobo or Kindle. Amazon maintains tight control of its ecosystem, and outside of a handful of related services, the devices can't do much. Kobo at least allows you to load other file formats directly and now has excellent Pocket integration for storing articles from the web. Boox takes it two steps further with a custom Android launcher that lets you download full apps.

Credit: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

Now there really are only so many apps that you actually want to have on an e-reader like this one. And not everything works the way I would like it to. But for the first time, I can actually download Simplenote on my e-reader.

However, it's not as easy as it is on a regular Android device. Since the Poke 3 is from China, it won't have instant access to Google services. You can add it through Settings, which isn't difficult, but there is also a page loader that has current (if not entirely brand new) installer packages of popular, reviewed apps for the device built in.

For now, let's just admit that this is already a bit out there compared to the simplicity of the Kindle and Kobo. And whether or not you want to sign into a version of Evernote that you can't verify (without a little work) is not for everyone. But to make this clear, Boox isn't a nighttime operation – they may not be well known here, but it's hard to argue with the quality of the units. The problem is simply that localizing an operating system for users in China poses some fundamental challenges.

Credit: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

Fortunately for everyone, the basic ability to load and read books is solid there and what you would be doing most of the time. There may be a busy surface as you perform other tasks. However, you can easily hide all indicators such as progress and title while reading and dedicate every square inch of the screen to actual reading.

It has 32GB of internal storage, making it easy to store audiobooks (bluetooth for sound) and bulky documents, and can be quickly connected as a drive when you connect the USB-C cable.

The Poke 3 will cost $ 189 when it ships next week, which is in the upper price bracket for this type of device. That's $ 30 more than a Kindle Paperwhite and $ 70 more than a Clara HD. But I honestly think it's worth the premium. This is a better e-reader, period; Despite the sometimes fussy user interface, I enjoy it and appreciate that it offers features that the competition doesn't. If you need a simple and cheap build, the Clara is a great, cheaper option. For one step, however, consider the Poke 3.

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Katherine Clark