Kobo Elipsa Review: A Versatile E-Ink E-Book Reader and Notepad Review

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Kobo has a track record of making serviceable e-book readers. Last year, I put a strong entry-level device under the microscope with the Kobo Nia and tested the Kobo Forma in 2018, which was previously the Kobo flagship and competitor of Amazon’s Kindle Oasis. While Kobo arguably lives a bit in the shadow of Amazon, he’s now done something Amazon hasn’t – released an e-book reader that can accept handwritten notes. The Kobo Elipsa comes with a stylus and cover priced at £ 349.99 in the UK or $ 399.99 in the US.

The Kobo Elipsa has an e-ink carta screen, and this technology was previously used to make devices that can accept handwriting. For example, I looked at the reMarkable 2 e-ink tablet earlier this year, but this is the first time eBook reading and note-taking have been combined in a single device, at least for the UK market.

Kobo has a well-established online bookstore, and like its main competitor Amazon, they have free apps for Android and Apple devices so you can take your e-book reading with you on an Android tablet or phone, as well as an iPhone or iPad that you can sync your place across devices. Unlike Amazon’s Kindles, Kobo devices have built-in support for OverDrive, Pocket, and Dropbox and can be used to read e-books borrowed from public libraries. This feature will be highlighted right on the Kobo software home screen on the Elipsa, and if you already have the required information and how to set up your OverDrive account, you can log in immediately. Alternatively, you can go to your local authority’s website for help.

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The Kobo Elipsa has a 10.3-inch E-Ink Carta 1200 touchscreen with a resolution of 1404 x 1872 (227 ppi). It is powered by a 1.8 GHz quad-core CPU and has 32 GB of storage, WiFi (802.11ac) and a USB-C port. However, there is no bluetooth or 3.5mm audio jack.

Images: Kobo

Since the Kobo Elipsa was designed for taking notes, it has to offer a larger screen than we are used to from today’s e-book readers. The E-Ink Carta 1200 touchscreen measures 10.3 inches across and there are significant bezels around the screen, with one of the longitudinal bezels being actually very wide at 25mm. This results in a device 193 mm wide, 227.5 mm deep and 7.6 mm thick. The Eipsa’s desktop footprint is very similar to that of the reMarkable 2 (187mm x 246mm), although the Elipsa is considerably thicker (7.6mm vs. 4.7mm). Although the Elipsa is thicker, it is lighter – 383g versus 403.5g for the reMarkable 2.

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The SleepCover protects the Elipsa tablet and provides a home for the pen. Both items are priced at £ 349.99 / $ 399.99.

Images: Kobo

That’s not all, because the Elipsa has a SleepCover, a two-part unit made up of a bumper-style base and a cover held in place by strong magnets. Fold the cover onto the back of the Elipsa and it doubles as a small stand. A pen holder is integrated into the SleepCover, which gives it a little height, but holds the pen securely. All of this together and the Elipsa is a pretty big package.

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The SleepCover in stand mode.

Image: Sandra Vogel / ZDNet

The Elipsa itself has a plastic chassis, but is solid in the hand; The SleepCover is also made of (relatively thick) plastic. The power button, charging lamp, and USB-C port for loading and transferring files are all on the underside of one of the long edges of the Elipsa, and there are corresponding access holes in the SleepCover.

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The 10.3-inch monochrome screen is ideal for reading e-books with a resolution of 1872 x 1404 pixels (227 ppi). It’s sharp and clear, and the text is easy on the eye. The 1.8GHz quad-core processor is fast enough to allow for smooth page changes, and the page updates are complete without the previously read page becoming ghostly.

Kobos software is a prime example of ease of use. While in a book, tap the screen and the reading progress, search tool, and chapter navigation appear at the bottom of the screen, while at the top there is a menu for adjusting various settings.

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Settings and statistics for reading e-books.

Pictures: Sandra Vogel / ZDNet

The adjustments are what you would expect from an e-book reader. You can change the font size, line spacing, margin size, alignment and switch the automatic rotation on and off as well as adjust the brightness of the front light. You can also view detailed in-book statistics – how long it takes to read the book, how long it will take you to read the current chapter, how long it will take you to read the next chapter, and a graphical representation of your progress in the book.

More extensive read settings can be accessed through the gear tool in this menu. Kobo even makes a sensible attempt to overcome the e-book reader’s problem of not being able to flip back and forth like a printed book: long presses on the lower left and right corners to flip the page back and forth gives a passable one Skim approaching a paper book.

There are two notable absences. One is the ability to change the color temperature to make it easier for the eye to read at night. This has been a standard feature of e-book readers for so long that its absence here is surprising. A halfway house is perhaps the ability to switch from the usual dark text on a light background to the back. The other absent is bluetooth or a 3.5mm headset jack for listening to audiobooks.

I had no problems reading e-books and many file formats are supported for sideloaded documents – EPUB, EPUB3, FlePub, PDF, MOBI, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, TIFF, TXT, HTML, RTF, CBZ, and CBR.

That said, the Elipsa is bigger and heavier than any e-book reader I currently use (and I regularly use readers from Kobo and Amazon). I found it a little unwieldy while lounging on a sofa or reading in bed, and a little heavy with one hand for long periods of time.

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You can write notes in free-form notebooks (with a small range of styles) or in a lined notebook that can be turned into editable text.

Image: Sandra Vogel / ZDNet

The pen opens the Elipsa’s note function. It runs on a single AAAA battery and comes with a tip. Additional tips cost £ 9.99 for a five pack. When reading a book, you can press the bottom of the two pen buttons to highlight a section and the top button to clear highlights. However, the real usefulness of the pen is for taking notes.

If you select My Notebooks in the menu bar at the bottom of the home screen, the area for taking notes opens. Individual notes are stored in notebooks, of two types: one is free-form, while the other converts handwriting into text that can be edited off-device, while also allowing free-form drawing.

The writing process is tricky at first as you have to wait for the screen to catch up with the pen, but it didn’t take me long to acclimate. The conversion to editable text was excellent – error free on my first try, and the accuracy was definitely worth the short wait for processing.

Writing for conversion requires writing along preconfigured lines on the screen, but there are some “paper” styles available in the freeform notebooks. It’s a shame there aren’t any more styles – the reMarkable tablet has a huge range to choose from. Hopefully Kobo will add more styles via software updates.

Individual pages and finished notebooks can be sent to Dropbox or simply exported as DOCX, plain text or HTML via a USB-C connection. You need to decide to export, choose a file format and convert on the Elipsa itself. With the wired method, exports are neatly placed in an exported notebook folder that appears when the Elipsa and computer are connected. Wireless transmission would be a nice addition, but the wired system worked fine.

The Kobo Elipsa has 32 GB of internal storage and a battery that can be used for “weeks”, “depending on individual usage” – there is nothing better than to secure your bets, Kobo. I found that, like all e-book readers I’ve used from Kobo in the past, I could get to charging points often enough to charge without falling short. As expected, turning off WiFi saves battery life.

There are few bells and whistles with pen-based input, handwriting-to-text conversion is a bit slow, and there are no templates for non-convertible notes. But the basics are all covered, including a conversion system that can tell the difference between words and pictures. I found the handwriting conversion impressively accurate, and while the SleepCover may be a bit unwieldy, it at least offers protection and pen storage.

Conclusions

The Elipsa uses the clean, easy-to-use, and navigable interface of other Kobo e-book readers. Its versatility is great – it’s just as easy to read borrowed library books as those bought in the Kobo store, file format support is good, and a simple cable connection is all you need to transfer locally stored documents to a computer. The handwriting features are simple but well implemented, and the conversion to editable text is impressively accurate. The Elipsa is a very good device for a hybrid e-book reader / notizer of the first generation.

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