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Great E-Ink Monitor, but Who Is It For?

Great E-Ink Monitor, but Who Is It For?

by Staff
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If you’re someone who suffers from eyestrain, migraine, or any other physical condition exacerbated by backlight technology, the Onyx Boox Mira is a worthy purchase. It offers a number of features that its only real competitor, the Dasung Paperlike, cannot match, including warm and cold LED frontlights, variable refresh modes, and USB Type-C input as well as HDMI input, as well as DP Alt Mode. At a cost that’s only slightly higher than the Paperlike, the Mira is a better buy.

Key Features

  • Frontlight with variable color temperature
  • Variable refresh modes
  • No-glare E Ink screen
Specifications

  • Brand: Onyx
  • Resolution: 2100×1650
  • Refresh Rate: 450 ms
  • Screen Size: 13.3 inches
  • Ports: 2 USB-C, 1 Mini-HDMI
  • Display Technology: E Ink Mobius
  • Aspect Ratio: 4:3
  • Battery: None
  • Battery: No
  • Wireless Technology: No
  • Wireless Technology: None
  • Touchscreen Technology: Capacitive
  • Surface Technology: Matte coating
  • Screen Brightness: Up to 400 nits
  • Display Size: 13.3 inches
  • Display Size: 308 x 231 x 8 mm
  • Display Weight: 590 grams
  • Mounting Options: 75 x 75mm VESA
  • USB-C / HDMI mm-Wave Transmitter: No
  • USB-C / HDMI mm-Wave Transmitter: None
  • Sound: No
  • Sound: None
  • Tilt: No
  • Tilt: 90
  • HDR: No
  • HDR: None
  • Variable Refresh: Yes, sorta
Pros

  • Lightweight and portable
  • Easy on the eyes
  • Low power consumption
  • Good construction quality
Cons

  • Not available from major retailers
  • Costly
  • Not for video or image editing
Buy This Product

The Onyx Boox Mira is a rare 13.3-inch, 4:3 aspect ratio E-Ink display that can handle spreadsheets, web browsing, and more, without producing light. Although it struggles to display video, and it’s limited to grayscale, the monitor can function as a drop-in replacement for an LCD monitor. If you’re like me, and intense backlights cause headaches and insomnia, a no-glare display can improve productivity. For everyone else, the $800 price tag puts it out of reach of anyone without deep pockets or a medical need for a migraine-friendly display.


I used the Mira as a secondary display for several weeks and its low-eyestrain front light, screen clarity, and lightweight aluminum body left an extremely positive impression on me. The LED front lighting is adjustable, so you can customize its intensity and color hue to get the perfect amount of light. And like most front-lit devices, the Mira only needs illumination when there isn’t an ambient light source. The frontlight isn’t the only customizable feature. The Mira’s variable refresh mode allows for the display of anything from crystal-clear images and text to jerky, low-resolution video. And the two USB Type-C ports make it easy to connect to any computer.


What Is the Onyx Boox Mira?

The Mira is a 13.3-inch backlight-free E-Ink external monitor with a resolution of 2,200 x 1,650 “pixels” (207 PPI). But that’s not what makes it so special. Rather than using an LCD panel, the Mira comes with a monochrome E-Ink Mobius screen. Mobius panels are designed to be lightweight and are both more resistant to drops and lighter than glass substrate panels, with no weighty glass to shatter. It’s also worth mentioning that it offers warm and cold LED front lighting, variable refresh modes, and Mini HDMI video input, as well as USB-C DisplayPort Alt Mode (DP Alt Mode).

The Mira features 75x75mm VESA mounting holes for connecting to a stationary monitor arm. It even includes a detachable, foldable cover that doubles as a stand. As such, it’s suitable for both desktops and laptops. Unfortunately, because of its black-and-white E-Ink Mobius panel, it’s not suitable for color-sensitive work or video, but it’s usable for word processing and spreadsheets.

It’s also small and portable enough that I can take it with me wherever I go. Enhancing its portability is a pair of USB-C ports. This means you can receive power using any USB-C device, such as from a laptop or from a portable backup battery or USB-C power supply. The only requirement is that it needs at least six watts, otherwise it may not fully function. Most power sources can output the requisite amount.

Why You Might Want an E-Ink External Display

If you suffer from migraine headaches, cybersickness, eyestrain, or have problems viewing motion videos or bright lights, the Mira can possibly help. The being that E-Ink doesn’t need a backlight. That means it can be viewed with ambient light. If there’s not enough ambient light, you can optionally turn on a “frontlight” that produces far less light than a television or computer display.

For those who just prefer reading off pulped wood, E-Ink is slightly closer to paper than LCD screens. But E-Ink’s visual clarity isn’t equal to paper. It’s a softer, gentler experience scanning a spreadsheet on E-Ink compared to a computer monitor. While there is some evidence that artificial light suppresses your body’s ability to produce melatonin, which initiates drowsiness, there’s not much evidence that E-Ink can help with sleep. But even so, those who struggle with insomnia might want to at least try out an E-Ink display to see if it helps them sleep better.

But don’t misunderstand me here: the Mira is not a drop-in medical solution. If you suffer from any medical condition which causes discomfort, the first step is to speak with a doctor, not buy an expensive monitor.

How the Onyx Boox Mira Connects to Your Computer

The Onyx Boox Mira can connect to your desktop or laptop through one of two ways: Mini HDMI cable or HDMI Alt Mode, which requires a USB-C connection.

If your computer, smartphone, or tablet supports HDMI Alt Mode, you can connect it to any computer (which supports Alt Mode) with USB-C. This will send power as well as video and audio signals over a single cable, untangling any rat’s nest of cabling you might have. For comparison, other monitors require a separate power source as well as a cable for carrying video and audio cables. That usually means a power brick and a bulky display cable.

If your computer doesn’t support HDMI Alt Mode, you can still connect the Mira over a Mini HDMI cable. Unfortunately, this configuration will only transfer video and audio signals, so you still need to power the display with a USB-C cable. In fact, you can connect the Mira via USB-A or USB-C ports on your laptop or attach a separate power source, including a smartphone charger. That’s because the display requires a paltry six watts at peak consumption. For context, that’s about equal to a small LED light bulb.

However, some chargers with Power Delivery may not supply power to the Mira if the “handshake” between both devices isn’t established. As such, it’s more reliable to power a Mira over a USB-A port or wall wart. Part of the reason the Mira requires so little power is that it lacks integrated speakers. As such, I don’t advise using the Mira as your only display unless you’re using an external speaker or headphones.

Furthermore, there are no wireless output options, so you’ll have to use a wired connection if you want to use the Mira with a laptop or desktop computer. Although to be fair, few LCD monitors offer functional wireless display options either—the Edge 2.5D external wireless display is an exception.

Mounting the Mira as a Desktop Monitor

The Mira can function in a mixed mount. To mount the Mira using its 75x75mm VESA mount, you screw the VESA-mounting plate to the four screws in the back. Unfortunately, the required M4 VESA-mounting screws aren’t included.

VESA screws use the metric threading system and are anywhere from 6mm to 10mm in length, so they’re easy to find at any hardware store, though. It mounts securely and without any issues.

What Can You Do With the Onyx Boox Mira E-Ink Display?

The Mira 4:3 aspect ratio and grayscale colors make it useless for streaming video or photo editing. But outside of multimedia, the Mira can perform most of the same computing tasks that an LCD monitor can. However, there are some caveats: all operating systems use color and video to make buttons and icons visually distinct. That means you may have to turn on your operating system’s high-contrast display options in its accessibility settings. It goes without saying that some webpages or programs may become difficult to use, particularly if you haven’t enabled high-contrast mode. But if you can get over its foibles, there’s a lot you can do with the Onyx Boox Mira.

First and foremost, its light weight of 590 grams gives it the heft of a bottle of beer. So not only does it weigh less than any LCD, it also consumes less power than any equivalently-sized monitor. Low weight and power draw make it perfect for use as a secondary mobile display. And because its folio case doubles as both protection for its screen and as a stand, you can take it anywhere and not need to worry about scratching its plastic-coated surface in transit. The soft-touch vinyl folio case is magnetic, so it’s easy to attach and remove on the go. Just fold and go, or unfold and plug into a computer.

Secondly, the Mira’s softer, on-demand brightness makes it perfect for taking breaks from an LCD screen. I kept a browser open on it and turned to a webpage with news articles (such as RSS). When used in brief, five-minute breaks, as called for by the Pomodoro Technique, it helps spare my eyes.

The Mira for Mobile Use

You could use the Mira as a fixed, external monitor thanks to its 75x75mm VESA-mounting screw holes. But while it’s great as an external monitor, particularly when paired with an LCD screen, it’s at its best when used with a mobile device. Ideally, you’d be able to use it on an Android or iOS smartphone or tablet. Unfortunately, I could not test the Mira with a compatible mobile device. That’s mainly because DP Alt Mode isn’t common on low-end consumer devices. In fact, only a few Android devices support DP Alt Mode and all of these are high-end handsets that cost thousands of dollars each.

However, DP Alt Mode on Apple devices is far more common. As of 2022, DP Alt Mode compatibility will require using a Lightning to USB-C adapter. The reason? Only Apple devices made in 2024 and beyond will support USB-C. You can thank a new European Union law that requires iPhones to use USB-C instead of Lightning (what is Lighting?). Unfortunately, the Mira doesn’t have a mobile app, so I don’t know whether the Mira supports iPhones or Android.

What’s It Like to Use the Onyx Boox Mira?

I found that using the Mira wasn’t that difficult, although there was a learning curve. For example, the biggest difference from an LCD screen is the Mira’s variable refresh mode. Unlike an LCD, the Boox Mira cannot display both moving video and high-resolution, static images at the same time. To display high-resolution images, the Mira must slow its refresh speed. Conversely, in order to display video (at less than 30 Hz), the Mira must reduce the resolution. To toggle between modes, Onyx installed a rotating wheel. Rotating the wheel to the left or right changes the mode. Each mode more or less trades image fidelity for fluidity, at varying rates.

For example, if you want to display video, you turn the wheel until you reach video mode. In video mode, the image quality becomes extremely poor, but it can refresh the screen somewhere around 20 Hz, which is like watching gray soup congeal on a plate. On the other hand, you can boost the image resolution to its maximum, but then full-screen refreshes become jarring, stuttering affairs.

Keep in mind that no matter what mode you’re in, the screen will remain black and white. That means some websites or applications won’t display properly. Some applications, like Photoshop, may be almost impossible to use, regardless of what mode you’re in. Onyx partially compensates for these compatibility issues, though, by allowing the user to customize display modes through use of the Mira application.

The Mira app, which is available on all major desktop operating systems, can create multiple presets which have customizable resolutions, refresh rates, contrasts, and frontlight settings. While I used the display as a secondary monitor set to read news and articles, as well as perform word processing, it’s possible to use the Mira for almost anything other than for streaming media, video editing, and photo editing. Technically, you can use it for all three types of computing, but the experience won’t be pleasant.

Download: Onyx Mira Application (Free)

Color-Temperature Frontlights

The color-temperature frontlights scale between amber and a bluish-white color. The amber lights are a warmer color temperature, somewhere in the range of 1,500 to 2,000 Kelvin, which is suitable for reading at night. However, the brightness doesn’t scale as low as on many of Onyx’s eReaders or Amazon’s Paperwhite. In other words, while the Mira’s brightness scales below that of an LCD panel, it still feels overly bright in complete darkness.

If you need additional lighting, you can turn both amber and cold lights on at the same time. Since the LEDs are either white or amber, turning both on doubles the brightness while possessing a soft color, similar to an incandescent light bulb.

For mobile use, you will need a laptop with DisplayPort 1.4 or newer in order to output video over USB-C. Connecting the Mira to a laptop requires little effort. For DisplayPort 1.4 or newer, you can connect over USB-C which provides power as well.

For those with migraine headaches, the latest scientific research suggests that the only hue that might help is green light. This means that the amber light inside the Mira only alleviates eyestrain at best. Furthermore, another study found that amber lights, as well as other spectrums of light, except for green, exacerbated migraine headaches.

Additionally, the melatonin suppression hypothesis, which claims blue light reduces melatonin production, thus causing insomnia, isn’t fully supported by the evidence. A review of the scientific literature found that blue-blocking lenses had no impact on sleep quality. In all likelihood, it’s the intensity of light, and not the color, that causes wakefulness and insomnia. In other words, color-temperature systems might not offer the benefit that we think they offer. However, eReader frontlights can still lower their brightness far below that of OLED and LCD screens, which will help with sleep.

Warranty and Return Policy

As with all Onyx devices, Michigan-based iCare Repair handles warranty repairs. iCare Repair is an authorized service center in the US for Onyx. Unfortunately, a one-year warranty for a display isn’t particularly good as most displays have much longer guarantees. The warranty also doesn’t include ship-in costs, which can be expensive if you need to send your device back to the manufacturer.

However, the Mira’s lightweight makes it cheaper to ship than most displays. That means if it does break, you won’t have to wait forever to get it back and it won’t cost that much to ship to the repair center. On the downside, you’ll still have to pay ship-in costs.

Problems with the Onyx Boox Mira

Not the Newest or Highest-End E-Ink Panel

While I love the Onyx Boox Mira for its backlight-free display, I have some complaints about it. To start with, its 207-PPI pixel density is lower than that of E-Ink Carta’s 300 PPI. This means that it’s not as sharp as other E-Ink devices on the market. However, as far as 13.3-inch E-Ink panels go, there are no alternatives available that have a 300-pixel density.

E-Ink also released a new fast refresh E-Ink panel technology. Among its fast refresh panels, there’s the Gallery 3, which offers color, in addition to 350-millisecond refresh rates for black-and-white. Its color refresh speed is around 500 milliseconds, making it two or three times as fast as the older E-Ink panels. That’s enough to display video. My takeaway is that if you’re going to pay $800, you should consider waiting to see what Dasung or Onyx releases in 2023. However, if you need a panel now, the Mira is the most affordable 13.3-inch external monitor with E-Ink technology available.

One-Year Warranty

Finally, the one-year warranty comes up short relative to the high price tag and the fact that most monitors come with two-year or longer warranties in the US. In European Union member states, however, the Mira’s warranty lasts two years, as required by EU law.

Not Available on Amazon

Unfortunately, Onyx isn’t currently selling the Mira on Amazon. That means you can’t buy it just to try it out.

Is the Onyx Boox Mira E Ink External Display Worth It?

If you’re someone who suffers from eyestrain, migraine, or any other physical condition exacerbated by backlight technology, the Onyx Boox Mira is a worthy purchase. It offers a number of features that its only real competitor, the Dasung Paperlike, cannot match, including warm and cold LED frontlights, variable refresh modes, and USB Type-C input as well as HDMI input, as well as DP Alt Mode. At a cost that’s only slightly higher than the Paperlike, the Mira is a better buy.



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