I have now read several non-fiction books on my Nova2 reader. This is a marked improvement from before. I dislike reading non-fiction on my Kindle. Part of it is in the slightly bigger screen of the Nova2, and easier flipping back and forth between parts of a book. Part of it is that it’s a separate device, and not the same screen I read on for relaxation. An important part is also the ease of taking (handwritten) notes while using it.

A very pleasant additional side-effect of this e-reader, compared to the Kindle, is that in the past few weeks I have bought several e-books outside of Amazon. Because the tablet is a generic e-reader, I can now shop around for a much better mix of price, absence of DRM, and local/independent bookshop. This allows me to go outside the silo Amazon wants to lock you into more easily/often.

Two useful things I found out today about my Nova2 e-ink reader/tablet, while trying to figure out how to retrieve and use notes made on it:

  • Any markings / scribbled note I add by hand to a book or pdf, are accessible as a table of content (under the TOC button even). These can be exported to PDF for all notes, or for selected notes.
  • Next to marking things in a text, you can split the reader’s screen to have the text on one side and a notepad on the other (it doesn’t automatically set it to the left hand side when the reader is set to left handed, don’t know yet if I can change that manually). Hand written notes are then connected to the book and like the notes made in the document itself can be exported and accessed as pdf.

Last week I treated myself with an Boox Nova2 e-ink Android tablet, after reading about it in Robert Lender’s blog. (Meanwhile he has blogged his first impressions and experiences, in German) For most of the week the device sat on my desk, as I didn’t have time yet to take a proper look. Today I finally tried my hand at working with the device, so here are some first impressions.

The Nova2 is intended as a work device for me. To read non-fiction and annotate, as well as for handwritten notes and sketches. It therefore needs to be a seamless part of my workflow, meaning that things I write or annotate need to easily flow into other steps and the tools connected to those steps. Handwritten notes to be either exported as is, or transposed into text. Annotations exported and retrievable. The crucial thing for that is the ability to escape the specific silo a device is part of.

The Nova2 promises a handful of useful things:

  • Syncing with various cloud tools (Evernote, Dropbox e.g.),
  • E-mailing,
  • Handwritten note taking,
  • Multilingual text recognition of handwritten notes,
  • Run a variety of e-reader apps as a generic Android tablet
  • Optimise it for left handed use

My first impressions are only about trying those things out. Once I’ve done that, I can start looking at the workflow of the device itself, and the fit with the rest of my workflow.

It starts up slowly I feel.

It’s a Chinese product, so despite it being an Android device, there’s no preloaded Google stuff on it. That isn’t a big issue, on the contrary, but to use it as an e-reader I also wanted to have the Kindle app installed and that required the Google store. It took me several attempts to get it loaded, until I realised I had to register the device with Onyx first as well. That was a simple as giving it an e-mail address (a unique one as per usual), and typing in the confirmation code received on that mail address. I’m not sure what activating it with Onyx means. I’m not synchronising with the Onyx platform, but I’m not fully sure nothing gets send there. After that connecting it to a Google account and loading the Google store was easy. I also connected my Evernote account, which worked flawlessly.

I set the device up to push my handwritten notes to Evernote. That at first didn’t work. As it turns out this too was because the device wasn’t registered yet with Onyx. So after I got the Google store working, pushing to Evernote also worked.

I set up a new email address, that IMAPs to my mail server from the mail app on the device. This should mean I can also mail notes (to various other applications I’ve given an email address, like my Kindles, my blogs etc.)

Handwriting on devices I’ve never much liked, such as on an iPad, or using the Wacom A4 sized writing pad I use on my desk. Too often it feels like writing with your finger, it lacks fine motor control, and the feedback is usually slightly off, making writing awkward and the result illegible. My handwriting is already hard enough to read in the best of circumstances. This device handles it very well, I’m impressed. I’ve set it up for left handed writing, also meaning I moved the controls to the right hand side of the screen. Writing in the notes app that comes with the Nova2 is really good, and feels natural, also as the protective adhesive layer helps provide the right type of resistance like you have on paper. Hand writing in Evernote doesn’t work. It’s the ‘fat finger’ style of writing again, and the writing shows up on the screen a bit down and to the right of where the pen tip actually is, making it really hard to continue in the spot you left off a second or two earlier.

When you write in the device’s notes app, you have an ‘AI’ option to turn it into text. It will try to also interpret doodles, so you can’t really use it if you have notes and doodles on the same page. For just text at first I got very weird results, but then remembered I should set the language right. Once I did that, letting the writing recognition function know the notes are in Dutch, then it worked fine. Transmogrifying my handwriting into text is done online somewhere, so the device needs to be connected. I don’t know where my notes end up to be processed. I take notes in Dutch and English mostly, sometimes in German. My notes usually contain both Dutch and English at the same time. It seems that I can only select one language for the text recognition algorithm, so that isn’t optimal. That it is able to process Dutch at all is a step up from other apps and devices I tried.

I’ve installed several reading apps, next to the Onyx one itself: Kindle and Kobo. I keep my e-book library in Calibre (and I really should add my more recent Amazon purchases there), and it should therefore be possible to also load books into the native reader app. Likely that is the fastest one after all.
However, I haven’t succeeded yet in connecting the Nova2 to my laptop over USB. My filetransfer application sees the device as locked all the time, so I can’t access its storage. This is something I need to figure out, as this is the preferred route to move files between Calibre and the Nova2. It is possible to transfer files via wifi. If you go to the devices IP address in your local network (the Nova2 will tell you what its IP address is), then you get a html page allowing you to select files to upload. Doing that, I got some epubs and pdfs loaded on the Nova2 to read. [UPDATE plugging the Nova2 into the other USB port on my Mac, Calibre launches automatically as it immediately recognises the device. Android File Transfer does not see the device at all on that port, where it does see it on the first port but as locked. With Calibre working I can now manage the books on the Nova2 well]