Genius Idea or Total Miss? Boox Builds a Camera Into Its E-Ink Tablet

It depends on how you look at it

  • Boox’s new Tab Ultra has a built-in camera for scanning documents.
  • It’s either a too-complex e-reader, or an amazing e-ink iPad.
  • It’s compatible with Boox’s snap-on keyboard and its pen.
someone holding the Boox Tab Ultra tablet and stylus


Sometimes a genius comes along and combines two seemingly incompatible ideas into one amazing whole, like peanut butter and chocolate. This isn't one of those times.

Boox makes some of the nicest e-ink tablets, but perhaps the new $600 Boox Tab Ultra is more pineapple pizza than Reese's Cup. It takes Boox's successful formula of sleek, oversized e-ink tablet optimized for reading documents and taking notes with a stylus and adds a 16MP camera to the back. The camera is there to scan documents, but once we get to this stage, isn't an iPad a much better tool?

"I think it's a good idea and technological development, but I wouldn't call it genius. It's convenient, but there are still ways to go about making a picture become a document on an iPad—all you have to do is copy and paste the words." Trevor Sookraj, the founder and CEO of Divisional and an e-ink tablet user and technology adviser, told Lifewire via email. "To me, this tablet doesn't seem any better than any other tablet out there, so especially if you already have all Apple products, getting an iPad is probably still the better choice at the end of the day."


Boox e-readers are a niche product, and it’s a great niche. You can, of course, read books on their big screens, but you can also load and markup PDFs and take notes with the accompanying stylus. These activities benefit from the eye-friendly clarity of an e-ink screen and the long battery life from not having to power a screen the whole time.

But the Boox Tab Ultra is either a confused mess or a genius design. Confused because it adds a camera and a keyboard case in an attempt to mimic the iPad while missing out on the iPad’s power. But it could be genius because of exactly the same reasons—it’s a tablet with a keyboard, camera, and pen, but it’s also an e-ink tablet. 

To me, this tablet doesn’t seem any better than any other tablet out there...

Let’s imagine some scenarios, most of which will assume you’re a fan of e-ink, perhaps you’re a Kindle or Kobo user already. First, you can use it to read a book, only on a nice big screen. 

Or you can connect the keyboard and type anywhere—even in direct sunlight. You can read RSS news feeds, again anywhere you like, and write notes on the screen, whereupon they’re converted into regular text that can be searched and shared. It even has speakers and mics for audio recording and playback, and you can install plenty of Android apps. 

Bizarro World

The idea of "niche" keeps coming back, though. This is kind of a bizarro-world iPad for people who love all things bizarre. If you mention a more limited, non-iOS e-ink tablet to some people, they'll laugh at you and go back to their iPads. But for some, the idea of an e-ink iPad is hot gold, no matter the limitations. In fact, those limitations (like the lack of a big bright screen) can sometimes be big advantages. 

"One of the reasons why the e-ink tablet is so great is because it is able to stay powered up for a long time. This means that you can use it for all sorts of tasks without having to worry about it running out of battery," technology writer and e-ink fan James Calderon told Lifewire via email. "Additionally, the e-ink screen is also very easy to read."

someone holding Boox's Tab Ultra tablet on their fingertips


I started this article thinking that the new Boox Tab Ultra was a waste of time. I use an e-reader every day, and I love it, but I prefer the iPad for everything but reading fiction. Now, though, I’m not so sure. The idea of also reading RSS feeds and websites on relaxing e-ink is pretty compelling, although you don’t need the camera-laden Boox Tab Ultra for that. You could instead opt for a cheaper, camera-free model, like the Note Air2.

Which is to say, maybe the Boox Tab Ultra is the pineapple pizza of the tablet world, but in a good way. Some people might hate it and waste their lives ridiculing it on social media, while others just love it. The good news is, you can enjoy the Boox tablets and never touch actual pineapple pizza.

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