Official Review: Supernote A5X (Hardware)

By Krista Noren, Feb 25, 2021 (updated Feb 25, 2021) 11 10

Aiming to revolutionize note-taking, can the Supernote e-ink tablet live up to its name and claim?
Krista Noren

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"For those who write" is the motto of the Supernote line of tablets, and while succinct, that tagline couldn't be any more accurate. Ratta's Supernote A5 X is an e-ink tablet, which effectively serves as a digital notebook designed for people who love the feel of writing, but not the annoyances that come with messy ink pens and easily crinkled sheets of paper. The Supernote aims to take physical note-taking into the modern age, with the 10-inch A5 X tablet, making the entire process more streamlined than ever before.

First and foremost, the cost of the A5 X is going to be a make-or-break deal. These Supernotes are designed as a specialty product; they're niche, made for specific tasks, and while perhaps underwhelming upon a first glance, it features some impressive technology underneath its little e-ink screen. The people most likely to appreciate what the Supernote offers, despite the $499.99 base price tag will be book readers, note-takers, editors; those that like to read, and especially write, again reflecting that catchphrase. From the moment I turned the device on, I knew the Supernote was going to be something I'd love. Yet, it's not something I'd recommend to everyone. College students could very much make use of the A5 X for keeping track of their work, but they could just as easily get the same end result from a traditional tablet; what it comes down to is how much you'll appreciate those little things that the Supernote can do perfectly. 

One of the few things I actually enjoyed about high school was the "agendas," small mini-notebooks that we were required to fill out on a daily basis. Students would have to detail their work done in class, as well as their homework, due dates, and any relevant information. While much of it was busywork, part of me loved the idea of organizing all my ideas, collecting my thoughts, and detailing my work in one, nice, neat place. After graduating, I tried to replicate that with physical notebooks, but it never worked out; I'd jot down errant thoughts in journals, only to lose my place among the hundreds of pages, get frustrated, and give up. 

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Fortunately, organization is king when it comes to the A5 X. There is a veritable abundance of tools that help you keep track of all your documents and notes, down to each individual word. Say you wanted to bookmark a page; all you would need to do is draw a little star, and it would add that specific page to a table of contents, of sorts. That's not all: drawing brackets around words in a book/document will add entire paragraphs of text to a "digest," to which you can access on the fly to see all your relevant phrases at any time. This is fantastic for note-taking, because you can highlight whatever you need to refer to later, without having to flip through pages or even look at the other text surrounding it, since it's all kept in one neat place, all together. 

There's even more on top of the aforementioned features: you also get a bevy of proofreading tools, for use on word documents. By crossing a line through any word, you'll delete them right from the text file, letting you edit without having to break out a keyboard. Line breaks are done by drawing a vertical line, and you can swap the placement of words next to each other with transposing. Once you're done, you can save your changes and export the document back to your computer, either through the cloud or via connection to your computer. Editing is fluid and so incredibly simple that it makes proofreading an actually fun task. Written text can be selected and resized, copied, cut and pasted onto other pages, multiple layers can be used to shade or add backgrounds to drawings, there's really just so much to love. You certainly won't be left wanting. 

On the right-hand of the A5 X is a touch-slider. Simply swiping down on it will bring up the menu at any time, giving you quick access to your recent files, documents, notes, and bookmarks, among other things. It's incredibly handy, and it allows you to seamlessly go from reading paragraphs to taking notes within a matter of seconds. Another toolbar can be accessed if you swipe down from the top of the screen, with cloud syncing, searching, and settings available from there. Finally, you have your main hotbar, which includes your pen type, select tool, background layers, undo/redo, and other important settings. Despite having so many options, the UI never feels overwhelming and clunky, and it becomes easy to remember where everything is. Opening the two gesture toolbars is smooth and easy, while the most relevant options are always within reach. You can even add certain options, such as third-party apps to the sidebar menu, depending on what you use the most. The design is clean, user-friendly, and quick to navigate, and a standout feature of the A5 X.

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Now, writing on the A5 X is the main allure. As it's trying to replace paper, you're going to want it to emulate notebook paper as closely as possible, and the A5 X nails this aspect. The screen is e-ink, meaning it only supports black, white, and shades of gray, but it also means that you're getting an incredibly low-lag display. Writing on the A5 X feels exactly like writing with a flowing ink pen on soft paper; the movements against pen and screen are flowing, smooth, but there's also a sense of depth and pressure. Unlike a glass screen, Supernote uses a special screen protector that is made to depress and flex against the pen's tip, leading to it reacting like a sheet of paper would. However, unlike paper, the screen film is durable and built to spring back up after you've lifted the pen from it. You get the complete paper experience, hard pen tip and all, with a writing surface that can handle wear and tear. It's the closest approximation I've ever used, actually bridging the gap between digital and physical writing. 

Both sides of the A5 X's bezels are equally spaced, meaning it's designed for either right or left-handed users. If you want to hold the tablet in your right hand and write with your left, you can do so, without worrying that you're covering up anything important, or that your hand will be in the way of the screen. It's nice to see left-handed users not get neglected, especially considering that the other two main e-ink notebooks on the market, the Boox Note Air and the reMarkable 2 both have incredibly large bezels on the left side of the screen. 

Though the A5 X costs $499.99, there are a few extra bundles or add-ons that you might find worth the cost. The base package will give you exactly everything you need: the tablet, a cover, and a pen, but you can upgrade the folio for a little bit more, or get Supernote's fancier Heart of Metal stylus pen, which is the one pictured in this review. Amusingly referred to on the official website as "cool tech," the Heart of Metal pen is actually pretty cool in all honesty. And why is that? Well, for the few other e-ink tablets, you're going to need to eventually replace the tip, as it'll wear down and wear out after enough use. Supernote's pen, however, lasts indefinitely, due to it using a special ceramic tip. You're going to save money in the long run, compared to other tablets (and don't think you can buy the Heart of Metal and use it on other e-ink surfaces--it's specifically designed for only Supernote devices) and the sturdier tip makes it feel all the more like a real ink pen. 

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Supernote's A5 X and A6 X series of devices both run on a modified, streamlined form of Android. This allows them to load certain apps like Kindle, add custom font files for eBooks, and more. Having Kindle support is great, especially if you're coming from that ecosystem and own books on Amazon's platform, but the amount of apps that you can use are fairly limited. In the future, I'd love to see more reading or productivity apps added to give the A5 X even more utility as a reader. 

Ever since the launch of the A5 X, the Supernote team has been actively working on improving things on a weekly basis, with constant updates that further refine existing features or add new abilities to the device. After having finished the review, a new update was added to the A5 X, bringing a handful of things I'd never considered wanting, but had greatly appreciated once they were added. Where the A5 X couldn't support expandable storage initially, the latest update brought about USB OTG, through the tablet's USB-C port. Plugging flash drive with an adapter works, but for whatever reason, read speeds took far longer than they should. Opening a single folder on the flash drive took more than 2 minutes, and loading a file from the drive took just as long. I'm glad that such a feature exists, but at the same time, it's unusable. At the very least, given the rampant updates that the A5 X gets, I wouldn't be surprised that by this time next week, a fix for that issue will have been released. 

The Supernote A5 X might not be for everyone, but as far as the subset of people that this product is made for? I would have no hesitation in saying that this is the dream device for anyone that works with text or needs to organize and optimize their note-taking. It ticks all the boxes that I could ever want from such a fancy, premium, specialized niche tablet. It's a better e-reader than a Kindle Oasis, it's a better notebook than the iPad, and there's no comparison as to the A5 X's suite of editing tools, but you'll need to keep in mind what it's designed for: for those that write. 

Verdict
What We Liked . . . The pen will never wear down Great proofreading tools Runs a form of Android and can use the Kindle app Cloud integration Feels like writing on actual paper Organizational options such as highlighting, bookmarks, starred pages, etc What We Didn't Like . . . The price, while worth it, is hard to justify No expandable storage option (update: now supports OTG USB-C...sort of) I wish it supported more file formats (.CBR)
9.3
out of 10
Overall
"For those that write"; truer words have never been spoken, when it comes to the Supernote A5 X. While prohibitively expensive, this tablet serves as the perfect partner to anyone who's serious about note-taking and digital organization. If you fall within that niche of meticulous writers, then you will almost certainly love the A5 X.

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