Kobo Elipsa review: An ereader and enote 2-in-1
Quick verdict: The Kobo Elipsa makes a valiant attempt to bridge the gap between ereader and enote. It doesn’t manage to excel at being one or the other as its big for an ereader and slow for an enote, but it does provide enough from both worlds to give consumers genuine flexibility and bang for buck.
- Integrates ereader ecosystem into an enote
- Simple, sleek design
- Nice big screen powered by good specs
- Slight delay when note taking
- E Ink screen tech about to be superseded
- ComfortLight missing
Australia is late on the scene when it comes to enote devices. While overseas markets, notably America, have a plethora of enotes to choose from, there are only a handful of options Down Under by comparison. Enter the Kobo Elipsa, which marries the existing Kobo ereader features and ecosystem with the functionality of an enote – and displays it all on a bigger screen.
The result is a mixed bag. It's a great ereader held back by its size, and a solid enote hamstrung by being an ereader. But together, it offers flexibility, something consumers haven't seen before, and an opportunity to get the best of both worlds if that suits your use case.
What makes the Kobo Elipsa stand out?
The Kobo Elipsa offers an enote experience whereby you can write directly onto the screen or interact with existing documents and then export the results. But it also offers the full ereader experience. While other enotes – notable the reMarkable 2 and the Onyx BOOX range – provide robust enote alternatives, they can't offer a genuine ereader experience. This is because the Kobo store, with its millions of titles, is fully integrated.
- Big sharp screen
- Lots of storage
- Long battery life
- Heavy for an ereader
The first thing you will notice with the Kobo Elipsa is its size. The generous 10.3" screen reaches well beyond notable ereader alternatives available in Australia, such as the Kobo Forma's 8" and the Kindle Oasis's 7" screens. And that size is on par with top enotes like the reMarkable 2 and BOOX Note Air.
Unfortunately, the resolution doesn't follow suit. With a 227ppi resolution, it falls below the 300ppi standard set by the Forma and Oasis. What that actually means in practice is that it's slightly harder to read the words in your ebooks. However, unless you hold the devices side-by-side, you are unlikely to be able to tell the difference. And you can always play with the font size and screen brightness to suit your needs.
It's worth noting that enotes like the reMarkable 2 (226ppi) and BOOX Note Air (227ppi) offer the same resolution.
The panel itself utilises the latest E Ink Carta 1200 touchscreen, but that is technology about to be superseded later in 2021 by the E Ink Carta 1250. That tech will bring colour options to ereaders, which would be welcomed by many genres and when drawing or doodling.
I got about two weeks of battery life out of the Kobo Elipsa with a solid mix of reading and note taking, which is great for an E Ink device.
Where we do see big improvements with the Kobo Elipsa is in its power. The quad-core 1.8GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, 2,400mAh battery and 32GB of storage far exceeds what we see in other ereaders. It's also comparable to the BOOX Note Air and exceeds the reMarkable 2.
The "penalty" is that it's also a fair bit heavier than regular ereaders, relatively anyway. It's 383g, where both its main competitors as ereaders are under 200g. At least as an enote, it's under 400g, which puts it ahead of its competitors.
I had no dramas holding it in one hand and reading, despite its size. However, while it may not seem like much of a weight increase over smaller ereaders, you do notice it over time – especially when you add in the cover. It's bulky at 7.6mm compared to the reMarkable 2's svelte 4.7mm form, too.
This is an ereader to have resting on your lap or a pillow, rather than held up in bed.
A USB Type-C port is your main thoroughfare for getting content off and on the device. The Kobo Elipsa supports 15 file types, including epub, mobi, jog, png and PDF formats. This is not just important for reading, but also for making notes or drawing pictures on existing documents and images. You can also sync web articles with your Pocket account and access or export files directly to Dropbox.
It's worth noting that for your $599, you also get the Kobo stylus and the cover. Make sure you take that into account when comparing its price against other devices. The cover also becomes important given that the Elipsa – unlike the Forma – is not waterproof.
Kobo Elipsa vs reMarkable 2 vs Kindle Oasis
|Specification||Kobo Elipsa||Kindle Oasis||Kobo Forma||Remarkable 2||Boox Note Air|
|Panel||E Ink Carta 1200 touchscreen||E Ink Carta 1200 touchscreen||E Ink Mobius||E Ink Carta||E Ink Carta HD|
|Storage||32GB||8GB or 32GB||8GB||8GB||32GB|
|Processor||Quad-Core 1.8GHz||Quad-Core 1GHz||Quad-Core 1GHz||Dual-Core 1.2GHz ARM||Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 processor|
|Included||SleepCover, Stylus||Standalone||Standalone||Standalone ($79 for stylus)||Cover, Sylus, Tips|
- Sleek design
- Easy to hold in any position
- Functional cover and stylus
- Cover is bland
The Kobo Elipsa's look and feel fall neatly into the grander Kobo family. If you're familiar with the other Kobo devices, expect the same vibe, only bigger. It's simple, black and sleek, putting all the focus on the screen and its content.
The screen's content sits slightly off centre, leaving a black bar down the side where you can place your thumb while holding the device. And given the screen can rotate, it doesn't matter if you are left or right handed.
In landscape mode, the cover provides a snug spot for your hand which works so well it's actually become my preferred way to read. It's unclear if this is by design or not, but it's a nice bonus all the same.
Handholding aside, the included cover is a curious design. It flaps down over the front, hinging at the top. It can then be bent in such a way once folded over so that the Kobo Elipsa is propped up slightly. This helps with drawing and writing while in enote mode. It also has a proper housing spot for the stylus, ensuring it's not easily lost. And since the stylus doesn't need to be charged, you don't ever need to leave it out of the cover.
While the cover does its job, it's not overly exciting. The singular blue-grey colour reminds me of the skies of England – depressingly dreary - and the way it folds over the top feels a little cheap and flimsy.
- Reading is fast
- Kobo store integration great
- Slight delay when note taking
- Web browser is rubbish
There are two halves to consider when looking at the performance of the Kobo Elipsa.
As an ereader, it builds on years of work with the rest of the Kobo devices to provide a quality experience. The touchscreen offers solid, but not exceptional, response. It can be a tad tricky using little toggles – such as the brightness – but common functions like page turning are great. The integration with the Kobo store is the big win, however. This is where the Kobo Elipsa really separates itself as a 2-in-1 device. It's easy to find new books, buy them and read them.
Just note that you do have to put up with the annoying black flicker – how E Ink screens refresh – constantly. This isn't an issue specific to the Kobo Elipsa, but I do hate the distraction. Kobo's own ComfortLight tech is also surprisingly missing, which takes away a bit of the screen's warmth. The low max brightness adds to that omission, ensuring it's a missed opportunity.
Also, while the Kobo Elipsa does claim a wide variety of supported file types, like most ereaders, it's focused on traditional novels. As long as the book is basic, it will work. Try adding a proper epub 3 file, with interactive elements or landscape orientation, and it breaks. I tested it with my children's picture book series and while it works fine on epub 3 compatible devices such as the iPad, it's broken on Kobo.
This won't impact the vast majority of books you will encounter, nor anything you download through the Kobo store. However, it's a sign the tech isn't truly up to speed with the times. On that, the advertised web browsing capabilities should be ignored. There is a web browser that exists – alongside a handful of games – under Beta Features in the main menu. The browser is broken. Just use your phone.
As an enote
I've been impressed by how well the Kobo Elipsa functions as an enote. The ability to write in freeform, drawing pictures or diagrams as you go, works well. As does circling, underlining, highlighting and otherwise marking books and files. You'll just need to get use to a slight delay between your input and it being visible.
This is caused by the inclusion of a secondary screen that provides self-illumination. The reMarkable 2, for example, does not have this. As a result, your inputs appear instantly. However, it's harder to use in darkened rooms, such as lecture theatres. The self-illumination is a big win for the Kobo Elipsa, but you have to deal with that delay.
I've read some people complain about the delay with the Kobo Elipsa's note taking, but I think it's not that significant a concern. I barely noticed it.
Being able to export it directly to Dropbox is also user-friendly but perhaps a dedicated cross-device Kobo app would be more compelling. There's not a great range of brush types, but they cover a broad range of styles. And I like how you can define thickness manually through the menu or simply by applying more pressure to the screen.
The advanced notebook mode has the added ability of converting your writing to text. I found this works well as long as you have neat writing. My handwriting is atrocious; even I can barely read it. And the scribbles to text feature struggles as a result for me. But when I shared it around the office, everyone else got 1-to-1 conversions.
The ability to add in diagrams, equations and drawings among your notes gives added flexibility to workers or students. With the former two, you do have to be precise with what you are drawing, but that shouldn't be a problem for most users.
The stylus itself is simple and light. It features two buttons. When one is held, it turns from a pen to a highlighter. When the other is held, you have an eraser. This provides quick-switch options while taking notes during a meeting or lecture. If you're a hard-gripper like me, you might find yourself pressing these buttons when you don't want to, so it does take some adjusting.
Thankfully, the screen does a great job of ignoring your palm when it is pressed against the screen.
Should you buy Kobo Elipsa?
- Buy it if you're looking for a good ereader that has solid enote-taking capabilities.
- Don't buy it if you want more of an enote than an ereader or a device that’ll entertain children.
Everyone is a reader. But if you're a scribbler as well, always doodling and taking down notes, then the Kobo Elipsa presents a compelling use case – especially if you're a student or work in a field where the need for tangible hands-on note taking presents a problem when you need it converted into digital form.
As an enote, it's not as good as the reMarkable 2, but its ereader features go far and beyond anything else in the category. As an ereader, it's held back by its size – reducing portability – and ComfortLight omission, but it offers an enote experience far and beyond anything in that category.
But if you want both devices, the Kobo Elipsa is good bang for buck.
I'm disappointed that the Elipsa doesn't offer colour. As a father, it would have been great to be able to better use the Kobo Elipsa for children's books, education or even colouring in and doodling. I wonder then if Kobo should have waited for the colour-friendly E Ink 1250 screens coming in mid-2021 and gone all out at this price point.
But that product doesn't yet exist. And I can only commend Kobo for what it has attempted with the Kobo Elipsa, and for the potential future it represents.
Pricing and availability
Images: Chris Stead
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