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An unrefined and expensive workhorse


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Bigme may not be the most well-known name in the e-reader market, but the company offers many e-readers that range in size and screen capabilities. Its latest device is making waves through a successful Kickstarter campaign, eyeing to take the top spot as one of the best e-readers. Bigme is marketing its inkNote Color as the first color e-reader designed for taking notes that includes two, count them two, cameras.
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You may wonder why an e-reader needs a camera, let alone two. But since this device is primarily designed for taking notes, guess what? You can use an app to snap images of physical documents, which you can edit directly on the device thanks to its touchscreen and included stylus.

The inkNote Color runs Android 11, paired with a 10.3-inch Kaleido Plus screen, A53 2.3 GHz processor, 6GB of RAM, and 128GB of internal storage. You even get an SD card expansion slot that can fit a 4G SIM card. But this all comes at a cost, as the unit retails for $600 on Indiegogo.

Bigme’s latest e-reader has seen successful crowdfunding on Kickstarter. Going up against similar color e-readers, the inkNote Color bucks trends, offering multiple cameras (for easy document capture), a stylus, a magnetic case, weeks of battery, and Android OS to ensure all the apps you need will always be at your fingertips like a proper tablet.
Specifications
  • Resolution: 226 PPI 1872×1404 B/W, 117 PPI 936×702 Color
  • Screen Size: 10.3-inch Kaleido plus E Ink screen
  • Brand: Bigme
  • Storage: 128GB
  • Processor: 2.3GHz Octa-core
  • RAM: 6GB
  • Audio: Two external speakers, USB-C headphone support, Bluetooth
  • Supported formats: TXT, EPUB, PDF, MOBI, FB2 ,ZIP ,PRC ,RTF, HTML, HTM, DOC, DOCX, AZW, AZW3
  • Connections: USB-C, SD slot, SIM slot
  • Battery: 4000mAh
  • OS: Android 11
  • Weight: 480 grams
  • Connectivity: 2,4G/5G WiFi, Bluetooth 5.0 & BLE, LTE 4G
  • Front light: Dual front light
  • Dimensions: 225.8×191.3×6.6mm
Pros
  • Great build quality
  • Play Store built in
  • Perfect for taking notes and editing documents
  • Software support is very active with updates
Cons
  • Color support is still a novelty at low resolutions
  • Clunky UI
  • Expensive, only available for purchase on crowdfunding sites
  • Still a little buggy
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What’s in the box

The Bigme inkNote Color is packed in a large flat rectangular box that slides out lengthwise. Contained within are the e-reader, an instruction booklet packaged in a cardboard envelope, and a stylus that’s the size of a full pen. You get a USB-C cord and a few extra nibs for the pen in a separate box, but no charging brick. You get all this for $600, available starting August 25, 2022, on Indiegogo, now that the product has left Kickstarter to go on sale through Indiegogo’s storefront officially, but you’ll still have to wait until November for the items to ship. A somewhat strange setup, but perhaps not too out of the norm in 2022 for a Chinese-made e-reader.


Of course, you can purchase an optional magnetic case, along with an extra pen and nubs, where the case retails for $50, and the nubs for $20, with the pen going for $60 if you need to pick up a spare.

Design and hardware

Design-wise, the inkNote Color is slick looking tablet. It’s large, and it packs a 10.3-inch Kaleido plus E Ink screen that sits flush in the frame. There’s a relatively thin white bezel around three edges, with a larger black bezel on the left side of the unit (when held in portrait) to easily grip one-handed. This large bezel can also be slapped directly into the optional magnetic case. However, this does cover the two stereo speakers placed on the edge of the bezel, slightly muddying the overall sound.

On the outer edge, there’s a rounded gray aluminum frame holding the whole thing together, and it’s only 6.3mm thick, which makes for an Apple-like look that’s pleasing to the eyes. The bottom left of the frame houses the single USB-C port, and the power button sits at the top left. There is a slot for an SD card and SIM card next to the USB-C port, with a pogo pin on the top right to charge the included stylus, with multiple microphone ports along the top edge to easily make video calls.


While it would have been nice to see the case included in the $600 price, if you’re already willing to spend this much on a niche color e-reader from a mostly unknown brand, what’s another $50 on top?

As for the stylus, it works well. Even though E Ink isn’t known for its refresh rates, drawing and taking notes offer little to no latency, comparable to high-end tablets, which is pretty impressive. It has a pogo pin built in, so you can slap it to the side of the inkNote color to charge, and it even offers a few buttons, like forward and back buttons, that can be used to turn pages remotely over bluetooth.

I can say the hardware feels solid in hand, with a pleasing build quality, but if I had to nitpick, I suppose it would have been nice to see physical volume buttons included. As we inch closer to tablet territory with these Android-based e-readers, especially when video calls are part of the marketing campaign (thanks to the included cameras), the ability to quickly adjust the volume without requiring screen input would have been nice to see. As is, you have to pull down the notification shade and then tap on a gear icon just to access the volume slider. Heck, if volume buttons had been included, they could have also been used for shortcuts to adjust the screen brightness, which is also hidden behind a swipe and a tap to access through software.

Display and cameras

The inkNote Color is, of course, a color E Ink device, so it supports 5000 colors up to a resolution of 936×702, slightly smaller than the 1872×1404 resolution the same screen sports for black and white content. So much like similar color e-readers, color support is limited and serves primarily as a novelty. Still, at 10.3-inches, you can at least fit magazines and comic books on the screen without the need to zoom text (there will be some letterboxing/pillarboxing depending on the content’s shape/size), though certain colors have trouble displaying correctly, like reds that almost always appear brown. Color E Ink is still not perfect, even on the latest Kaleido Plus screen.

There is dual front lighting built-in, with 36 LEDs total split between each side of the screen, and warm lighting is supported, to the point, that there are two sliders in the settings to adjust the brightness and warmth of the lighting. Like all front lighting, there is some washout, but since the color support is limited in what colors it can show, a slight washout isn’t a huge deal. And really, any black and white text offers plenty of contrast, so unlike the Kindle line, a washed-out screen doesn’t result in washed-out text.

Of course, one of the big selling points of the inkNote Color is that it’s the first e-reader that packs multiple cameras, an 8MP in the rear and a 5MP in the front. The rear camera exists to scan notes and documents, and the front camera can be used for things like video calls, though the image will be grainy, as this is an E Ink device, after all. Still, the ability to attend an online meeting with an E Ink e-reader is pretty nifty. Of course, if you’re wondering how images come out with each camra, here are a few examples.

Camera images, rear and front

Software and performance

Compared to competitors like Boox, Bigme has put in the work to ensure the UI is translated in full. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call the left taskbar design of the UI intuitive, you can easily place shortcuts to all of your most-used apps to quickly launch them one-handed. And yes, you can rotate the screen once you toggle Android’s auto-rotation setting, which means you can hold the device in any orientation you wish, perfect for you left-handers out there.

However, Bigme has used several images in its advertising that show comic books displayed on the inkNote Color’s screen. Sadly I can’t get any comic books to load in the default e-reading app, as it tells me a plugin is necessary, which then leads to a dead Play Store link, which means I’m totally locked out of viewing compressed files in the default reading app, like CBRs and CBZs. Heck, even a regular ‘ol zip won’t work, which means you’ll have to convert all of your zip/rar comics to PDFs just to view them on the device. Bigme has even confirmed CBRs and CBZs aren’t supported yet but this should change soon as support is planned. In the mean time, you could dip into an Android app that supports comics, like Comixology, but thanks to the nature of E Ink, scrolling through regular Android apps is rife with ghosting since they are all displayed in color with animations that look horrid, forcing constant manual refreshes by swiping up on the right side of the screen if you wish to view each page/section without any ghosting. You can speed up apps to mitigate some of the animations that look awful on E Ink, but this setting isn’t perfect, so you’ll still see some hitches when moving page to page in a third-party e-reading app.

While I can certainly appreciate that a manual refresh option is provided, easily performed by swiping up from the bottom right of the screen, as you can imagine, if you choose to view the majority of your color content in such a manor, like by using third party Android apps, you’ll be refreshing your entire time, which is exhausting. Still, Play Store access makes it easy to jump into apps like Spotify to quickly crank some tunes while you settle in to read. This is why I absolutely love that there are external speakers, making it easy to listen to music and audiobooks without the need to grab a bluetooth headset like you would with a Kindle or Kobo (but bluetooth is also supported if you prefer wireless headsets).

Now, as far as the reading experience is concerned, the default reading app xReader offers plenty of useful options. There’s an abundance of optional font selections (and you can bring your own by plopping them into the app’s font folder), with plenty of font size options, as well as line spacing and contrast settings. You can contort just about any e-book into a style you prefer, though there is sadly no way to adjust the reading direction (like you would for Manga), and all text is justified; there’s no ragged right edge option in the settings.

You also get access to a slew of refresh options. These options aren’t as robust as a Boox device, but you can choose from a few refresh modes along with the timing when pages auto refresh. Sadly there is no single-page refresh option; the lowest number is five pages, which seems odd to me as a person that prefers a full refresh on every page on all of my E Ink devices. This leads into the manual refresh issue where I’m happy the swipe option exists but would prefer not to have to manually refresh each and every page in third-party apps and just let the software do it for me.

Battery life and charging

This is where I ran into trouble. I first tried using the USB-C brick and cord that came with my Steam Deck. Despite the e-reader lighting up that it was charging, it never took a charge. Once the battery died in the span of two days (clearly, something was draining the battery erroneously), I then tried a bunch of different cords and bricks, but kept seeing the same errors where the charging light would not light up, often causing odd screen refreshes despite the lack of battery. Once I plugged the USB cord that the unit came with directly into a power strip with USB inputs, I was able to get the charging animation to show, but it’s short-lived, leaving me guessing whether or not charging is taking place as the LED at the top is hardly an indicator, it lit up when I used the Steam Deck cord that never charged the device. Thankfully a recent update appears to have rectified this issue and my USB cords and bricks are now properly recognized and correctly charge the e-reader, though this recent bug makes it clear the software is still a work in progress even though today is release day. I also can’t help but feel I would have never noticed these charging woes had Bigme included a power brick in the box.


Once I was able to charge to 100% I took some time to test battery life. While there doesn’t appear to be an accessible battery section in the settings, I can confirm that the 4000mAh battery last for the advertised 20 hours of screen time. Of course, this depends on the content you’re consuming and the brightness of the front lighting, but if you stick to e-books and a medium brightness setting, you can easily get a couple of weeks of intermittent use (like reading before bed) on a single charge.

Should you buy it?

Maybe. Much like Boox’s offering, the Bigme inkNote Color isn’t really for newcomers to E Ink devices. This isn’t an e-reader you’d gift your grandmother; it’s more an enthusiast’s device that offers a few interesting bells and whistles, like a large screen, color imagery, and Android app support. You can easily read epubs and PDFs by sideloading them, and taking notes is a breeze, thanks to the included stylus. The device is a workhorse, designed for getting things done, and the build quality is excellent, it’s one of th nicest e-readers in my home (and I own a bunch), but thanks to a few rough edges and lack of native comic book support, there’s less room for fun compared to similar devices. Add on top the high price tag of $600, the fact you’ll still have to wait until November until it ships, and the inkNote Color doesn’t quite stack up to cheaper devices despite its pleasing design.


Sure, you get a killer screen that’s large and in charge, with a significant amount of on-device storage (as well as expandable storage), 6GB of RAM, and multi-front lighting. It’s should be a dream device for many with all the features an enthusiast would want, but the bugs and mising features paired with the high cost will more than likely turn most people off. So it’s ultimately up to you whether the expenditure is worth it, as I can only recommend the Bigme inkNote Color as long as you know what you’re getting into. If you’re fine with the above issues, I say have at it, as it’s still a fascinating device.

FAQ

Q: How does the Boox Nova Air C compare to the Bigme inkNote Color?

The Boox Nova Air C also offers an E Ink Kaleido Plus color screen, the same as the Bigme inkNote Color, but it’s much smaller at 7.8-inches. This means the Nova Air C is much easier to tote around since it offers a smaller footprint, though the loss of screen real estate means color content, especially content that’s large, like magazines and comic books, are challenging to read on the Nova without zooming in. However, the smaller size is more akin to the Kindles and Nooks out there, and since the Nova Air C is also cheaper at $420, if you’re looking to get into a color E Ink device and don’t require a 10-inch screen, the Nova AIr C is a perfectly fine choice.

Q: How does the Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition compare to the Bigme InkNote Color?

The Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition isn’t a color e-reader. In fact, it’s an incredibly affordable black and white e-reader that is backed up by an amazing e-book store. Not only does this store offer the best selection of cleanly formatted e-books, but you can purchase them directly on your device, something you can’t even do in the Android or iOS Kindle apps. Sure, the 6.8-inch screen is much smaller than the InkNote Color’s, but this provides portability, which is handy if your intention is to only read novels and other literature. So if you don’t require a color screen, a stylus for note taking, or external speakers, the Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition is a solid option for those that simply wish to read unencumbered.



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