Kobo’s Elipsa is the latest in the Amazon rival’s e-reading range, and it’s a big one. The 10.3-inch e-paper display brings it to iPad dimensions and puts it in direct competition with the e-reader tablets from reMarkable and Boox. It is characterized by reading experience, copes with taking notes and drawing, but lacks versatility.
Kobo has been around for a few years, and while the cheaper Clara HD is still the best bet in my opinion, the Forma and Libra H2O are worthy competitors to the Kindle lines. The $ 400 Elipsa represents a big step up in terms of size, function, and price, and it justifies itself – though there are a couple of key caveats.
The device is well designed, but it lacks any frills. The inclined “side chin” of the Forma and Libra is flattened on the right side to form a simple, wide bezel. I don’t mind the crooked appearance, and so do many competitors. (Although my favorite is Boox’s ultra-compact, flush poke 3)
The 10.3-inch screen has a resolution of 1404 x 1872, which is 227 pixels per inch. That is well below the 300 PPI of the Clara and Forma, and on closer inspection the typography suffers from significantly more aliasing. Of course you won’t look too closely, because as a larger device you will probably give the Elipsa a little more space and perhaps use a larger font size. I found it very pleasant to read on – 227 PPI isn’t bad, but not the best.
There’s a front light that’s easily adjustable by swiping your finger up and down the left side of the screen, but unlike other Kobo devices, there’s no way to change the color temperature. I’ve been spoiled by other devices and now the standard cool gray I’ve lived with for years doesn’t feel right, especially when a warmer light is shining on your surroundings. The important part is that it’s consistent across the display and adjustable down to a dim glow, which my eyes have thanked me for many times.
It’s hard to look at the Elipsa independently of the accessories that come with it, and in fact there is currently no way to buy one without a “sleeper cover” and a pen. The truth is that although they add significant weight and bulk, they really complete the package. What if it’s naked, lighter and feels smaller than a standard iPad, is heavier and bigger when you put the case on and tuck the surprisingly weighty pen on top.
The case is beautifully designed, if a little stiff, and will definitely protect your device from damage. The cover, which is attached to the bottom with magnets, can be folded down like a sheet of paper on a notepad and folded flat behind the device, using the same magnets to attach it from the other direction. A few folds in it stiffen into a nice, sturdy little stand, even with further magnetic arrangement. The outside is made of non-slip synthetic leather and the inside is made of soft microfiber.
You can wake up and turn off the device by opening and closing the cover, but there is a small catch: you need to have the power button, charging port, and large frame on the right. When the Elipsa is out of the case, like the others of its crooked type, it can be turned over and your contents will instantly turn over. But once you put it in the suitcase, you’re locked in a semi right-handed mode. This may or may not bother people, but it is worth mentioning.
The reading experience is otherwise very similar to that of other Kobo devices. A relatively clean interface showing your recently viewed content and a not overwhelming, yet unwelcome amount of promotional material (“Find your next great read”). E-books are free and pay well, although I’ve never preferred reading on a big screen like this one. I really wish one of those big e-readers would do a landscape orientation with facing pages. Isn’t that more bookable?
Articles from the web synced through Pocket look great and are a pleasure to read in this format. It feels more like a magazine page, which is great when you read an online version of it. It’s simple, foolproof and well integrated.
Kobo’s new ability to take notes
However, new to the bottom row are “Notebooks”, in which – unsurprisingly – you can create notebooks to scribble lists, doodles, and of course notes, and use the pen in general.
The writing experience is sufficient. Here the reMarkable 2 spoils me, which is characterized by extremely low lag and high accuracy as well as significantly more expression in the line. It’s not Kobo’s address, and the writing experience is pretty straightforward, with a noticeable lag but admirable accuracy.
There are five pen nibs, five line widths, and five line shades, and they’re all fine. The pen has a nice weight, although I would have a better grip material. With two buttons you can quickly switch from the current pen style to a highlighter or eraser where you have line erase or brush modes. The regular notebooks have the usual grid, dotted, lined, and blank styles and unlimited pages, but you can’t zoom in or out (not so good for artists).
Then there are the “advanced” notebooks that you need to use when you want handwriting recognition and other features. These have indelible lines to write on, and a double tap will capture your words into text very quickly. You can also put drawings and equations in their own sections.
Handwriting recognition is fast and good enough for rough notes, but don’t expect to send it straight to your team without editing. Likewise, the Diagram Tool, which turns gestural sketches of shapes and labels into finished flowcharts and the like – better than the original wobbly graphic, but still a rough draft. There are a few clever keyboard shortcuts and gestures for adding or removing spaces and other common tasks that you will likely get used to pretty quickly if you use the Elipsa regularly.
The notebook surface is nimble enough to move from side to side or up and down the “smart” notebooks, but nothing like the fluidity of a design program or an art-oriented program on an iPad. But it’s also low-key, has a good palm lock, and feels great in action. The delay on the line is definitely a downside, but it can get used to if you don’t mind that the resulting product is a little sloppy.
You can also mark up ebooks, which is nice for highlights but ultimately isn’t much better than simply selecting the text. And with the limitations of this pen, there is absolutely no way you can write on the edge.
Exporting notepads can be done through a linked Dropbox account or through a USB connection. Again, the reMarkable has a leg up here because even if its app is a bit restrictive, live syncing means you don’t have to worry about which version of what is where as long as it’s in the system. It’s more traditional on the Kobo.
Compared to the reMarkable, the Kobo is really just an easier platform for everyday reading. So if you’re looking for a device that is focused and has the option to scribble or take notes on the side, it’s a much better deal. On the flip side, those just looking for an improvement on this pen-focused tablet should look elsewhere – writing and sketching still feels a lot better on a reMarkable than almost anything on the market. And compared to something like a Boox tablet, the Elipsa is simpler and more focused, but doesn’t have the ability to add Android apps and games.
At $ 400 – although that includes a case and stylus – the Elipsa is a sizeable investment and priced on par with an iPad, which is certainly a more versatile device. But I don’t particularly enjoy reading articles or books on my iPad, and the simplicity of an e-reader generally helps me focus when taking notes on paper or something. It’s a different device for a different purpose, but not for everyone.
However, it’s probably the best way to get into the shallow end of the “big e-reader” pool right now, with more complex or expensive options if you so desire.