Early Review: Onyx Boox i86 Android eReader
Onyx is one of the better small ereader makers in China, so when I heard that they had an 8″ model in the works I know that I had to get one. Alas, I could have waited.
After teasing us for almost a year, Onyx finally released their new 8″ Android ereader in limited quantities in China. Onyx wouldn’t sell the device outside of its domestic market, and now that I have one I can see why.
A few weeks ago I came across a unauthorized distributor on Amazon which was selling the i86. I quickly bought one, and after owning it for two weeks I can see why Onyx wouldn’t sell me one directly.
Onyx said the 8″ Android ereader model which was being sold outside of China was an engineering prototype. I can believe that. This ereader is slow, runs poorly configured software, and feels like it has a rough and incomplete design.
Review Date: 29 March 2015, owned two weeks
The i86 has a minimalist design which avoids frills . It’s a solid black ereader with a one-handed design. The rear is rubberized and has slightly curved edges, while on the front there is a back button below the screen and a pair of page turn buttons to the left. Along the lower edge you’ll find a power button, microSD card slot, USB port, and headphone jack.
When I hold it in my hands, I find that the i86 weighs about the same as the Pocketbook InkPad, my other 8″ ereader. Both obviously weigh more than a 6″ ereader, but not so much that it bothers me.
Both the InkPad and the i86 have similar lopsided designs, although for different hands.
I find that after two weeks I prefer the inkPad’s design; its page turn buttons are covered by a rubber strip, while the page turn buttons on the i86 are accentuated by ridged plastic. The latter is less pleasant under my fingers (workable, but less pleasant).
The i86 is built around an 8″ Pearl E-ink display (screen resolution of 1,200 x 1,600 – 250 ppi). There’s a touchscreen but no frontlight, which is unusual.
In terms of quality, the screen is ever so slightly grayer than the Carta screen on my Kindle Paperwhite (2013), and the i86’s screen is also slightly grayer than that of the Pocketbook InkPad. To be fair, I wouldn’t have noticed if I didn’t have all the units sitting on my desk.
But since I do have all 3 models on my desk, I should also point out that the screen on the i86 looks awfully gray once I turn on the frontlights on the other two ereaders. Even at the lowest settings, the frontlight makes the other screens look whiter.
I don’t really care about the frontlight for its own sake, but I do like the effect it has on E-ink screens, so much so that I wouldn’t recommend an ereader without one.
This ereader runs Android 4.0 on a 1GHz CPU with 468MB RAM and around 2.7GB internal storage (both details according to the Antutu benchmarking app). It ships with a custom home screen and Onyx’s own reading app (4 reading apps, actually, including FBReader, OReader, Onyx Reader, Onyx Neo Reader) as well as Google Play and a few basic utilities (web browser, clock, email client, music player, etc).
I’m currently running the latest firmware (dated 18 December), and after playing with the settings menu I can confirm that this is an engineering prototype, just like Onyx said. There’s an option in the settings menu for factory tests, including IO, memory, screen, standby, and more.
But even if I hadn’t found that option, I would still think this was an unfinished device. The software is slow to an unacceptable degree. The i86 is not only slower at turning the page than my KPW, InkPad, and the Boox i68, it’s also slower at loading ebooks and at loading apps.
It also crashed a lot. The web browser never worked, and core Google services crashed while I was taking photos.
The interface gives the impression that it was designed for a smaller screen and then scaled up to fit the 8″ screen on the i86. This is by no means a serious issue but it does contribute to the feeling that the software isn’t finished.
What’s more, there’s something wrong with the storage. While I have been able to install apps from Google Play, there is hardly any space available for the apps. I ran out of space after installing only 3 apps, and that’s just not enough. (I’ve also tried and failed to move the apps to the SD card.)
But while the software is incomplete, I will say that I have noticed at least one interesting improvement. I accidentally discovered that if I press and hold on a ebook cover, I am prompted to choose an app to open the ebook. I’m also given the option of setting a default app.
Yes, I could if I liked set Aldiko, Moon+ Reader, or another app as the default for Epub ebooks.
It’s a small feature, but I do like it.
I’ve been reading on the i86 for the past couple weeks without complaint, but I’ll be honest. With all of the software issues, I haven’t been able to really test how well the i86 supports various formats.
What I would have liked would be to install Comixology, ezPDF, Kindle, Kobo, and test them all, but the software issues stymied that.
I liked reading Epub, but the current native support for PDF is terrible to the point of being useless. I could not install ezPDF, and Adobe Reader kept crashing.
The Kindle app also crashed a couple times before I got it to load an ebook. it was slow to open the ebook, and also slow to turn the page. And then there is the horrible sliding page turn animation, and between one thing and another I just didn’t want to keep reading.
All in all, the reading experience reflects the software bugs.
I paid $300 for this ereader, and it frankly was not worth buying at that price. It’s slow and the software is buggy, and the lack of a frontlight makes it hard to justify the high price tag.
Nevertheless, I kinda like it, mostly for the screen. The i86 is to 6 inch ereaders what the hardback is to paperback books. The larger screen, combined with the one-handed usability, reminds me of reading thick huge books, only without the weight.
If Onyx fixed the software issues, dropped the price by $50, and added a frontlight, it would be worth buying.
But in its current state, this ereader takes a second place to the Pocketbook InkPad and the Kobo Aura H2O. Those ereaders are cheaper and have better software. Neither runs Android so they’re more limited in terms of features, but they work better.
Where to Buy
The Onyx Boox i86 has not been released yet, but a few prototypes have been floating around. Your best bet would be Ebay.
- CPU: 1GHz
- RAM: 468MB
- Storage: 2.7GB, microSD card slot
- OS: Android 4.0 Jelly Bean
- Display: 8 Inch Pear E-ink, with IR touchscreen
- Screen Resolution: 1600 x 1200 (250 dpi)
- Connectivity: Wifi, Bluetooth
- Battery: 1.7Ah
- Supported ebook formats: PDF, TXT, HTML, EPUB, CHM, PDB, MOBI (Non-DRM), FB2, DJVU
- Dimensions: 210 x 160 x 9mm
- Weight: 340 grams
Brandon March 30, 2015 um 9:41 am
Thanks for the review!
I’ll wait until the official version (hopefully with a front light) is released from Onyx before I buy. I was tempted to get the prototype, but I’ll heed your advice.
anothername March 30, 2015 um 4:19 pm
Thanks for shelling out for this pre-release version. It was interesting, but inconclusive. Hopefully the release version will be rock-solid.
Nate Hoffelder March 30, 2015 um 5:26 pm
Thanks. I hope so.
Onyx Boox i86ML vs Pocketbook InkPad (video) | Ink, Bits, & Pixels May 6, 2015 um 9:35 am
[…] new 8" ereader proved to be very disappointing when I reviewed a beta unit in late March, but the following video suggests that the production unit will be a lot […]
Onyx Boox i86 eReader With Frontlight Now Up for Pre-Order | Ink, Bits, & Pixels June 1, 2015 um 6:43 am
[…] took over a year before the first units showed up on the market in China (they weren't worth buying), and another 4 months passed before the i86 showed up for pre-order last week from a European […]
Raminator June 29, 2015 um 9:07 am
Hi Nate, Thanks for continuing to write on ereaders. It is very informative.
I had pre-ordered i86ML+ from http://ereader-store.de and it arrived last Friday. The unit is well built and it is light for long hours of reading. The 8″ screen size is very good.
The plus edition is exclusive to http://ereader-store.de and it has 1GB of RAM and 4GB of internal storage. Android performance is very good.
I could log in to Google Playstore without any issues and could Kindle for Android without any problem.
The home screen looks crisp (white is white and black is black). However opening pubs or pdfs in the native reader, the text looks very grayish. Adjusting the contrast didn’t help much.
I tried adjusting the font boldness and it was a little better, but looked a little unnatural.
Not much could be done within the kindle app.
If I can get it to be crisp and natural, then this reader is the best. Do you’ve any suggestions? I live in the DC metro area and if you’re in the same region, may be we can meet.
Nate Hoffelder June 30, 2015 um 6:19 am
My unit arrived on Tuesday. It’s pretty neat, isn’t it?
FangoWolf October 27, 2015 um 1:40 pm
Have one with the frontlight and new OS and firmware showing up tomorrow. Guess I’ll find out if some of the issues are fixed.