I have been using the Boox Max2 for about a month now and I have to say I’ve had a great time using it. I bought it mainly to read scientific papers and avoid eye strain and it does a great job helping me do that. I was happy to find that it is light enough to be easy to hold with one hand and that it was not a problem to select pieces of text to highlight using touch. I was also surprised at how much writing with the stylus reproduces the experience of writing with a pencil on paper and find myself using the stylus and notebook much more than I was expecting to. Last of all, I also wasn’t expecting to be using the browser much, but I find myself using it more and more to browse text content on the web. I find that it helps avoids eye strain and the black and white mutes a lot of the distractions on web pages and helps me to concentrate on the text more.
As with anything good, one feels a great motivation try to make it better or even perfect. So first I want to say “Awesome job Boox Max team!” and humbly offer these suggestions.
A more consistent and faster way to switch between tasks
Consider how one switches tasks in the current software:
If I am reading a book and want to switch to the browser, I press the physical Back button to go to the Home screen, and then press on the browser icon in the bottom bar.
If I am reading a book and want to switch to an app that is not on the Home screen bottom bar, I press the physical Back button to go to the Home screen, then press the Task Switch button on the top right of the screen, then select the app. (Note this requires three screen switches to get to the app rather than the normal two.)
If I am using an app and want to switch back to reading, I press the Home button on the top left of the screen, and then press the book cover in the recently read books row.
If I am using an app and want to switch to another app, I press the Task Switch button on the top right of the screen, and then select the app. (But this not work if what I want to switch to is the Library or Storage apps, because these don’t appear in the task switch screen for some reason.)
If I am using an app and want to switch to the Storage or Library app, I press the Home button on the top left of the screen, and then press the corresponding icon on the bottom of the screen.
Here is what I don’t like:
- Fundamentally I feel all of these are all the same action (switching between tasks) and is an action that the user needs to initiate frequently, but it is disconcerting how differently it must be initiated in each different context (pressing the physical Back button then selecting from the bottom menu, pressing the physical Back button then the Task Switch button then the app icon, pressing the Home button then selecting from the bottom menu, pressing the Task Switch button then selecting from the app).
- When intiating the task switch requires pressing the Home or Task Switch buttons on the top menu bar, this is not easy. Because they are small and there are other small icons next to them, the touch sometimes does not register or launches the wrong thing. They are also hard to reach because they are on the top corners of the screen.
- Because the e-ink screen refreshes slowly, one would like to avoid screen changes as much as possible. While most of these ways to task switch requires the minimum two screen switches, note that (2. switching from a book to an app that is not in the Home screen bottom bar) requires three screen switches.
Here is one possible solution I would like to propose:
- Make an improved switch screen that contains all the things you are most likely want to switch to:
** The last N open books
** All opened apps, including Storage and Library
** Top N frequently used apps, even if they are not open
** Possibly shortcuts to folders in storage that the user can create
** I feel you can fit at least 16 icons on the screen (just like grid view in the Library app)
- Make the physical Menu button on the bottom left take you to this switch screen from anywhere (from any app or book). The Menu button is the single physical button that I rarely find myself using and you can always launch the menu from a button on the screen.
I feel the advantages to this solution are:
- A single consistent way to switch tasks from anywhere.
- Pressing the hardware button on the bottom left rather than software buttons on the top of the screen is a lot easier way to launch the task switch action.
- All task switches are reduced to 2 screen switches.
I feel for an action as frequently used as task switching, it is worth it to think of every way to try to make it easier.
A faster way to navigate the directory hierarchy to the right book
I have a lot of papers, and they are organized in a directory tree on my computer which I copied to Boox Max.
I do not use the Library to navigate to the book or paper I want because Library does not recognize this directory structure, so it is as if all these hundreds of papers are in one directory.
- I realize Library supports the concept of sub-libraries, but I would have to re-create the entire directory structure using sub-libraries. This is not practical, especially when the slowness of the e-ink screen.
- I also realize there is a search function, but again because the e-ink screen is slow, doing text input on Boox Max is slow, and scrolling through the results and narrowing the search is slow.
Consequentially I use the Storage app to navigate to the book or paper I want. I create shortcuts to folders I frequently access on the Storage init screen.
I would like to propose the following for making directory navigation easier in the Storage app:
- Have a split screen where on one side of the screen I can see and navigate a visual directory hierarchy (similar to Windows Explorer for example), and on the right I see the files in the currently selected directory.
- Have the Back button go to the directory I was in before visiting the current directory, rather than always go to the physical parent directory.
The advantages are:
- The visual directory hierarchy would allow me to go from any folder to any other folder. Currently in the Storage app, you can go from a folder to its direct parent or child. This means that to go from a folder to another folder in a different directory subtree, I must traverse all ancestor directories of the first directory up to their common ancestor, then all ancestor directories between the common ancestor and the second directory. This is a lot of screen switches on a screen where each screen switch is slow.
- The directory hierarchy would allow me to keep several directories that I visit often visible and accessible via a single press.
- Frequently where I want to go from a directory is the last directory I was in before the current one, not the parent. This is especially true if I can jump around using a visual hierarchy. But it is even true now, when I open a directory using a short cut on the Storage app init screen. Often what I want is to do is then go back to the init screen, but pressing the Back button currently takes me to the parent directory instead.
Make skipping pages easier
I think one of the primary disadvantages of an e-reader compared to a physical book is that it is difficult to flip and skip through a bunch of pages with an e-reader. If you go page by page, it is slow because e-ink screen refreshes slowly. Dragging the scroll bar is also insufficient because the slow screen makes it inaccurate and you cannot skim the pages you are skipping through to identify where you want to stop.
Which is why I depend so heavily the multi-page select screen available on the Boox Max reader that displays previews of 9 pages at a time.
I would like to propose the following improvements:
- Currently it is incredibly hard to get to this screen. This is because you must press the small page number at the bottom right of the screen. This number is very small and is very hard to press. I really wish it would be easier to get to this screen when reading, either with a larger software button, or even with a physical button.
- Currently the screen shows previews of 9 pages. I wish there was an option to show more, for example 16 seems perfectly manageable. When skimming, you just need to see the shape of the text. With 9, normal text is already too small to read. So with 16 you don’t sacrifice anything while seeing more pages.
- Currently when bringing up the screen, the pages are rendered one by one. This can be slow if the content is complex. Perhaps it would be possible to pre-render and buffer previews to make all the previews display faster?
Using fingers to erase
I really enjoy the stylus writing experience on the Boox Max 2, but not the erase experience.
The methods I know of to erase are either using the nub on the top of the stylus, or by holding the button on the stylus and using the tip of the stylus.
I don’t like using the nub to erase because it is hard plastic. I feel that too much pressure while using it against the e-ink screen will almost certainly damage the screen, even with a screen protector.
I find it difficult to erase by holding the stylus button because the stylus is narrow and the button is small. Furthermore, it also feel unnatural to use the small tip to erase.
What would be ideal is if I can use my finger to erase. The size and softness of the finger makes it a natural eraser that you can apply pressure to without damaging the screen. You can also do it naturally while holding the pencil ready to write. If this can be done with palm detection so that the palm does not accidentally act as an eraser, it would be the ideal solution.
And a few minor things
- Make the book reader tab bar and bookmark icons on the bottom edge rather than the top edge where they would be easier to reach.
- Make the universal menu bar (containing Home, Back, etc) also on the bottom edge rather than the top edge where they would be easier to reach.
- When reading and taking notes in split screen mode, make it possible to shrink the menu bar to just a single button and put it in the top right corner where it is more likely to be out of the way of the writing.
- It would be great to be able to associate a notebook with a book, rather than only with a single page, and also to have an option to open this note in full screen mode while reading rather than only split screen. In split screen mode, I’d like to flip through the book while taking notes on the same notebook page.
- The physical power button is incredibly hard to press because it is so small and on the bottom of the device. Why not just replace it with a long press on one of the physical buttons on the front of the device?
- (Wishful thinking) One of the best e-readers I’ve ever used is the Nook Color (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nook_Color) designed by Yves Béhar. One of the things I liked most about it is the soft plastic back, because it made it pleasant to hold like a real book in contrast to the cold metal and glass of most tablets. It’s already great that the Boox Max2 is so light, but it would be incredible if the cold hard plastic can be replaced with something soft like the Nook (as long as it doesn’t increase the weight).