Kobo is the underdog e-reader maker that many readers already love to love, in no small part because it isn't Amazon. And the company's Elipsa 2E feels like a direct response to the well-known shopping giant's Kindle Scribe.
But Amazon isn't the only player in the E Ink tablet game, with others including the Onyx Note Air 2 and ReMarkable 2 to name a few. So what has Kobo got over the competition, and what does the Elipsa 2E bring to the table that was missing in the original?
KOBO ELIPSA 2E REVIEW: WHAT'S NEW?
With a huge selection of books in its library and a new all-you-can-read subscription service, called Kobo Plus, the Toronto-based firm is clearly going all-in across hardware and software to woo early adopters of E Ink tablets. After all, the Elipsa 2E launches in a relatively new market with a handful of strong offerings.
In addition to Kobo's services, the tablet has a large 10.3-inch E Ink touchscreen, which is backlit, unlike the ReMarkable 2's display. It also runs with Kobo's proprietary smart interface, so sports a web browser, Dropbox, and Pocket app integration, outsmarting Amazon's Kindle Scribe.
Unlike the Elipsa 2E's predecessor, Kobo's latest is built for note-taking as well as reading and annotating.
KOBO ELIPSA 2E REVIEW: PRICE AND AVAILABILITY
Costing a little more than Amazon's Kindle Scribe, you can pick up the Elipsa 2E for £349.99 in the UK, $399.99 in the US and for AU$629.95 in Australia. It's available in just one version that sports 32GB storage, and it comes with a pen, so you won't need to buy one separately.
You can choose to pick up the Elipsa 2E SleepCover, which you can see pictured below. If you're in the UK, that'll set you back an extra £69.99, while in the US it costs $869.99, while in Australia that's an additional AU$89.95.
When it comes to getting books on the Kobo Elipsa 2E, of course, you can buy them individually through the Kobo store. Alternatively, the new Kobo Plus service gives you unlimited access to a selection of content, and costs £8.99 a month for ebooks, or £11.99 a month for both ebooks and audiobooks. Kobo Plus in Australia has just the one tier for ebooks for AU$13.99.
KOBO ELIPSA 2E REVIEW: DESIGN AND DISPLAY
The Kobo Elipsa 2E is a clunky thing when set against some of its main competition. While other E Ink tablets enjoy metal construction and super-thin frames, the Elipsa is made of black plastic and is chunkier than we expected it to be.
This plastic build isn't necessarily a bad thing. The 2E is the grippiest E Ink slate on the scene, with a slightly soft-touch back that feels almost rubberised without clinging onto dust like actual rubber might. The back is also textured for an even more secure hold, and the flat sides matched with rounded corners complement the balanced weighting, so it feels like Kobo wants you to spend a long time holding its latest creation.
With a subtle wedge shape, the Elipsa 2E is thickest along the side with the USB-C port and power button and thins out towards the side the pen magnetically affixes to. This might suggest you're forced to use it in one orientation, but with responsive page-flipping depending on how you're holding the tablet, left- or right-handers should be able to use it comfortably.
If you don't have the Kobo SleepCover, then you can magnetically secure the pen vertically along the back of the Elipsa. This is reminiscent of how an S Pen stows on a Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra.
Personally, I prefer the way the E Ink competition stows the pen on the side within easy view. One upshot of Kobo's rear-pen-mounting mechanism, though, is that when the pen is secured around the back, it angles the screen up slightly, making for a comfortable landscape viewing experience when the whole thing's rested on a surface.
Onto the screen: clocking in with the same size and resolution as that of Amazon's Kindle Scribe – 10.3-inches with 1404 x 1872 pixels – and with both sporting mighty backlights that shine warm or cool, it really is splitting hairs when choosing between the two tablets' mighty similar core hardware.
What might swing you in the Kindle Scribe's direction is the fact it features auto-brightness, so can dial brightness up or down depending on your environment. If you don't mind manually toggling it, though, viewing angles on Kobo's slate are strong, even without a backlight, and we actually kept it off in most conditions, which also saves battery. After all, the screen's matte texture diffuses glare well, making it easy to see indoors or out, so you'll only need to pump up the brightness when the lights go down.
KOBO ELIPSA 2E REVIEW: PEN AND WRITING
The Elipsa 2E's pen experience is the tablet's weakest area. On paper, the pen should be a best-in-class addition. After all, it has a button and an eraser on the back. And it's included in the box. Neither Amazon, Boox, or ReMarkable offer that level of value. So what's wrong with it?
For starters, you have to charge the pen, unlike competing tablet styli which are battery-free. This is a small bugbear, but it's worth mentioning, especially given the fact there's no obvious way of checking how much battery is left in the pen.
More frustrating than the pen needing charging, however, is the fact we had serious inconsistencies when it came to pen tip accuracy.
Occasionally, the writing experience was spot-on. Writing on it was accurate and we could easily doodle, knowing exactly where our pen strokes would end up. Other times, most frequently when the Elipsa 2E was in the case or in hand, there were a couple of millimetres between our tip and the on-screen stroke.
Less frustrating, but still worth mentioning, the Elipsa 2E has weaker palm rejection than its competition, so a resting palm would flip the page before the pen tip would flip the virtual screen on a few occasions.
Then there's the note-taking app. With a total of 20 paper types to choose from (updated from four when we first tested it), as well as a range of pens which support pressure sensitivity, you can easily take notes that live on your Elipsa.
But it isn't all bad. The Elipsa 2E has a more feature-rich note-taking app than that of the Kindle Scribe. Powered by the popular Nebo, it can convert handwritten copy into text and even supports rich formatting, so if you underline words, it will turn them into a title, or you can circle to highlight them.
The inclusion of a button on the pen is also a great way to shortcut an often-used feature, set by default to a highlighter, while Kobo's eraser around the back of the pen also works well. Even the pen's shape, which sports two softly flattened sides and a metal build, feels rich and comfortable to hold.
For me, the Elipsa 2E's best feature is that it supports actual handwritten annotations in books bought through Kobo's store. I'm not talking about sticky notes like Amazon's solution for the Kindle Scribe (which doesn't even support handwritten notes in all books). I mean old school: writing in the margins and circling diagrams. That's how I like to read, and that's the area of the Elipsa 2E experience that won me over the most.
KOBO ELIPSA 2E REVIEW: SOFTWARE AND PERFORMANCE
The Elipsa 2E runs with Kobo's software, which updates what we've seen on past Kobo devices, adding all the new note-taking tools to the mix.
At the bottom of the user interface is a bar with shortcuts to Home, My Books, My Notebooks, Discover, and More. Home is where you can access your recently-read content. It should be where saved pages from the Pocket app appear too, but the interface wasn't able to connect the dots in our time with it.
My Books gives you access to your entire library, and you can filter content by books, authors, series and collections; while My Notebooks is where you'll find your handwritten notes; Discover is a shortcut to the Kobo store.
The More tab is actually packed with features that go way beyond settings. Dropbox and Pocket shortcuts, reading statistics, a web browser, and games are all nested within this section. If you're wondering what your game options are on the Kobo Elipsa 2E, they include Sudoku, Unblock It, Solitare, or Word Scramble – all fun, simple brainteasers.
We've alluded to the fact that syncing handwritten notes taken on the Kobo Elipsa with other devices is a pain. While your library, bookmarks and reading location are synchronized across the app, web, and the Elipsa 2E, handwritten content needs to be manually exported. This puts Kobo on the back foot behind all the note-taking competition.
So what are your exporting options? Dropbox via Wi-Fi, and if you don't use Dropbox, to the device's internal storage as a PDF, JPG or PNG file, after which you can offload them when plugging it into your computer. It all just feels a little 2015.
For fans of 2015, though, you might actually prefer Kobo's more manual approach. Unlike the Kindle Scribe, you can load the Elipsa 2E up with titles to read by dragging and dropping EPUB books onto it when it's plugged into your computer. It's read as an external hard drive, and files are recognised by the Kobo interface as soon as it's unmounted.
As with all E Ink tablets, battery life on the Elipsa 2E will entirely depend on your backlight use. We hardly dented the battery in our time with it, but seldom used the backlight as we mainly read on the slate in public with plenty of ambient light. In turn, it's reasonable to expect between one to three weeks on a single charge, though ramping up the brightness will shorten this significantly.
KOBO ELIPSA 2E REVIEW: VERDICT
There's a lot right with the Kobo Elipsa 2E, especially for anyone who loves annotating their books as they read.
However, this tablet does fall behind the competition in a handful of key areas: pen accuracy, cloud syncing and design. But in a relatively small market, it has a place as an alternative to the Kindle Scribe and other e-readers.
The Elipsa 2E is the only option with a comprehensive bookstore that lets you buy books and scribble directly on them. While you can sideload books onto the ReMarkable and Onyx Boox Note series for annotation, Kobo's book solution is more self-contained. This is especially true now it's launched Kobo Plus for subscription-based, unlimited reading.
The tablet is also light and comfortable to hold, and has a great E Ink screen, showcasing everything from traditional books to textbooks and comics well.
So it's very clear who shouldn't buy the Kobo Elipsa 2E: anyone who's sold into the Amazon and Kindle ecosystem, or in need of an excellent, cloud-syncing note-taking E Ink tool. If you want to bypass Amazon, though, and plan on reading more than writing, the Elipsa 2E could be the top dog for you.
If you want a dedicated note-taking E Ink tablet and don't need a backlight, the ReMarkable 2 is the most polished option out there. It's incredibly thin, and benefits from the highest-quality accessories around, though doesn't ship with a pen, so you'll need to pick one up separately.
Amazon Kindle fans can opt for the Kindle Scribe or the Boox Note Air 2 Plus. The Kindle Scribe is the better option for those who want to keep it simple, with its much more limited features and very basic note-taking app.
The Note Air 2 Plus runs Android, so you can load up the Amazon and Kobo app, or sideload EPUB files for a versatile reading experience, making it a more powerful, but more complicated alternative to the E Ink tablet competition.