I’ve just received my 13.3″ Onyx BOOX Max2 e-Reader.

And so far I’m happy with it.

There exists an underlying issue with Android-based e-Readers, where these e-Readers are 4 years in the making, and where the issue is something I’m just learning about in recent weeks. As a security precaution, Google has toughened the requirements on the Google Play Store app, and on the Google Services app, which made numerous e-Readers, that were once proud to offer a working Google Play app, unable to connect to Google Play in the short term. This measure became effective as of March in 2018. However, certain manufacturers of such devices have been struggling to make their devices compliant with the new Google Store, and as far as I know, the BOOX Max2 which I just received, may be able to connect to the Google Play store fully.

(This posting has been revised, as of 4/14/2019, 10h15 : )

(The posting has been revised again, as of 10/24/2020, 12h45 : )

Out-of-the-box, the Max2 had a firmware version from April in 2018. But the latest Firmware update is from December in 2018.

  • I am glad to say that I found out how to set a PIN Code for this device because if there had truly been no way, then the cloud resources that I’m logged in to would be just as vulnerable, as an unlocked tablet. With the latest firmware, I found this setting under ‘Settings -> (Arrow to the Right) -> Screen Lock PIN Code’.
  • Apparently, the way to activate Google Play on this device, is now to go into “Settings -> Application” and to check “Activate Google Play”.

Instead of activating the Google Play Store, I have been focusing on using the Onyx app store for the time being. In days gone by, their in-house app store had a reputation of only offering apps in Chinese. But what the users of the Max2 can now do, is download e-Ink optimized apps in English. Those apps include the Amazon Kindle Android app.

This is a huge find for me because it also implies less of a security compromise, than what I’d have, if I was just to log the Max2 into Google Play.

I can side-load Free APK-Files to install software, and can install some additional proprietary, non-free apps from Onyx. APKs include the ‘OverDrive’ app, which allows me to check out books from my public library, in e-Book format. And what installs from the Onyx app store includes the ‘Kindle’ Android app, optimized for e-Ink. (:2)

I’ve tested both apps, and they seem to work fine.

But then again, speaking of side-loading… This can imply that files need to be transferred via USB-cable from a PC, to the device, and the device uses MTP as its protocol. There are some reports of issues in getting this to work from the Linux GUI, and I just ran in to such an issue…

(Updated 6/21/2019, 7h35 … )

(As of 4/12/2019 : )

I can establish MTP-based browsing from my Debian / Stretch machine, but not from my Debian / Jessie computers, which really means very little, since the ability to do so also depends on how up-to-date the kernel is. What did slow me down a bit was, trying to navigate the MTP volume from Dolphin, which is, after all, the prescribed File Browser, and I ran in to this issue, even though the package ‘kio-mtp’ has long been installed.

I found that the trick to getting this to work was, to ignore the fly-out which appears from a Plasma 5.8 computer’s system-tray, which shows new devices to mount. The thing to do is to click on some empty place on the desktop, so that this fly-out drops away again, out of sight, and then, to open Dolphin, to select “Network -> MTP Devices” and, if everything is working 100%, the Max2 should appear there as a navigable device. It did for me.

Apparently, if we click on the fly-out entry, we’re telling Linux to mount the device as a mass-storage device regardless, and if the device does not support that, as most Android devices don’t, this will just get into conflict, with the recognition of the Device as an MTP Device. (:1)


 

My first impression of the BOOX Max 2 is a good one. It came with a cute sleeve, as well as with a screen-protector, the use of which is mandatory, to protect the display from the Wacom Stylus scratching it otherwise. And I am thankful to Onyx, for formulating the display-facing adhesive side of the screen-protector in such a way, that I could in fact do a decent job of applying it, even though I’m a non-professional with poor manual dexterity. What certain other companies have gotten wrong with supplied screen-protectors, is to make their adhesive too strong, so that once the application was maladjusted, it could not be corrected, so that the entire protector next needed to be disposed of.

I was able to apply the screen protector for the Max2 decently, after having readjusted it more than once. There are some bubbles which are almost impossible to see, but otherwise it’s fine.

 

I think that there is one word of caution to everybody who wants an Android tablet, that just happens to have an e-Ink display. It’s an e-Reader, that just happens to be Android-compatible, and one factor which will always confuse some users, is how low-performing the e-Ink display is, in exchange for drawing very little current. Because I was always aware of this, it did not disappoint me.

Thus, I hope to be setting out on a long and pleasant journey with this e-Reader.


 

N.B.

I suppose that one question a reader of this blog might have, is, ‘If we are browsing this blog using the BOOX Max2, can it display the typeset Math correctly, which I sometimes offered in ePub3-format, specifically for viewing on smart-phones?’ And the answer is No. Even though the Max2 does support ePub File format, it does not support version 3 of that format fully, the only purpose of which I see, is to display MathML correctly.

But because the Max2 has such a large display, what a reader can easily do is to download the PDF-Files that I’ve offered, which assume a desktop browser, and then read those, without ever having to pinch-zoom…

Also, a foreseeable question is, ‘Since the Max2 has a scribbling interface to sketch and write, using the supplied Wacom Stylus, does it also perform OCR?’ And again, the answer is No. The Max2 does possess Language Settings, which have a similar meaning to those, on other Android devices, and does support TTS. But I feel that not to be using OCR is a plus. What experience I’ve had with OCR on other platforms suggests, that such a feature often gets the text recognition wrong, which means that a user next needs to re-write text, and to retry to OCR… This can be very counter to the needs of note-taking during lectures, etc..

The way the Max2 works, at least according to the latest update, is to keep sketches, drawings, handwriting, Math, etc., in their original form, which a user can recognize later on, even if added in the form of annotations. It can all be exported either to PDF, or to PNG in the case of single pages. And if the user cannot recognize his own handwriting later on, then there is no real reason to expect that the Max2 can either…


 

(Update 6/21/2019, 7h35 : )

1:)

Apparently, a recent update to the Plasma 5.8 desktop manager has resolved this bug. And I claim to know this because I just recently connected a familiar Nikon D-7100 camera to the computer, using a USB cable.

What had happened to me earlier with this camera, was that I had set it internally, to allow mounting as a mass-storage device. But in addition, the camera supports ‘PTP’ – “Picture Transport Protocol”. Under Linux, if we have the package ‘gphotofs’ installed, Linux will support some but not all versions of PTP that exist in Cameras.

In the past I did not have this package installed, and, when connecting the camera via USB cable, I would click on the triangle in the fly-out, to mount it. This actually used to put the camera into mass-storage mode, which also meant that the information displayed in the LCD of the camera would change, and which is also the riskier way to connect a camera because in this mode, if the connection of the USB cable is interrupted, file-system corruption could take place in the SD Card, inside the camera.

Meanwhile, I’ve installed ‘gphotofs’ and received updates to Plasma 5.8, etc. Now, when I connect my camera to the PC physically, the fly-out still appears. But now, clicking on the little triangle has no effect. This is because the mounting of the camera as mass storage has become redundant, the camera being available via PTP. The programming of my Plasma 5.8 desktop manager now takes this into account. And, I can still access the camera, using one of the applications shown in the fly-out, those being ‘Digikam’ as well asĀ  the ‘Dolphin’ File Browser.


 

 

(Update 10/24/2020, 12h45… )

2:)

Unfortunately, I can no longer make the same claims, as I was previously able to make.

To recap, the reason for which I did not log the BOOX Max2 in to Google Play, was to minimize any security risk to me, that might result from my giving my Google credentials to the BOOX Max2. Therefore, I had either been downloading apps from the Onyx app store, or side-loading them from an APK File.

It’s important to me not to side-load ‘Amazon Kindle’, because I would eventually need to enter my Amazon credentials to the app, which requires security, as much as entering my Google Credentials does.

What I have discovered by now is, that when I opened the Onyx app store, it told me that an update was available for the ‘Amazon Kindle’ app, as well as for the ‘Firefox’ app. Yet, when I tapped on the Update buttons, there was a brief time-delay, and then a pop-up that displayed for a fraction of a second, telling me the name of the app, with no space after it, followed by “Installation Failed”.

I next performed a firmware update, which brings the firmware in-line with July 23, 2020. This did not solve that exact problem, but added a ton of features to the Max2 itself.

At that point, as far as I could tell, I still had an outdated version of both apps installed. But, just to make sure, I next uninstalled each app, and tried to install it fresh from the Onyx app store. I got the same message, which means, that I no longer had either app installed at all.

By contrast, I tapped on a different app by accident, and found that that app installed just fine.

This could have a number of explanations, but the most likely explanation for me was, that neither Amazon nor Mozilla want Onyx to redistribute Amazon or Mozilla apps, through the Onyx app store anymore.


 

 

Another explanation this could have would be, that the download of either APK File from Onyx became corrupted, and that its signature thus became invalid, resulting in an error message, rather than a crashing app, at the receiving end. In order to try to repair the problem with the corrupted downloads, the Onyx app store would need to be ‘tricked’ first, into re-downloading the package.

After a package has been downloaded, if the attempt to install it failed, the Download button gets replaced by an Install button. What the reader may want to do is, to get that button to revert to a Download button. When I pursued this train of thought, I discovered that, rather than storing the downloaded APKs as application data, the Onyx app store downloads them into a folder, which can actually be found under ‘Storage -> Download -> AppMarket’.

IF the user was previously installing updates of the app, with the setting within the Onyx app store that is called ‘Delete APK’ disabled, then he or she should see a list of APK Files in this accessible folder, that correspond to the earlier versions of the same app. In theory, the user could then also ‘side-load’ earlier versions of the APK Files, in case the latest version was incompatible somehow, being aware that after doing so, the Onyx app store will offer to update those again…

IF the only purpose of the exercise was, to force the app-management app to re-download, and IF there is a series of APK Files corresponding to the one app, and IF the latest out of that series of APK Files is in fact the corrupted download, then what the user can do is, just to delete the latest version of the APK File, which is refusing to install, thereby turning the Install button in the app-management app back into a Download button.

IF the user has deleted an even-earlier version of the APK File, then he will lose eventual access to it.

  • By using this method, I found that I could just start a second download of Firefox, which was dated October 24, 2020, and this second attempt to install it – simply succeeded.
  • But, using the same method for a ~second~ download of Kindle, also dated October 24, 2020 – simply failed over and over again.

Thus, where the download of Firefox was truly corrupted, there seems to be ‘some other issue’ with the Kindle app – perhaps, a signature which was incorrect, from the point where the server offered the APK?

A question which the user might have next would be, ‘How safe is it, to side-load the APKs, of previous versions of each app, from the Download folder?’ What I am assuming here is, that their signatures are at least OK, while the signature of the most-recent APK File is NOT OK, and the most recent version is therefore Not Safe.

A second question which the user might have could be, ‘Is it advisable, to use the rolled-back versions, on the assumption that their code signatures were at least, still valid?’ And in the case of the Amazon Kindle app, the answer is ‘not really‘. Using a version of that app which was rolled back to July 23, 2019, means that firstly, the Amazon server will see a connected app that is massively out-of-date. And secondly, the way that app communicates with the server will then also be, out-of-date. This communication protocol would be, what keeps our credentials secure, when we connect it to the Amazon server…

As it stands, I can use the Firefox browser marginally, without syncing it with my other browsers. But I cannot use the Kindle app (-version available).

 

I have an afterthought about this, for potential Android users who like to side-load, who are not using the BOOX Max2, but who are reading this posting for some reason. If the user is downloading an APK File from some Web-site, that offers APK Files, then he or she is mainly trusting that Web-site’s indication, that the signature of the APK File was OK. Upon side-loading, signatures are no longer checked.

If the user is using the BOOX Max2’s Onyx app store, then software built-in to the BOOX Max2, that being Android 6.0.1, will verify whether the signatures are OK. After that, side-loading the same APK, even on the Max2, will not perform any additional signature check.

The reader may form his or her own conclusions.


 

 

If the reader works for Onyx, then the observation which I’d have for him is the fact that, on his app store, the description of the Kindle app states, that it is ‘Version 8.32.0.100 – The last version which will work on Android 6′. The problem here is the fact that I know, the last version that will work on Android 6, is 8.35.0.100.

Somebody who works for Onyx made a typo, and for that reason, the signature cannot be valid.

 

Dirk

 

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3 thoughts on “I’ve just received my 13.3″ Onyx BOOX Max2 e-Reader.”

  1. Is the kindle app downloaded from the onyx App Store any different than the version from play store? If so, do you know if an apk is available for side loading the onyx version?

    Thanks .

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