this thing's incredible

I’m Selling My Kindles to Get a Kobo

Photo: Jordan McMahon

I’ve been a devoted Kindle reader for years, but as a longtime marginalia scribbler, I’ve found the device to be a double-edged sword. It’s easier to keep track of interesting quotes and information that I highlight than in a regular old book. Instead of having to dig up those pages later, they all sync directly to my Notes app, and I can reorganize them however I like. But that’s come at the expense of my convenient in-book scribbles, where I record bits of writing I’m jealous of, or ideas I can write about later.

There are some devices that have tried to solve this problem, like the reMarkable 2 and Kindle Scribe. Both have added support for styluses that let you draw and take notes in as many “notebooks” — folders, essentially — as you’d like to create, all of which live separately from your e-books on the device. But neither is a total substitute for writing in the margins. The Scribe only lets you write on sticky notes on top of text you’ve highlighted in a book, and you have to click through to view the notes, which I’ve always found tedious enough that I never really revisit them. And the reMarkable’s reading experience doesn’t stack up to its note-taking capabilities because of its unadjustable font settings and an ever-present toolbar that bumps right up against the text.

The Kobo Elipsa 2E, on the other hand, is the first reader I’ve tested that allows me to scribble notes just as I did on print pages, making my thoughts and notes a part of the text and easy to take in at a glance, rather than something hidden that I have to dig up later. Its generously sized 10.3-inch screen makes text look crisp, and it can display a lot more text than smaller readers like the basic Kindle, which has a 6-inch display. The Elipsa is heavier than a smaller device like the Kindle Paperwhite, but it’s surprisingly light for its size. I prefer holding it to the Kindle Scribe thanks to the Elipsa’s textured plastic back, which is easier to grip than the Scribe’s slick metal back.

The extra space on a larger-screened e-reader lets me get more of my thoughts down, such as when I want to summarize what I’ve just read so I can have a better shot at committing it to memory. Whenever I read something that sticks with me, I can snatch the stylus from the top of the Elipsa, where it’s magnetically attached, and start writing directly on my e-book — something other stylus-friendly readers don’t offer.

If I’d rather just highlight some text, the stylus also has a button on the side that you can hold down to quickly toggle to highlighter mode. The Scribe’s upgraded stylus has this too, but the button is less clicky. On the other hand, highlighting with the Scribe by dragging the stylus across a passage without pressing the button at all feels more natural and convenient and may be easier if you suffer from things like arthritis or a repetitive stress injury. The Elipsa can’t do that because simply moving the stylus across the screen triggers handwriting mode; that’s a fair trade-off for me. And unlike the Scribe’s stylus, which requires an upgrade for an added eraser, the Elipsa’s comes with it, no extra charge (plus, the Scribe with the Premium Pen costs nearly $100 more than Kobo’s reader).

Aside from the added note-taking features, the Elipsa has also made reading news articles that I’ve saved for later much less tedious, as I don’t have to stare at my iPhone or iPad to dive into a long piece. Every day, I save dozens of articles to Pocket, the read-it-later app that allows you to put the text in a prettier font and ad-free layout. To get these articles onto a Kindle, you have to rely on clunkier third-party services that aren’t tied directly to the device and can go away at any time (and while this is true of Kobo’s support, too, they’ve been pretty responsive to feedback). The Elipsa’s color-adjustable e-ink screen also makes reading articles feel as pleasurable as reading a newspaper (though it’s notably heavier and doesn’t leave ink on your fingers). I get to read my articles in one of Kobo’s elegant preinstalled fonts — you can also install your own if you’re willing to fiddle around a bit — without straining my eyes after a day of poring over Google docs and Slack.

One major drawback: Pocket integration is pretty limited on the Elipsa compared to what you get with the app on an iPhone or Android device. Its font is also always much smaller by default than whatever your custom-set book font is, with no way to permanently change this, and the only way to adjust the size is by doing so from within an e-book you’re reading. Once you switch back from reading a Pocket article to reading a book you have to readjust the font. It’s still better than staring at (and getting sucked back into) a phone screen, but I can’t stop from sighing every time I have to readjust the settings.

More disappointing, though, is that I can’t highlight any of the interesting text I find in articles I’ve saved to Pocket, which the app and web client both allow. It’s one of the most powerful things about using a read-it-later app, and unfortunately, Kobo says there aren’t currently any plans to add support for the feature. Adding this would make going all-in on the Kobo a no-brainer, but I still enjoy being able to read at least some articles on a less eye-strain-inducing screen.

Despite those weaknesses, I’m still ready to drop my Kindle Paperwhite for a Kobo and give it a shot long-term. In addition to its unique strengths (Pocket integration, writing directly in e-books), Kobo’s readers hit nearly all the same high notes as a Kindle. Text looks crisp and pretty even in direct sunlight, the illuminated screen makes it easy to read in the dark, the readers can hold thousands of e-books, and Kobo sells a variety of sizes suited for your specific reading habits. The Elipsa’s big screen is too much for me to use on a daily basis, and I still think the Scribe is a stronger note-taking device with a better stylus, but Kobo’s smaller Sage reader still has stylus support, and it’s small enough for me to toss in a larger fanny pack to take with me when I ride my bike to a coffee shop. I’d need to switch bags to do that with the Elipsa. I’ll be buying the Sage as soon as I send this review unit back.

I love my Kindle; without it I couldn’t have kept up with reading as much as I’ve been able to over the years. And Kindles are still great! For better or worse, the Kindle bookstore has the largest library, and the prices are often lower than those in Kobo’s store. For convenience, the Kindle will win every time. But after spending a couple weeks treating my e-books more like paperbacks than my Kindle would ever allow, I’m not sure I can go back.

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I’m Selling My Kindles to Get a Kobo