Ratta is a Chinese company with offices in Shanghai and Tokyo. They make very interesting eInk tablets because they are well finished and equipped with a stylus for writing, and because Ratta differs from most manufacturers by a certain minimalism, coupled with quite varied functionalities. Could they offer the perfect balance?
The SuperNote A5 is based on a 10.3-inch screen with a WACOM layer. The resolution is 1872×1404 for 226 PPI. Regarding the CPU level, there is an IMX6 Single Core, as on the reMarkable 1, 1 GB RAM and 32GB internal storage space. The battery is 2,850mAh, and the dimensions of the device are: 245mmx178mmx7mm for 366g.
So it’s a good e-reader on paper, quite basic in terms of hardware: the specs are close to the reMarkable 1 or the Inkpad X with a Wacom layer (which allows to write with a stylus on the e-reader, and thus to take notes). Here again, it’s more an eInk tablet than a “simple” e-reader, like the Inkpad X, but the CPU and RAM levels are still something more basic (and a bit older) than what Boox Note 2 offers. Is this a problem? Not necessarily, because as we’ll see, this e-reader doesn’t run on Android (which requires a high-performance hardware to run smoothly) but on a “home-made” system based on a Linux kernel and very well optimized, which allows the tablet to offer great fluidity with a modest CPU, and to keep a good autonomy.
In use: efficient, minimalist but quite versatile
The SuperNote A5 is pleasant to use. The “Heart of Metal” stylus breathes quality and is pleasant to use. On the software side, it is still a rather minimalist system (similar to what we find on the reMarkable, or on the more basic e-readers: system based on GNU/Linux and developed in-house) but with several features: you can use the device to read documents in many formats, to take notes or make drawings, and it is possible to annotate your PDF documents; but it is also possible to view and reply to your emails!
We therefore find a minimalist approach allowing to stay centered and not to disperse (main problem with tablets for some users!) while having the possibility to work seriously with the device. We are far from an approach that could be described as too minimalist, adapted to note-taking but limited for all other uses – like the reMarkable 1 or the future reMarkable 2. In my opinion, there is here a good balance between a basic and light system and the possibility to really use one’s device in a versatile way, without the need to install any additional software.
If the Onyx Boox Note 2 is a great eInk tablet, and that it is very versatile thanks to the choice to use Android, one can wonder how these tablets will evolve over time: the manufacturer has not provided updates to recent versions of android for its first e-readers, will these devices be updated over time? With Ratta Supernote, it seems likely that updates will be followed over the long term: the operating system is developed in-house, and the team is extremely responsive to user requests and feedback.
It seems to me that it’s a good buy for a daily driver: it is sturdy, and the fact that it uses a Mobius screen make it more durable than the Boox Note Air or reMarkable 2. The side menu is a huge “plus” as it makes it possible to easily switch from a PDF document to an notebook. As we will see now, the Supernote A5 is great to work and annotate PDFs.
PDF reading & annotating: very nice job!
The SuperNote A5 is a neat little device to read and annotate PDFs. They added a couple of functionnalities that are unavailable on more eInk devices and very useful.
First, it’s possible to adjust contrast. If the text on your document is too grey, push the contrast bar to the max and it becomes black, crisp and easy on the eye. Second, it’s possible to draw an horizontal line on the document to split the screen and take notes on the bottom part. Third, when you add brackets ([ … ]) on some text, this creates a quote that can then be easily viewed and extracted (on the “Digest” menu).
Add to that the ability to switch easily between your PDF document and your NoteBooks or between your recently opened document and I think that we can consider that this device is a winner. The reMarkable 2 works fine for PDF reading, but without the extra installation of remarkable-hacks there isn’t much you can do. On the SuperNote A5, everything works out of the box.
Of course, come things could be bettered: when you export an annotated PDF, the annotations are added as an image layer on top of the PDF, and are rendered in quite low quality, making some notes difficult to read. The text that has been highlighted using the “brackets” option won’t be visible in the exported document: it would be better if it were shown as a PDF highlight, compatible with most PDF reading software when the document is exported.
SuperNote team is responsive, and they are working on making their software better. There is no doubt that this can be fixed in future updates.
If you are interested in the features of the A5 (and it’s smaller brother) you can check out the manual of the SuperNote A5 and A6 which will give you a decent understanding of what can be done with these devices.
Bang for the buck vs competitors.
The Ratta Supernote A5 can be found for 599 dollars (USD) without postage and custom fees, on the official Ratta website. It is currently not available at Amazon or major European merchants, which complicates the purchase. For this price, which we can consider to be around 650 euros with VAT and shipping, the Supernote A5 seems quite expensive to me. The Onyx Boox Note 2 can be found for just over 500 euros at Amazon or on eBay, with in both cases certain guarantees and the assurance of not having to pay customs fees. For 500 euros in EU, this e-reader would clearly be interesting. For this price and the necessity to import it from China, it is more difficult to say.
That being said, its limited availability is probably the main problem with the SuperNote A5, as it can be a very good alternative to both the reMarkable and the Boox Note 2: less minimalist than the first one, you can accomplish most tasks without having to modify your device. Based on a minimalist GNU/Linux system and not on Android like the second one, the follow up of the developers is very good and the reactivity and the attention to the users’ feedbacks suggest good evolutions for the future. It is clearly a very good eInk tablet for those who are looking for a versatile but relatively minimalist working tool to stay focused and not to disperse. It is probably one of the best devices for researchers or students, or for those looking for an eInk device to read and annotate PDF documents. To be seen in the future if it becomes more easily available, and if they keep pushing great software updates to their already pretty good stack!