The Bigme inkNote Color is an Android tablet with a 10.3 inch display a digital pen that you can use to write or draw notes on the screen, front and rear cameras that can be used for pictures, videos, or document scanning, and stereo speakers plus an array of 4 noise-cancelling microphones.
But unlike most Android tablets, the inkNote Color has a paper-like E Ink display that’s easy on the eyes and doesn’t consume much power: it’s reasonably to expect battery life measured in days or weeks rather than hours.
There are some trade-offs to consider though. E Ink displays have slower refresh rates than LCD or OLED screens. While you can watch videos or play high-motion games on the inkNote Color, it’s not exactly a pleasant experience. And while the device supports color, it has a limited palette and the colors look rather subtle and faded… sort of like you’re looking at old newsprint rather than a glossy magazine.
The Bigme inkNote Color is also considerably more expensive than a typical Android tablet with similar specs. First unveiled in July, it’s up for pre-order for $599 during an Indiegogo InDemand campaign that launched immediately after a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign ended August 25th, 2022.
Bigme expects to begin shipping the inkNote Color to Kickstarter backers in October, while folks who buy one through Indiegogo should get theirs in November. After that, the tablet is expected to sell for $700 when it hits retail channels.
Bigme’s tablet does have features that make it somewhat unique though. E Ink tablets with pen support are becoming more common, but there still aren’t many with color displays yet. And the inkNote Color is the first to feature front and rear cameras that you can use to snap photos, scan documents, or even shoot video. The inkNote Color also comes with the Google Play Store pre-installed, which is highly unusual for a tablet with an E Ink display and a heavily customized user interface.
So is the Bigme inkNote Color worth the money? That depends.
Bigme loaned me a demo unit that I’ve been putting through the paces for the past week or so, and I’ve come to think of it as a jack of many trades, but master of few. If you just want a writing slate with a paper-like display, you might be better off with a cheaper device with a black and white display, like the $299 reMarkable 2.
Want a tablet with a color display for reading magazines, picture books, or comics? Then you might be better off with a device with a model sporting an LCD or OLED screen for more vivid colors and smoother animations. And you’ll definitely want a more traditional tablet if you’re looking for a gadget for watching videos or playing games.
But what makes the inkNote Color special is that it can do a little bit of everything. It’s a note-taking tablet with an E Ink screen that can display some (limited) color. And can run a wide range of Android apps, so you’re not limited to using the software that comes pre-installed. This tablet may not be the best choice for everyone, but it may be one of the only choices if you’re looking for a device with this specific set of features.
|BigMe InkNote Color specs
E Ink Kaleido Color
1404 x 1872 pixels (greyscale) / 226 ppi
720 x 960 pixels (color) / 117 ppi
Front light with 36 levels of brightness adjustable cold and warm color temperature
|MediaTek Helio P35
4 x ARM Cortex-A53 CPU cores @ 2.3 GHz
4 x ARM Cortex-A53 CPU cores @ 1.8 GHz
PowerVR GE8320 graphics @ 680 MHz
microSD card reader (up to 128GB)
|Stereo 0.7W speakers
|Fingerprint sensor (in power button)
4G LTE bands B34/B38/B/39/B40/B41
|Android 11 (heavily customized)
|Speech to text
OCR (image to text)
Wacom EMR digital pen / remote control / laser pointer / 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity
G-sensor (automatic screen rotation supported)
|1 x USB 2.0 Type-C
1 x nano SIM / microSD card combo slot
|226 x 191 x 7mm
Bigme is a Chinese company that’s been making E Ink tablets and eBook readers for a few years and has already released several models with E Ink color displays. The new inkNote Color is not only one of the most feature-packed to date, it’s also one of the company’s first products designed specifically for Western markets… mostly.
There are a few spots where the software seems to be poorly translated from Chinese to English. And the first time I tried to use the on-screen keyboard, I couldn’t figure out why text I entered wasn’t displayed properly until I noticed that there was a CHN key that I had to tap to change the keyboard to ENG mode.
Bigme is launching the inkNote color in partnership with Good EReader, a news website and online storefront for eBook readers. It comes in a box with the website’s logo on it, and the tablet ships with three Good EReader apps pre-installed: an Android app store, online hardware shopping app, and a news app. And site editor Michael Kozlowski says he provided input into the design and features of the tablet.
So maybe it’s not surprising that the inkNote Color seems to take a kitchen sink approach, throwing just about every feature anyone could ever want in an e-note device. Want an E Ink color display? You’ve got it. A front light with adjustable color temperature? No problem. Pen with pressure-sensitive input? Sure. MicroSD card reader? Got it. Fingerprint sensor. Yep. Speakers and microphones? Check and check. Front and rear cameras? Sure, why not? WiFi and Bluetooth. Got those too.
The Bigme inkNote Color even has a nano SIM card slot and support for 4G LTE networks… although with limited support for North American network bands, this isn’t a feature I tested. Still, folks in some parts of the world might be able to use the wireless data connection when they’re out of range of WiFi.
That’s not to say that all of those features live up to their full potential. The speakers are underwhelming. Using cameras on a device with an E Ink display can be a frustrating experience. But at least they’re included for folks who want them.
There are a few things the tablet doesn’t have. There’s no headphone jack, for instance. Somewhat more baffling is the lack of physical volume keys. If you want to adjust the volume you’ll either need to bring up the quick settings panel by swiping down from the top of the screen or assign volume up and volume down actions to a touchscreen gesture.
The Bigme inkNote Color has a 10.3 inch display with a 4:3 aspect ratio and a matte finish. It’s surrounded by a white border on all sides, and there’s a thick black strip along one side that gives you something to grip when holding the tablet, so that your hand doesn’t cover the screen.
What’s different here is that there’s a 5MP front-facing camera embedded in that black bezel. It’s sort of an awkward place for a selfie camera, because if you hold the tablet so that you’re looking at your own face on the screen while snapping a picture, it’ll appear as if you’re looking off camera. So you need to train yourself to look at the camera itself. But it’s still rare to find an E Ink tablet with a camera at all.
Flip the tablet over and you’ll find a back cover with a two-tone color scheme, a frosted glass-like finish (I’m not actually sure if it’s glass or plastic), and an 8MP rear camera with an LED flash.
Along one side of the tablet’s long sides you’ll find stereo speakers, and on the other there’s a set of two pins for charging the Wacom EMR pen that comes with the inkNote color. The pen attaches to those pins magnetically and charges automatically.
Keep in mind that since it’s an EMR (electromagnetic resonance) pen, you can use it to draw on the screen even if the pen’s battery is completely dead. You could also use third-party Wacom EMR pens with the inkNote Color, including the ones that come with some Samsung Galaxy smartphones and tablets. But the inkNote Color’s pen also has a few other special features that do require battery power: you can use it as a Bluetooth remote or a laser pointer, but you can only use those functions if the battery is charged.
Along the bottom edge of the inkNote color you’ll find a USB Type-C port that can be used for charging or data. The tablet comes with a charging cable but no AC adapter, so you’ll need to supply your own. But you can also use the cable to connect the device to a computer, where it should show up as a USB mass storage device, allowing you to easily move documents, eBooks or other content to and from the tablet.
There’s also a nano SIM card slot/microSD card reader on the bottom of the tablet. You’ll need to insert a pin into the small hole to eject the card holder, but Bigme includes one with the tablet.
And on the top of the tablet there’s an array of four microphones plus a power button with a built-in fingerprint reader. While I was a little skeptical that a fingerprint sensor this small would work, I’ve found that I can usually login to the inkNote Color with just a tap or two.
Thanks to a G-sensor, the tablet supports automatic screen rotation. So while I tend to think of the power button on top, the USB port on bottom, and the hand grip section on the left, if you’re a left-handed person you could easily flip the tablet over and hold it in your right hand. Just note that the camera will be near the bottom if you do this.
You can also flip the tablet for use in landscape orientation to take awkward selfies, among other things.
There are trade-offs that come with displays that use E Ink’s Kaleido color technology. Basically what you’re getting is an E Ink screen with a color filter applied in a way that does three things:
- Adds color (yay)
- Makes the screen a little darker than a typical greyscale E Ink display (boo)
- Reduces the effective resolution when looking at color content (ugh)
So the good news is that the inkNote color can display color content. This allows you to draw pictures or take notes in color, underline or highlight text in color, and view websites, eBooks, documents, news apps, and even videos in color… as long as you don’t mind a fairly limited range of colors that look rather subdued when compared with what you’d get from an LCD or OLED display.
For example, if you put the Bigme inkNote Color side-by-side with an Amazon Fire HD 10 tablet while viewing the same pages from a digital comic book, you’ll see color on both screens. But the Fire HD 10’s glossy LCD display provides deeper black, more vivid reds, blues, and yellows, and generally looks more true to life.
For certain types of content, the limited color range and vibrancy isn’t much of an issue. For others, it can be a deal breaker. But, again, some color may be better than no color at all.
Unfortunately adding color to E Ink comes at the cost of pixel density. While the inkNote Color has a 1404 x 1872 pixel display that’s theoretically capable of displaying 226 pixels per inch (ppi) in black and white, it’s really more like a 720 x 960 pixel color display with a pixel density of 117 ppi.
In other words, text and images don’t look nearly as sharp as they would on most modern phones, tablets, or other E Ink devices. By comparison, an Amazon Kindle Paperwhite has a greyscale display with 300 pixels per inch, while the entry-level Kindle sells for less than $100 and has a 167 ppi screen. You don’t get color, but you do get more clarity with those devices.
When you place the inkNote color side-by-side with an Amazon Kindle Paperwhite you’ll find that text generally looks bolder and sharper on Amazon’s eBook reader. And with the backlight off, the Paperwhite’s display looks brighter and closer to, well.. white. The inkNote color screen is more of a grey.
Turn on the front light though, and the inkNote Color display holds its own a little better. While the illumination won’t do anything to increase the pixel density, you do get 36 levels of brightness to choose from, as well as separate warm and cool light controls, allowing you to select the level of blue light that shines through.
Like all E Ink displays, the screen has a more paper-like quality than LCD or AMOLED though. The screen has a matte finish, doesn’t reflect glare, and is easily visible in direct sunlight or using only ambient light.
If you do want to brighten the display for viewing in dark or dimly lit environments, you can turn on the front light, which shines on a series of LED lights onto the display itself rather than shining from the display toward your eyes. Many people find that this reduces eye strain and makes reading more comfortable.
E Ink is also more energy efficient than a typical color display, since power is only consumed when the image on the screen changes. You can display a static image on an E Ink display indefinitely, even after the battery is completely dead.
And when you use a digital pen like the Wacom stylus that comes with the inkNote color to draw on a matte E Ink display, it feels a bit more pen & paper-like than using a stylus on a glossy glass screen.
But E Ink screens generally have much slower refresh rates than LCD or OLED displays, making it less than ideal for watching videos, viewing animations, or running apps or playing games where frame rates matter.
The Bigme InkNote does allow you to adjust the screen refresh rate depending on whether you want to prioritize quick refreshes or visual fidelity. Here’s the trade-off: you can get the screen to refresh at a rate fast enough to watch videos, but you’ll have to put up with a lot of aliasing or ghosting, where a bit of the previous image stays on the screen after a new image is drawn.
Bigme offers four screen refresh rate modes: Normal, Fast, Top Fast, and HD 256. The first three can be set globally using the E Ink Center software that comes pre-installed on the tablet, while the HD 256 option can be applied on a per-app basis for when you want the highest quality images and don’t mind slow refresh rates (although I should note that I have a hard time telling the difference between Normal and HD 256, which might be why it’s not offered in the global options).
If you dive into the tablet’s settings, you’ll also find an option to force the tablet to fully refresh the display every so often, with options ranging from every time you change the image on the screen to every 30 times.
This will typically cause the screen to go black for a second as the content is refresher. The upside is that when it’s done, you won’t see any hint of the image that was on the screen before the refresh. The downside is that having the screen go black at what seems like random times can be disconcerting.
So what I’ve done instead is assign a gesture shortcut to fully refresh the display. Now I can just swipe up from the bottom left edge of the screen any time I want to get rid of ghost images.
That’s just one of a number of gestures you can assign. I’ve also found it’s helpful to set another gesture shortcut so that it opens the E Ink Center software, allowing me to adjust the global screen refresh mode (as well as color “vivid” and “brightness” settings, and “dark enhancement, which makes text look better and images look worse). And I’ve set another shortcut to trigger the Back button in Android, because otherwise I’d need to swipe down from the top of the screen to bring up a Quick Settings panel with a back button to exit an app or go back to the previous screen.
Anyway, while keeping the global refresh mode at “Normal” is handy for viewing static content like eBooks or periodicals, adjusting it to “Top fast” mode allows the screen to refresh more quickly. Theoretically you can use this mode for watching videos, but they look kind of awful due to ghosting, limited color range, and the fact that they don’t quite hit 30 frames per second.
But Top fast mode does come in handy if you’re using an app like a web browser where you may want to pinch to zoom or swipe to scroll. Doing that in “Normal” mode is tricky because the page refreshes once or twice a second and it’s hard to tell where the page is going to stop scrolling. But switch to “Fast” or “Top fast” mode and you can pinch and swipe much the way you would on any Android phone or tablet. Graphics just won’t look as good.
Input (touchscreen, pen, and on-screen keyboard)
No matter which refresh mode you select, you won’t have to wait for a full screen refresh every time you touch the pen to screen. The tablet is designed for note-taking and drawing, and pen strokes appear almost instantly when you use Wacom pen to write notes, mark up text or images, or draw pictures using the default writing and drawing apps.
The pen is pressure sensitive, so if you can press harder to draw thicker lines or use a light touch for thin lines.
Using the built-in Notes app, you can also select from “pen,” “pencil,” or “brush” type pens, set the pen thickness on a scale of 1 (thinnest) to 5 (thickest), and choose from 16 different color options.
My handwriting is pretty bad, and I’m not much of an artist. So I don’t tend to take a lot of handwritten notes or draw a lot of pictures.
But the pen could still be useful for highlighting text or marking up documents, thanks to a “global handwriting” option that lets you annotate anything on the screen.
Unfortunately the pen doesn’t work nearly as well for writing or drawing in third-party apps like OneNote or Squid. It seems that Bigme customized the software experience for its default Notes app so that there’s virtually no lag when you use the pen to draw a line on the screen. But try the same thing in a third-party app and there will be a noticeable delay.
When trying to write a word in Squid, for example, I’d sometimes find that I would be writing the second or third letter before the first starts to appear on the screen. Not only can that be a disorienting experience, but for someone like me who has sloppy handwriting, it can be hard to tell if you’ve made a mistake that you need to correct.
The pen itself also has a few other interesting features. It has three hardware buttons:
- Page Up/Eraser (hold this while circling anything you’ve written or drawn to erase everything in the circle)
- Page Down
- Customizable button (with what looks like a power button logo)
You can assign up to two different actions to that customizable button to basically use the pen as a Bluetooth remote control. One action can be triggered with a single click, and another with a long press.
For example, I’ve got mine set up so that a single click activates voice controls (more on that below), while a long press saves a screenshot of whatever is on the tablet’s screen at the moment.
Other options you could assign include Back or Home actions, turning the tablet off, toggling WiFi on or off, or toggling the front light on or off.
The pen has one other nifty trick up its sleeve: double-click that action button and the pen becomes a laser pointer. Since the Bigme inkNote Color supports Miracast wireless display technology, you could theoretically cast your tablet’s screen to a projector or large TV while delivering a presentation and use the stylus/laser pointer to direct viewers’ attention. But I’ve also found that it makes a good cat toy.
Since the tablet has a Wacom digitizer, it should theoretically work with third-party pens that support Wacom’s EMR pen standard. But the stylus that ships with the tablet is designed for use with the inkNote Color. It snaps to the side of the tablet magnetically for safe keeping when you’re not using it. And it charges automatically when it’s in that position thanks to a set of charging pins.
Of course, the pen isn’t the only way to interact with the tablet. You can also use your fingers to tap and swipe your way around. While Bigme’s tablet has a heavily customized user interface, the operating system is basically Android 11, which is very much designed for touch.
I’m a little underwhelmed by the tablet’s on-screen keyboard though.
While it’s relatively easy to enter text, I’ve found that the adaptive parts of the keyboard can be a little wonky. For example, depending on the app you’re using or the text input field you’re typing in, the key that would normally be Enter on a standard keyboard could be marked as “Go,” “Next,” or “Down.”
While Go and Next work just fine in a web browser, allowing you to submit text, Down is a lot less useful as it just makes the keyboard disappear – something you could also do by hitting the “Close” button on the other side of the keyboard.
Anyway, it’s nice to have the option of typing, particularly since I’ve found that the built-in handwriting-to-text engine isn’t all that accurate.
Since the tablet supports Bluetooth 5.0, you could also pair accessories like a wireless keyboard and/or mouse if that’s more your speed though.
And thanks to the noise-cancelling microphones, you can also use voice controls or voice-to-text. Since I’ve assigned a short click of the pen’s action button to voice controls, all I have to do is press the button once and then use a verbal command to turn off the tablet, take a screenshot, go to the home screen, change pages, toggle WiFi, create a note, or open an app (including third-party apps I’ve installed as well as pre-installed apps).
The language Bigme chose for the voice prompts is a bit creepy though: the tablet asks its “master” to give it instructions.
While I’ve found the handwriting-to-text feature to be a bit wonky, the speech-to-text works reasonably well. One of the pre-installed apps is called Meeting records, and if you tap the “Recording transcription” button, it will begin a voice recording while providing a text transcript in near real-time.
Punctuation in that transcription is kind of all over the place, but the tablet does a good job of detecting words accurately. So this could be a good way to dictate notes verbally, which you could always clean up manually at a later time if you need to share them.
You can also export the text transcription of your meeting notes as a PDF or text file, and the tablet will also save an MP3 file with the audio recording.
Speech recognition is said to work in 37 different languages, although I’ve only tried it with English.
The Bigme inkNote Color ships with Android 11 software, which means that it supports many of the millions of third-party apps available for Google’s mobile operating system.
But Android wasn’t really designed for E Ink devices, so the inkNote Color has a heavily customized user interface. There’s a custom home screen and launcher app. And the settings, quick settings, status notifications, and navigation options are all different from what you’d see on most Android smartphones or tablets.
Given all those changes, it’s kind of surprising that the inkNote Color actually comes with the Google Play Store pre-installed. The tablet’s not listed in the Google Play Console Device catalog, so I suspect Bigme is either still waiting on approval from Google or went ahead and installed the Play Store unofficially.
That said, it’s nice to have the option to browse the Play Store from the tablet and easily install apps that may already be linked to your account.
I had no trouble installing the Amazon Kindle, New York Times, and Feedly apps, for example. I also installed Google Play Books and Perfect Viewer so I could read comic books using two of my preferred apps for that purpose.
But even if the tablet didn’t have the Play Store, it would be pretty useful thanks to the built-in apps and features and support for third-party Android apps downloaded from other sources.
Since the global version of this tablet is being launched in partnership with Good EReader, it has a Good EReader app store with a limited selection of E Ink-friendly apps for reading eBooks, connecting to social media, web browsing, listening to music, and more.
You could also install apps from other sources. Have just one or two apps that you want to grab from APKMirror? No problem. Want to install another third-party app store or repository like F-Droid? You can do that too.
But while most Android apps are usable on the tablet, are a few things that make the Bigme inkNote Color’s software a little different from a typical Android device. The first is the custom home screen and launcher app.
Instead of putting a list of apps and widgets front and center, the inkNote color’s launcher includes shortcuts for specific apps and features on the left side, navigation and status icons along the top, and a large window that functions as a file browser or preview window that takes up most of the rest of the screen.
Out of the box, you’ll find shortcuts for Meeting records, Notes, Task list, Offline books (the inkNote Color’s default eReader app), Office, and Scan document in the sidebar, along with a few other proprietary apps like Cloud and Voice Translate that require you to login with an account.
But you can also tap the Menu management button to select which apps appear in the sidebar. This lets you hide pre-installed apps that you don’t use or display third-party apps you may have installed.
Along the top of the home screen you’ll find a home button, a shortcut to bring up the E Ink Center for color, brightness, and dark enhancement settings, a settings icon, and a back button, along with a few special keys.
One is a shortcut to bring up the app drawer, which lets you see most of the apps installed on your device… but not some of the pre-installed default apps like the Notes, Meeting records, or Offline books apps. Those appear to be bundled with the home screen/launcher app and don’t show up separately in the app drawer.
Another special key is the recents or task switcher button, which brings up a view with previews of running apps, allowing you to quickly jump from one to another.
There’s also a split screen button that allows you to view two apps at once in side-by-side windows. This allows you to, for example, open a web browser or eBook in one window and a writing app in the other so you can take notes as you read.
You can start split screen mode by opening an app, swiping down from the top of the screen to reveal the navigation window, and then tapping the split screen button and choosing “Start split screen.”
Once open, you can tap the button again to bring up a menu to either exit split screen or swap the position of the two apps.
Split screen works in both portrait and landscape orientations.
Tapping the Settings icon from the navigation menu brings up an additional Quick Settings panel with buttons for WiFi, Bluetooth, the E Ink Center, a volume slider, screenshot button, Miracast wireless display, and App optimization (which lets you set screen refresh rate options and other settings on a per-app basis).
There’s also a “Speed up” button, which is basically a RAM cleaner that probably doesn’t do very much to improve performance, and a More Settings button that lets you bring up the full Settings app.
While many of the settings you’d find in a typical Android device are hidden, you can use the Settings menu to adjust wireless options, set your pen preferences, set a password, register a fingerprint, and adjust screen refresh frequency.
You can also adjust global UI features including text size, and configure gestures, or check for system updates. Tap the Other settings option and you’ll find a second page with a few more options including language and date and time settings.
There’s also a “Floating ball” toggle, which lets you decide whether or not to show an on-screen circle that you can tap for quick access to frequently-used actions from any screen. You may have noticed it in some of my photos above.
When enabled, you can tap that circle to bring up home, back, recents, settings, and power buttons as well as a screenshot button (which looks like a pair of scissors, so I thought it was a cut/paste button at first), and a refresh button that lets you perform a full screen refresh.
Personally I’ve found that assigning back and refresh actions to swipe-from-the-bottom gestures has been good enough for my needs, so I rarely tap the floating ball button. But it’s nice to have the additional option, especially since there’s a limited number of gestures available.
And, as the name suggests, it’s a floating button, which means you can drag and drop it anywhere on the display. So if you find that it’s covering something you’re trying to read, you can just move the button to another location.
A few other built-in apps that I wanted to touch on are the camera and document scanner, both of which take advantage of the tablet’s cameras.
The camera app is a pretty basic tool for snapping photos or taking videos, with a handful of options including toggling of the LED flash and HDR support or switching between photo and video modes or front and rear cameras. It works pretty much as you’d expect… except that lining up shots using an E Ink display with a slow refresh rate and limited color range can ben exercise in frustration. It can also be hard to make out the on-screen buttons when using the camera, since they don’t always stand out well from the subject matter you’re shooting.
While you could theoretically use the cameras for photography, videography, or video calls, you’re probably better off pulling your phone out of your pocket. But there’s another reason to use the cameras on a device that’s clearly designed for taking notes: document scanning.
There’s a scan document function built into the inkNote Color’s launcher app, and once you fire it up you can take a picture of a document, save that image, and convert written content in that image to text… kind of.
In practice, I found that the inkNote color did a poor job of accurately capturing all of the words in anything I tried scanning, and when it did get the correct words, it didn’t often put them in the right place.
That said, it’s nice to at least have the option of scanning meeting notes, receipts, or other documents on the same tablet you may already be using to jot notes. Even if the default app doesn’t do a great job with optical character recognition (OCR), you may be able to get better results from third-party apps. Or you could transfer those images to a PC for archiving or processing with desktop OCR software.
Speaking of transferring documents to a PC, there are a number of easy ways to do that. One is just plugging the inkNote Color into a PC with a USB cable. It should show up as a USB mass storage device, allowing you to drag and drop files to a computer. That’s how I transferred the screenshots used in this review
You could also use a microSD card as removable storage, but that would be kind of a hassle since the microSD card reader is in the same slot as the nano SIM card reader and you need to use a pin to eject the card holder.
For the most part, I’ve found that wireless transfers are often simplest. You could upload documents to Google Drive, Dropbox, or other cloud storage services (there’s also a Cloud function built into the Bigme inkNote Color, but I didn’t want to create a Bigme account to use it). Or you can use a third-party file explorer app like Solid Explorer to set up a local connection with other PCs on your home network. That’s what I used when I wanted to transfer comic books to the tablet for reading.
The MediaTek Helio P35 processor that drives the Bigme inkNote Color isn’t exactly a speed demon when compared with the chips that power modern mid-range or premium smartphones or tablets. But it’s much more powerful and versatile than the chips that you’d typically find at the heart of an eReader like a Kindle or Kobo device.
It’s a 12nm, 64-bit chip with four ARM Cortex-A53 CPU cores that can hit speeds up to 2.3 GHz and four more that run at up to 1.8 GHz. The Helio P35 also has a 680 MHz PowerVR GE8320 GPU, but hardware-accelerated graphics aren’t all that useful on an E Ink device, so graphics performance isn’t that important.
Basically, it’s the kind of chip you’d typically find in a budget Android device. So it’s not surprising that the Bigme inkNote Color notches scores in synthetic benchmarks that put it on par with the Amazon Fire HD 10 (2019) tablet (Amazon released a new model with more RAM in 2021, but it has the same processor, so I didn’t bother upgrading mine).
Amazon’s tablet is a budget device, with a list price of $150, so you might expect that a $600 to $700 device like the inkNote Color to blow it out of the water… and it doesn’t. But if you’re looking to buy a device like this one, it’s not because of a blazing fast processor. It’s because of the E Ink color display and support for pressure sensitive pen input. And both of those features drive up the price substantially.
With that in mind, Fire HD 10-level performance is fine for most of the tasks you’d expect to use this tablet for. Pre-installed apps run smoothly, and with a little trial and error, it’s not too hard to find third-party apps that run well on the tablet.
When surfing the web or reading the news in apps like Feedly or the NYT app, I did find that it would take a little longer for images to load on the inkNote Color than on the Fire HD 10. And you may have to adjust the screen refresh rate to use apps that rely heavily on animation.
But most of the quirks that you have to get used to are related to the display, not the processor. If you do use the Fast or Top Fast display modes, you’ll experiencing a lot of ghosting/aliasing, where text and graphics will linger on the screen even after you move to the next page. And that can make the tablet a little more frustrating to use.
You can reduce that effect by sticking with Normal mode, but then the screen refreshes more slowly and gestures like swiping to scroll or pinching to zoom will feel a lot less fluid. And if you don’t want to experience any ghost images at all, you can do a full page refresh every time you change the image on the screen, but then you’ll get even slower page refreshes and the screen will go black momentarily between page loads.
The tablet’s 0.7W stereo speakers are really… not good. While they’re serviceable for listening to voice memos, I wouldn’t really want to use them to listen to music, podcasts, or audiobooks. Fortunately you can pair Bluetooth headphones or speakers with the tablet or use the USB-C port for a wired audio connection.
Battery life will clearly vary depending on how you use the device. I’ve been testing a demo unit for over a week and I’ve only charged it twice: the day it arrived and then again around five days later. But I’ve been using it pretty heavily for a few hours per day to read books, install apps, run benchmarks, watch videos, and more. I feel pretty confident that you could get battery life measured in weeks if you’re using it more casually than that. But heavy users might have to charge the battery every few days.
Since text and graphics don’t look as sharp on an E Ink color display as they do on a greyscale screen, it’s nice to have the “Dark enhancement” option in the E Ink Center utility. Move the slider from 0 to 100 and it’s like changing from standard to bold-faced fonts.
This works great for text, but can have the effect of making pictures look too dark to actually see. For example, you might want Dark Enhancement enabled in an eBook app, but disabled when using apps to read magazines, newspapers, picture books, or comics
I’ve also found that adjusting the Vivid enhancement option has varying effects depending on what content is on screen. For example, in some content, sliding the switch to 0 lead to almost complete color desaturation, leaving you looking at something close to a greyscale image. But in with other content, you just end up with colors that look a bit duller.
The reason I assigned a gesture shortcut to the E Ink Center is because I found myself frequently bringing it up when switching from app to app. One app might look better with Dark enhancement slid up a few degrees, for example, while others look awful with it enabled at all.
It’d be nice if Bigme offered the option to save E Ink Center presets on a per-app basis, so that you could quickly switch from your comic book to your text-only eBook presets, for example. But as it is, you have to recreate your preferred settings each time you switch apps.
One last thing to consider is that while this is a large-screen tablet that weighs just over a pound, it’s fairly comfortable to hold in one hand for an extended period. It’s a little smaller than an A4 sheet of paper, has a matte finish, and generally feels pretty pleasant in your hands.
Bigme also shipped a leather folio case with the demo unit the company sent me. This is an optional accessory with a $50 list price (it’s on sale for $25 during pre-orders through Indiegogo). The tablet snaps into the case magnetically, and I suppose it does a decent job of protecting the screen when you through the inkNote Color in a bag. But I find that it folds a little awkwardly if you try to flip the cover behind the tablet, so I generally find the tablet more comfortable to hold when it’s not in its case.
Overall the Bigme inkNote Color is a device that fills a very specific niche. If you’re in the market for a tablet with pen support and an E Ink display, care more about color than pixel density, and really want cameras attached, it’s pretty much the only game in town.
If what you’re looking for is an E Ink device for reading or taking notes, you might be better off buying a cheaper gadget like the reMarkable 2 which is designed specifically for those tasks. You’d spend half as much and get a brighter, more pixel-dense display. But you wouldn’t get color or Android app support.
If you really want full color display for viewing pictures and watching videos, then you’d probably be better off with just about any iOS, Android, or Windows tablet with an LCD or OLED display. Those will have brighter, more vivid colors with better saturation and the ability to display millions of colors rather than hundreds, not to mention screen refresh rates high enough for watching videos or playing games. But you won’t get the low-power, high-contrast, easy-on-the-eyes, E Ink display that can be used with the front light turned off.
The inkNote Color offers the best of both worlds in some ways… but the worst of both worlds in others. You get E Ink, color, pen support and Android app support. But colors look washed out. The pixel density and screen refresh rates could make some content less pleasant to look at. And the handwriting recognition, voice-to-text, and document scanning software that could really make this tablet useful seems kind of rough around the edges.
It’s possible that future software updates could address some of these issues. Bigme did push three over-the-air firmware updates during the first few days that I was using the tablet, which suggests both that the software may not be fully baked just yet and that the company may continue to offer support for the tablet. But as I can only really review the device as it performed during my testing, right now I’d say that it’s a good thing this tablet supports third-party apps, as some of the built-in ones feel a little less useful than they could be.
So no, the Bigme inkNote probably isn’t the best option for everyone looking for a tablet. Heck, I’d go so far as to say that with a price tag in the $600 to $700 range, most people probably shouldn’t buy this gadget from a Chinese company with a limited presence in the Western Hemisphere.
But I know that the inkNote Color also ticks a set of very specific boxes that some folks have had on their wish lists for a long time. It’s an E Ink slate with a screen large enough for viewing PDF documents. It can display color content. It has a pressure-sensitive pen that also works as a remote control and laser pointer (because hey, why not?) and which can be a trigger for voice controls. There are cameras for document scanning, photography, or shooting video. And overall build quality and performance seems pretty decent.
After spending a little over a week with the inkNote Color, I can say I actually do really like this thing and do think it might be worth considering if you’re looking for an E Ink note-taking device with color. I’m just not sure I’d spend $600+ to buy one for myself when I already have a Kindle Paperwhite for reading eBooks and a Fire HD 10 for comics, newspapers, web browsing, and videos. Those two devices combined cost less than half the price of the inkNote Color.