If you like the old-school concept of jotting down notes on the edge of a paperback, the $ 259.99 Kobo Sage tries to recreate that feel for the digital age. But the experience cannot be fully translated. On the one hand, we like the waterproof construction of the Sage and, like any other Kobo e-book reader, its ability to integrate with local libraries. The sage, however, is an uncomfortable size; It does not sit comfortably in the hand and is not large enough to display large format documents well. (We had similar thoughts on the Kobo Forma, the company’s older 8-inch e-book reader.) If you’re looking to take notes on electronic documents, the 10-inch Onyx Boox Note Air 2 and Apple iPad are better choices.
Great e-ink screen, cumbersome design
Like the Forma, at 6.3 x 7.1 x 0.3 inches (HWD), the Sage is just a little too big to put in your pocket. It looks like a slightly larger version of Kobo’s Libra 2: both have flat fronts with a large frame and a grip area with physical page-turning buttons on the side. At 8.5 ounces, the Sage is noticeably heavier than the Forma (7.0 ounces) and weighs more than I expected, especially considering the optional leather cover ($ 49.99). The device is waterproof and offers 32 GB of onboard storage.
The Sage uses a slim 8-inch E Ink Carta 1200 display that is 1,920 x 1,440 (300 ppi). The Kobo Libra 2, Kobo Elipsa and the new Kindle Paperwhite use the same panel that integrates the latest technology from E Ink. Carta 1200 enables faster page turns and a smoother gray background than previous e-ink technologies like the Kobo Forma.
Kobo’s color-changing backlight is easier to use than Onyx’s. This is where you get sliders for color and brightness; You can choose between a very blue and a very yellow shade, and anything in between. You can also configure the backlight color to change during the day according to a timer.
Like other Kobos, the Sage works through Overdrive with Kobo’s store and your public library. You can even download books from Dropbox or transfer titles from your PC using the device’s USB-C port. Most of the people I know use their Kobos primarily with Kobo purchased or library books, but the platform also supports CBR / CBZ, EPUB, MOBI, and PDF books. The Kobo Public Library user interface is super-sleek; I especially like the way books are automatically returned when they expire.
Sage and Libra 2 now support Bluetooth headphones. However, you can only play audiobooks purchased through the Kobo Store over Bluetooth. Onyx e-book readers are much more flexible in their Bluetooth support and allow playback of audio from any application or source.
The battery life is not a problem with the Sage. As with other e-book readers, with regular use, I’d expect a week or so before it needs to be charged via the USB-C port.
Make a note of that
The Sage works with the optional $ 39.99 Kobo pen, a cylindrical, two-button pressure-sensitive pen on the body, but the note-taking experience isn’t always seamless or ideal.
You can take notes on PDF documents and EPUB books, but you can only export PDF documents for viewing elsewhere. In other words, if you take notes in a book, you’re trapped in that particular Kobo. You can jump to an Annotations tab to see all of your annotations in a book.
The Sage’s notes app is strangely buried two levels deep in the menus. As with the Elipsa, you get five different pen types, sizes and tones. Onyx offers more flexibility in its app. You can create two types of notebooks: Basic (freeform) and Advanced (with OCR capabilities). The Sage can export simple notebooks in JPEG, PDF, or PNG format and advanced notebooks in DOCX or HTML format.
Another problem I encountered is that PDF documents are not entirely ideal for an 8-inch screen. Sure, you can read them, but PDFs are typically 8.5 “by 11” and much easier to read on a 10 “device like the Note Air 2 or Elipsa.
The Sage’s screen has a very smooth surface, so the pen doesn’t have the paper-like grip that you can feel on the Note Air 2. For comparison: iPads and the Onyx Boox Max Lumi 2 are also pretty slippery. I also noticed more lag than on the Onyx tablet. I didn’t mind taking notes – my brain was always a letter or two in front of my hands anyway – but it is unsettling when you try to draw.
Size restriction utility
8 inch ebook readers are a bulky size. They’re a little big in your pocket, but not big enough to comfortably view full PDFs or American comics. I understand the potential attraction of the sage; Notes and marginalia are cool. But on most e-book readers you can already highlight passages, while larger devices handle large-format documents much more skillfully.
At $ 259.99, the Sage is significantly cheaper than the Kobo Elipsa ($ 399.99) and the Onyx Boox Note Air 2 ($ 499.99), but these two devices bundle their respective pens together. The Note Air 2 is our Editors’ Choice winner for pen-compatible e-ink devices.
Our pick from the Kobo range remains the Kobo Libra 2 ($ 179.99). It’s better in your pocket because of its 7-inch screen size, although it doesn’t support the Kobo stylus. When you’re ready to buy into Amazon’s Kindle ecosystem, the Kindle Paperwhite ($ 139.99) is our editor’s pick. The $ 329 base iPad model is more powerful than any of these other devices, though its LCD may be a non-starter for those who prefer an e-ink display.