Hands On With Netronix 6.8″, 13.3″ E-ink Android eReaders (video)

One of the high points for my trip to CES this year was finding the DaSung E-ink monitor hidden in the back of the  E-ink booth, and the other high point for this trip was _finally_ finding the Netronix booth and getting some one on one time with their latest prototypes.

netronix 13.3 ed0Q02 3

The above picture shows netronix's 13.3" prototype with my 8" InkPad in front so you can see the difference in screen size.

Anyone who follows ereader news for long enough can tell you that Netronix is an old hand in the industry. They've been designing and building ereaders for years, and past and current partners include Kobo, B&N, Bookeen, and others.

Netronix was at CES 2015 to show off a couple new prototypes. They had a 13.3" ereader and a 6.8" ereader. Aside from the screen sizes, they had largely the same specs. Both ran Android 4.0.4 on a Freescale chip, and they had identical touchscreen tech: an IR touchscreen plus a stylus-friendly digitizer touchscreen. (For reference, the Sony Digital Paper DPT-S1 has a similar dual touchscreen.)

Update: There's conflicting info on the touchscreens; I was told that there was an IR touchscreen, while Charbax was told that it was a capacitive touchscreen.

Both devices were also missing a silo for the stylus, which I see as a serious defect.

I found the Netronix booth via Charbax, who shot this video:

As you can see in the video, Charbax focuses on just the larger of the two devices. That's okay; I got to play with them both.

The 13.3" device has the same screen resolution as on the DPT-S1 (1,600 x 1,200). I'm told it is very much a prototype, and that it was assembled only last week. At 300 grams, it was surprisingly light.

Because Charbax focused on the larger unit in the video, I didn't take very many photos.

The 6.8" unit was also surprisingly light. As you can see in the photos at the end of the post, the smaller model bears a striking resemblance to the Kobo Aura H2O, only without the waterproofing and with a second touchscreen tech, Android 4.0.4, Google Play, and the stock apps (all of the apps were unfortunately inaccessible).

The accessible software included just a couple sketchpad apps, the reading app, and the settings menu. It was pretty basic. I thought the devices were a lot of fun to play with. I liked having two touchscreen options, although I am still bothered by the lack of a silo.

And BTW, I actually have quite a few photos of the settings menus; I'm not going to upload them right away (my mobile data plan isn't very fast). Remind me later and I'll get to it.

About Nate Hoffelder (11585 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

41 Comments on Hands On With Netronix 6.8″, 13.3″ E-ink Android eReaders (video)

  1. OMG! So many cool e-ink devices of late. I hope some of these come to a market near me sometime. I hope to be using an e-ink screen for my laptop by 2016.

    • The larger one probably won’t ever come to market. The wholesale price is $600.

      • Don’t be so sure, Nate. The 13.3 inches Sony device is selling well at 1.000$ while it is a .pdf reader only. A true e-reader supporting also ebook, .docx, .ppt and .xls formats will have a lot of customers at the 600$ price tag.

        So many people afford even more for smartphones and ipads…

      • Are you saying the Sony is not selling well?

        • It’s a thousand dollars for a device which only supports PDFs. I don’t see how it could be selling more than a few hundred units.

          • But that’s supposition / speculation (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I’ve read posts by people who have battled to get round the restrictions limiting sales to certain professions. So there does seem to be a demand.

            You said yourself you’d lay down $400 for that e-ink monitor. But fair enough, $600 wholesale is gonna be too much for me and thou. But prices will drop as sales increase. As long as these fruit-loops realize that if they install open Android and include blue-tooth/USB and maybe a cheap stand, then it can be used as a monitor, which they will multiply their potential market.

  2. As for the need for a stylus silo in the housing: I think we can accept the premise that ereaders should not be used without a cover of some kind, the preferred choice being a folio cover. I have found that keeping the stylus in a slot or loop in the cover works better. This allows using a full-size pen without making the device unnecessarily thick. My latest acquisition, a Hanvon E930, has an integrated silo which is thicker than the reader and also makes it wider than it should be.

    • Yes. But there’s no guarantee that the devices will be sold with a cover, so I want a silo. Otherwise I would lose the stylus.

      • In that case, I propose the following compromise: Netronix should either add a silo, or bundle a cover that securely holds the stylus!
        And may this be our biggest problem in 2015! ????

  3. That’s an Android smiley at the end, in case anyone is wondering.

  4. DId you test the stylus input on the 6.8 inch device? How responsive does it feel? Kobo should add stylus input to an Aura H2O successor. That plus Bluetooth. That would make the perfect 6.8 inch reader (modulo some extra goodies that you might wish for, but whose anticipated extra cost would probably not add as much value as those two).

    • It worked pretty well. The screen responded to the stylus fast enough that I wasn’t actually able to get ahead of it.

      And I think you’re right that Kobo should add a stylus to the H2O’s successor. It’s intended to be a premium device and dual touchscreen techs would serve that end.

  5. Nate go back there and get me that 13.3 inch device. pleeeeeeaaaasssseee. i want it. seriously buy it or steal it i dont care. ill pay you for it 🙂

  6. I’m interested in the Netronix 6.8″ reader running Android.
    Basically it is a Kobo Aura H2O (similar tech specs; not necessarily waterproof as the H2O).

    • high build quality of Netronix hardware
    • Adroid OS, which means
    • there are many reading apps to choose from
    • flexibility, to customize the reading environment (user preferences)
    • and many more benefits

    And the biggest advantage
    • no more unreliable Kobo firmware. Lot’s of basic functions don’t work good enough. Funtions or bugs are often only partially fixed, but get broken again with the next firmware release. If bugs get fixed at all.

    Kobo and software (incl. firmware) isn’t a very good combination.

  7. Hi,
    from your hand on experience, would you say the 13.3 inch is capable to show an entire A4 page (or letter) and still be able to make annotations or hand written corrections.
    A lot of academics/students are waiting for a device which allow them paper-free proof-reading of articles or annotation of course materials. All reviews of 13.3 inch devices I saw until now only show scribbling of very large letters. What I need to know, is the digitizer resolution good enough to handwrite within a similar size as the printed text, or in between lines of text?
    Sure one can zoom, but to be honest that is rather disturbing and user unfriendly. What we need is a one by one replacement for hard-copy prints. Thus, the digitizer and the touchscreen need to work properly, high resolution, no lagging and switching off of the touchscreen as soon as the pen is in use, to allow your handrest to touch the screen during writing.

    Furthermore a 13.3 inch academic/student e-ink reader wins or loose with the existing software. If those lags, is buggy or simply user unfriendly there will be no success. I simply predict, that this is the main selling problem for the Sony and having now Pocketbook and Netronix alternatives, with a full fledged running Android-OS, I hope that software issues can be resolved quickly by third party apps.

    Would be nice to read about the possible usability towards a academic/students usage scenario.

    • I’m not sure the stylus has that fine degree of control. But I also didn’t explicitly test it.

      I’ve asked Netronix, and I’ll post their response.

      • Actually, now that I think about it I realize that the thickness of the stylus would likely prevent you from writing small characters. Or at least I don’t think I could do it.

        • I haven’t tried these products, but all of the Wacom tablets I have tried came with a fine-tip stylus and allowed writing small text accurately. Some of them were better than others, but even the Irex Iliad from 2006 was more than acceptable in this regard.

          • Hi,

            I use a X230t thinkpad tablet at the moment. The tip of the digitizier is fine enough (similar to a ball pen). However, there is a notable distance between the actual LCD screen and the top (writing) layer. It makes writing a bit odd and one has to get use to it. Like drawing trough several mm thick glas sheet.
            Furthermore, the accuracy at the borders is rather bad and heavily influenced by the tilt of the pen with respect to the screen.
            I was hopeing both problems are better solved for e-ink devices. Any ideas?

  8. Of all the electromagnetic e-ink devices I have owned and used (Irex Iliad, Irex DR800, Irex DR1000S, Onyx Boox X60, Onyx Boox M92, Hanvon N800, Hanvon E930), I have only encountered a problem with the DR800, where accuracy around the edges was very bad. Only the E930 has dual touch (stylus and finger), but even on that device the distance between the two layers is very small, making the writing accurate and pleasant.
    Moreover, I have found Wacom to be more accurate than the other digitiser technologies. This seems to be confirmed by the opinions of other users. Therefore I would not worry about writing quality.

    Your point about the software, however, is very good. I have yet to see an e-ink tablet with software that really supports my note-taking workflow. For this reason, after trying all those above, I am still using an Asus EeeNote EA800, which has excellent software (but a smallish monochrome LCD screen, unfortunately).

    • Jmirko,
      I think you have both hanvon devices, could you please help me to take a decision:
      I am thinking of buying the hanvon E920 or the N800, but I have some questions. Can you load books from the amazon site or google play?
      How good are they for note taking, are the notes exported to pdf?
      is is essential to have a windows machine to export/import books, (I do not have a windows or mac pc, only debian or android tablet)?
      Is there a big difference between both, apart of the size?

      And for everybody:

      I really one to have a device in the range of 8-9 inches for note taking, e paper, do you think that kind of devices will appear in the following months, it seems that the manufacturers/distributors think there is not market for that, although I think the technology is ready.?

      thank you.

      • I have the N800 and the E930, not the E920. Gamba66 over at Mobileread Forums has the E920.
        I don’t know all the answers to your questions, but I will look into it.
        However, I propose to carry the conversation over to MobileRead Forums, where more people could contribute – Nate, would you mind?
        I will add my answers to my Hanvon E930 post: http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=254273
        Gamba66 also follows that thread so I am sure he will contribute his experience with the E920.

      • Why would you consider buying those overpriced and outdated e-readers?

        • As someone interested in such a device myself, I suspect despair. The sad truth is, that there’s no functional alternative to the E920, or is there one? I for one keep waiting for one though. It’s sad that what’s available at present is both expensive and not entirely satisfactory.

          • I ended up picking up a Boyue G10 last year for around $190.00. It’s very basic and not comparable to E920. I only use it to read e-books anyway. I’m hoping for a nice 8″ or 9.7″ e-reader with frontlight and a screen that looks like the one from Kindle Voyage.
            I was really impressed with Kindle Voyage after seeing it on display at Best Buy. The screen background looked white!
            It all depends on what you want to use the reader for. If you want to use it to make notes, you would be better off looking at Sony Digital Paper, it’s pretty much in the same price range as the Hanvon readers.

        • I don’t know about pdemedina, but in my opinion these Hanvon readers have some unique characterstics:
          – N800: 8-inch screen, stylus support, audio recording (great for meetings).
          – E920: 10-inch screen, 200 PPI resolution, dual touch (finger+stylus), audio recording.
          On the downside: they don’t use open Android, they don’t have a frontlight, and the screen is glass-based. However, they are perfectly fine for reading and more than adequate for note-taking.
          As for prices, both of those are currently available on taobao.com for the equivalent of about 200 USD (granted, a more usual price is around 300). Add 10% for the agent and 10% for shipping, and it’s still a pretty good deal in my opinion.
          Just about the only competition is the Boox M96, but I am still testing the scribbling functionality on that one.

      • Hi Pdemedina,

        I have recently bought the 9,7 inch Onyx M96 device. It is far from perfect but good for zooming pdfs and reading Amazon or Kobo books through the respective apps.

        The processor of M96 is faster (processor: 1 GZ and RAM 500 MB instead of 800 GB and RAM 250 MB), but the screen has a lower resolution (150 DPI instead of 200 DPI). By M96 the Android OS is open, which gives your more customization options.

        By M96 you can only use Stylus, but there are also lateral buttons.

        The note taking built in app of M96 needs serious improvements, while those from Google Play are almost unusable. However you can mark and write comments on the margins of your Pdf documents, which is a plus. The note taking function works better on some pdfs than on the other.

        The good thing is, the Onyx engineers from China and Europe work hard to improve the software and offer a new update almost every month. My impression is they have limited ressources, and that is why the software development goes slowly despite their sustained efforts.

        To be honest, both e-readers are pretty outdated from the hardware perspective, while a heavy software investment is also necessary. The problem is, they all have difficulties finding big investors. Investors with big money look for very profitable markets, not for unsecure niches. I think that the 9-13.3 inch niche finds itself in a vicious circle. The potential buyers are not that numerous as the investors would like, but their number could swell if the next generation of e-readers includes the latest technological updates. However, in the beginning the first line of products would be very expensive like the Sony’s DPST 1, which will scare away most buyers….

        So, in theory, there is much portential, but the first big investor will bear the R&D costs with little prospect of making profit from the first sold batches.

        Nonetheless, the 6 inch market is big while growing slowly, and overcrowded. So some produces will be obliged to take the risk and reach the niche, if willing to survive.

        Therefore I do expect new big and improved E-readers towards the end of the year. Maybe next year will be a true renaissance of this neglected niche. Things will develop gradually.

        If you are willing to wait for 6 months to a year, then wait. Otherwise buy one of the two existing devices. I make my job with my e-reader, and this is important, right? Besides, by buying an e-reader now you are helping the little guys struggling to develop big e-readers to continue their work. Currently they work for little money, in part driven by enthusiam, in part by the hope to succeed as a business model sometime in the future.

        • Thank you to all of you for your replies. Now I’m thinking of the e930 (thank you Jmirko for your review) or the M96 (android open is great, thank you Airend), or waiting till the end of the year, surviving with a tablet….

          • You’re welcome. I have both the E930 and the M96 (I know, I know… I need to see a doctor :-)) so if you have specific questions, I am happy to answer them. I will start with those in your earlier post – but I will need a few days.

        • Jmirko, Airend, One question about the M96: Is the joystick fragile? Can it be broken easily?
          One think I do not like is the fact the stylus can not be stored in the device. although the Open Android is very tempting.

          • I have read this concern many times before and I think it is completely unfounded as long as your device has a glass-based screen. Those screens are fragile, so you should always keep the reader in a case or cover – and it is very easy to attach the stylus to the cover as long as it has a clip. I bought my M96 from ereader-store.de and they supply a thick stylus with a clip (like a ball-point pen). As far as I know, some sellers include a thin stylus without a clip. It is easy to turn that into a more comfortable thick stylus by inserting it into the sheath of a ballpen, thereby gaining the clip.
            To answer your other question, I don’t think the stylus (thick or thin) is fragile, but there is a risk of losing it unless it is fastened to the device or the cover.
            Yes, open Android makes the device extremely versatile – the only reason I didn’t recommend it immediately to Pdemedina was that he stated handwriting as his use case. I have yet to find a scribbling app that works properly on the M96 (granted, I have not had the time to research the topic properly).

          • The joystick is not fragile. For me it is not that important either, because with the stylus and the 4 buttons on the left one can do everything.

            The stylus cannot be stored in the device, but if you buy the leather cover too, than there is a convenient place for the stylus in the cover.

            Especially if you live in the EU, it maqkes sense to buy from this site: http://ereader-store.de/en/onyx-boox/64-onyx-boox-m96-black.html
            The seller is a German engineer working for Onyx at the development of their e-readers. He maintains on the site his M96 devices “are equipped with faster 85HZ ?screens (regular cheaper models have slower 50HZ screens)?”. What this means is unclear to me. In any case, when buying from him, the advantage is, he is very responsive. Any questions you have regarding your product he is ready to answer – and he is quite qualified. Also I guess the warranty is there for you, if something turns wrong. Last but not least, the guy adds updates almost everymonth.

            The drawback is, the M96 on this site is more expensive than let’s say, on the Amazon site.

            By all these big e-readers with glass screen you must pay special attention to the safety of your screen. The price of the screen is 2/3 of all the hardware.

            Here some more detailed infos about M 96:
            http://blog.the-ebook-reader.com/2015/04/14/onyx-boox-m96-buyers-guide/.

            Anyway, don’t buy the touch screen version (M 96C), since it has got bad reviews.

          • Sorry – I misunderstood your question about the joystick. I agree with Airend that it is not fragile under normal use.
            We seem to be in agreement with Airend also on the other points.

          • Thank you very much to both of you for your replies… there are many chances to get the M96, I read the Write app from Stylus Lab is not to bad for scribbling .
            Many thanks again…

          • I will try to test the Write app for you over the weekend and let you know my opinion.

  9. Can you possibly contact Netronix and get a status update on this? According to what they said at the show, it should be available right about now, but I can’t find any mention of it anywhere. With the recent price-drop on the sony, I’m tempted to get it, but would hold out for a while longer to get something than can handle text files (doc or rtf or something) and ebook files in addition to pdf files. But if this is never going to come to market in a reasonable time for a reasonable price, then maybe there’s no reason to wait. Thanks.

    • Netronix can make them, yes, but first they need someone to place an order for (at least) several thousand units.

      • Nate, or anyone else who might have the ear of this e-reader manufacturer: If symphonies, professional and amateur musicians find that we can run our digital sheet music reading apps (which use downloadable PDFs) on it, this company WILL sell many thousands of them. Amateur and professional musicians are already extolling the joy of using ForScore on iPads and more recently the improved MobileSheets Pro app for Android. If there’s Bluetooth, we can even use our hands free foot pedals to turn pages. Professional orchestras and universities have already been testing smaller prototypes in our classroom orchestras.

        Please allow me to elaborate a little more. Musicians spend thousands of dollars on our instruments and then, those who are over 30, have spent thousands more dollars on cabinets full of printed classical music.

        Now, young musicians can avoid spending those extra thousands on printed music by buying a tablet and a compatible sheet music reading app and legally downloading digital sheet music for free because it was written by a lot of dead white guys who are dead and gone. Their music is now copyright free!

        Even older musicians who HATE tech our doing the same so they don’t have to battle airline carry-on restrictions, or even (or especially?) domestically, so we don’t have to lug multiple binders of music with us. We also compose modern music on our computers and carry and share it in digital format.

        The only resistance musicians have to digital music is that the tablets are much smaller than our standard printed music and standard computer screens take their toll on our eyes.

        However, we can read forever without eyestrain with e-ink, just like paper. When we do require additional light, e-reader lights aren’t as harsh to our eyes and don’t drain the battery as fast.

        Think about it for a moment if you will. We spend hours every day reading music scores for practice and performance. Would we spend a measly grand to save our eyes, unburden our backs from lugging around the literal weight of all those music books and, oh by the way, in the long run, save thousands of dollars on our music libraries? 13″ of e-ink? For a mere grand? Are you kidding? We’ll even throw in that first born child and maybe our soul… in a New York second!!!

        Onyx, Netronix, or whoever gets this working product out first, – we’re your target audience. We may not be wealthy but we’ve been waiting and searching for you all our student and working lives, and we’ll be willing to pull out our credit cards or empty our slim billfolds for you! Got a beta edition that needs testing? Contact me… I’m first in line! My Symphony Orchestra colleagues, university and performing arts high school students will be crowding each other in line behind me.

        Thank you to anyone who has taken the time to read this!

        [email protected]

  10. Ok, thanks.

    I simply can’t believe that something like this (an 8.5″ x 11″ minimum e-ink touch/writing screen, with stylus note-taking ability, and the ability to handle multiple types of document files and ebook files, along with pdf files) wouldn’t be exceedingly popular with both students and professionals, even at $800.

    With regards to the Sony dpts1, do you have any idea whether it might be possible for a future firmware/software update to enable the device to support some sort of text format (RTF, open office, whatever) or is that possibility utterly precluded because it would require hardware changes? If not precluded by the hardware itself, do you have any idea whether there’s any chance that Sony might be thinking of working on a radical firmware/software update like that? Or could that possibly be done by independent developers through some sort of rooting or whatever?

    Thanks.

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