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I Love My Weird Little Phone-Shaped eReader

The Palma isn’t perfect for everything, but it lets me do whatever I want and is transformative for books.

3:30 PM EST on January 17, 2024

A Boox Palma being held up by a hand, on the Aftermath home page, with Nathan's story about SAG-AFTRA's AI voice acting deal on it.

I love my little Boox Palma.

Many of the research obsessions I have are fueled by a previous, imperfect piece of gear. In the case of e-readers, the experience of using a Kindle several years ago was so infuriating that I put the whole category of device off until I could find something to my liking. The phone-sized Boox Palma is not a Kindle, and is also wonderfully weirdly-shaped and the best e-reader for me for some specific use cases. 

Back when I had my Kindle, the experience of loading your own books onto it was fairly obtuse. Amazon would give you a unique email address similar to the one linked to your account but with some gibberish attached, and you would have to email your books to that address, and the books would appear on your device. This makes perfect sense from Amazon’s perspective, since they are in the business of selling e-books and would like to protect their market, but it was maddening that I had to do this for a device I owned, particularly one with a USB port right on it. Eventually this would lead to the process known as “sideloading” or putting stuff on your device directly, with Calibre being the software that most people used for library management.

What Amazon's web interface looks like for sending documents to kindle.
Amazon has streamlined their sending services although at this point I don't trust them. Credit: Amazon.com

The process has since been streamlined on Kindle in part, I assume, because they are no longer the only e-reader game in town. But at this point I don’t see the purpose of owning a (new) Kindle when there are so many other alternatives. The Kobo line from Rakuten is well-loved by tons of people and is pretty straightforward to deal with. Boox is the other big name alternative and immediately shot up on my list when I saw the Palma.

The opening of Times Square Red, Times Square Blue by  Samuel R. Delany
I had this on paperback and have been meaning to it for a while now.

The Palma is an ereader with the form factor of a big phone. The screen is just over 6 inches in size, and it runs Android. If you slammed an antenna into this thing it would just be a big e-paper phone, but that would likely kill the battery and defeat the purpose entirely.  Over wifi it can browse websites, watch videos and load basically any Android app you want, although I have yet to put TikTok on it because that feels like an evil thing to do to a book.

I find most tablets and e-readers cumbersome. They necessitate the use of a side bag, or a coat with a big pocket, and I don’t always want to carry those things on me. I have an iPad mini, the correct size of iPad, for reading comics and manga, and the Palma is a perfect companion to that. It fits right in my pocket without any fuss. There is a minor adjustment every time I leave my house now where I have to check that I didn’t leave my phone and my book, and that I’m not mistaking one for another. I am also very sure I will lose this thing if I am not careful, which is not ideal because it costs 279 bucks. But for what I need it for the Boox Palma rocks.

Comics look good but the aspect ratio of this is not ideal for comics and PDFs, I would get a 7-inch reader or bigger if you want that experience.

The Palma does not do everything perfectly. Because it has a longer form factor, reading PDFs and comics is a bit awkward, with the top and bottom of the device usually leaving negative space, or requiring you to punch to zoom for smaller text. If you’re looking for a manga reader,  something like the Boox Page or Sage are the correct size and you can throw a terabyte microSD in there with no problems. But throw some epubs in the Palma and it positively sings. The text is crisp and fast, and the refresh rate can be changed to suit your preference. The device comes with page-turning buttons on the side, which can be customized with up to 3 functions each, so if you enjoy speed reading though books this is an ideal device. The backlight can be adjusted with a quick side gesture, and you can set the color temperature manually or have it adjusted for the time of day. It even comes with a camera so you can OCR text. Once you get a handle on reading it, the Boox Palma is a joy.

This thing looks real nice. I hope I do not lose it.

But the most refreshing thing so far is the sheer flexibility, something increasingly common in Boox as well as other Chinese e-reader brands. My good friend and former editor Alex Cranz is similarly Boox-pilled, and loves the no boundaries ecosystem. When you plug your Boox into your computer it just mounts like a flash drive. You can throw your documents in there however you like, no sideloading, just full access from jump. It is a device that treats you like an adult who is allowed to fully control the little computers in their life. In addition to this, the Palma includes a feature called Booxdrop, which allows you to interface the device over local wifi by typing an address in via a browser. My favorite comics reader Panels has a similar feature and I use it constantly. 

Being able to load files directly on to an eReader, either via USB or wifi, is a must for me.

There is something about knowing that you have a book on you at all times that is transformative. And although it is not the first e-reader in phone form factor, the Palma feels like something new to me: an e-reader that I can slip in my pocket, the digital successor to the dog-eared supermarket paperback you shove into your jacket when you leave the house. I hope more companies follow suit. I hope we get all kinds of new fun shapes in the device space, from new subnotebooks to the clamshell e-reader from It Follows (for the love of god someone make this, I will buy it). Technology used to be fun, or at least it was fun to look at. The future was vast, you didn’t know what kind of weird stuff you would see, what shape it would take, and then the iPhone and iPad were so criminally successful that it put that dream in the dirt. Maybe in the future things will be more fun again, and maybe they’ll think of entirely new shapes to read on.

Someone make the It Follows e-reader please. Credit: RADiUS-TWC
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