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Kobo sage review: The ultimate note-taking ereader

·12 min read
We considered its features, display, how easy it is to handle and battery life   (The Independent)
We considered its features, display, how easy it is to handle and battery life (The Independent)

It’s no surprise that ereaders are the must-have accessory for anyone who loves to read. They’re lightweight, portable and convenient as you have a whole library of ebooks at your disposal whenever you’re ready for something new to read.

And the new generation of e-ink screens also offers a superior reading experience that mimics reading a traditional book. E-ink screens can also allow users to read in any light setting without emitting blue light, reducing symptoms such as eye strain, blurry vision and difficulty sleeping.

Battery life is another reason why people love ereaders. They are measured in weeks rather than days, so even when you’re out and about, there is never any worry about not being able to get stuck in to your latest read. And if you’re an audiobook lover, some of the latest models on the market, such as the Amazon Kindle paperwhite and Kobo libra, have built-in audiobook support.

While Amazon continues to dominate the ereader market in the UK and US, there are plenty of other options to look at when you’re considering a new ereader, including Kobo, Nook and Onyx. 2021 has been a big year for Canadian based company Kobo. It released two new devices in the last quarter of 2021, the Kobo libra 2 and the Kobo sage, which both offer an upgrade on previous models. Kobo is making good gains in the ereader market and does an excellent job catering to casual and hardcore ebook fans. Not only does the Rakuten Kobo store have a wide range of books and audiobooks on offer, but it offer users the ability to access different ebook formats so they don’t get trapped in a one store ecosystem like rivals Amazon.

The Kobo sage we reviewed has an 8in HD ink carta touchscreen, a 1.8GHz quad-core processor and a generous 32GB of storage space. We recently reviewed the Kobo libra 2 and Kobo H2O and found them an excellent alternative to the Amazon Kindle, but can the Kobo sage impress us even more?

How we tested

We tested the Kobo sage by reading ebooks, listening to audiobooks, making notes, and marking up documents. We used it in various settings to see how well the display held up and how easy it was overall to handle. We used this for at least an hour per day for two weeks to really give the battery a good workout.

Read more:

Kobo sage

Rating: 8.5/10

  • Display: 8in

  • Storage: 32GB

  • Connectivity: Wifi and Bluetooth

  • Dimensions: 160.5mm x 181.4mm x 7.6mm

  • Weight: 240.8g

  • Water-resistant: Yes, up to 2m

  • Battery: At least six weeks

  • Pros: Stylus support, long battery life, audiobook integration

  • Cons: Stylus is sold separately, screen isn’t really large enough for writing

Pricing and where to find content

The Kobo sage retails at £249.99, which is a significant jump from the Kobo libra, priced at just £159.99. Of course, this ereader has stylus support, so we would expect it to be more expensive, but you may be surprised to find out that the stylus isn’t included. If you want to purchase a stylus, you’ll have to stump up an extra £39.99.

The accessories don’t stop there. The Kobo sage is compatible with the “sleep cover” and new “power cover”. The sleep cover (£49.99, Uk.kobobooks.com) fits the Kobo sage perfectly and has a two-way stand that allows you to use your sage handsfree in either portrait or landscape mode. It will will protect your screen and automatically wake when you open it and sleep when you close it.

The sleep cover comes in a variety of colours, while the power cover has its own built-in battery, automatically charging the Sage when the power runs low. This cover also has a designated slot where you can dock your stylus when not in use and protect it from falling out, especially when you’re on the move. The power cover retails at £69.99 and will be released in 2022.

Read more: 10 best tablets from Apple, Android, Windows and more

In line with other Kobo models, books and audiobooks can be downloaded via the built-in Kobo ebook store. There is plenty of choice, and they have a lot of offers where you can buy ebooks from just 99p. Unlike the Amazon Kindle, Kobo has made it very easy for you to enjoy ebooks you may already own or documents thanks to DropBox being integrated and the Kobo sage supporting 15 file formats including EPUB, EPUB3, PDF, MOBI, JPEG and PNG.

The Kobo sage also benefits from OverDrive which allows you to borrow books from your local library so long as you’re a member. It’s really easy to set up; you simply search for your library and enter your membership details. Once you’ve registered, you then have access to your local library’s collection. Even better, it automatically returns the books, so no worries about late fees. And there is pocket support to allow you to save online articles and read at a time to suit you.

Currently, the UK doesn’t have access to the Kobo+ subscription which is similar to Amazon Kindle unlimited, where you can borrow books and audiobooks for a set monthly fee.

Screen and design

The Kobo sage has an 8in HD E ink Carta 1200 glare-free screen. The Kobo is one of the first ereaders to come with stylus support. Unlike the elipsa, which boasts a 10.3in screen, the compact 8in Sage is a lot easier to use, especially when making notes with the stylus. It has a 300ppi resolution, so the text is very clear, and you’d never know you’re not reading a physical book.

The sage has a flush screen with a large bezel, and its rippled back makes it easy to handle, even when using one-handed. In line with other Kobo ereaders, the bezel has two buttons that can be used to turn the pages. Using the buttons to turn the pages is fast and responsive. They are particularly useful when you want to skip to certain parts of your book quickly; just hold down the button in the direction you want to go, and fast nav will start, which turns the pages without any screen refresh. Talking of screen refresh, when you’re turning the pages at a normal rate, it’s speedy and crisp with no lag, this is due to the combination of the Carta 1200 screen and Quad core processor.

The only thing we found a little off-putting with the design is how easily it attracted fingerprint marks. This is particularly noticeable when reading in full sun as even though the screen is low glare, those fingerprints were highlighted. This, of course, could be remedied by only using the buttons to turn the pages, but it is something to keep in mind if you enjoy that swiping action when using your ereader.

At 240 grams, it’s only slightly weightier than the Kobo libra 2 so this is very lightweight and easy to carry around. It also benefits from gyroscope technology that allows you to use this ereader in landscape or portrait mode. Thanks to the wider margins, we found reading books in landscape mode a much nicer experience.

The screen is also made a lot better by including the “comfort light pro” technology, which easily allows readers to select their own level of brightness and blue light based on personal preferences via a slider system. But if you’re like us and you just want to be able to read from day to night seamlessly, there’s an option for set auto adjust, which will change the colour and temperature of the screen depending on the time of day.

Software and features

The Kobo sage has a 1.8 GHz quad-core processor with 512MB of RAM and 32GB of storage, keeping it in line with the Kobo libra, which was released at the same time. Connectivity-wise, you can connect to the internet via wifi 802.11, and it also has Bluetooth.

The Kobo Sage is one of the latest ereaders to support audiobooks. There are no internal speakers, so you will need to connect your wireless headphones to be able to listen. You can also only play audiobooks that are purchased via the Kobo store, so do bear that in mind if you already have a collection of audiobooks or you have a subscription to Audible.

As with other Kobo devices, the sage is waterproof for up to 60 minutes in a maximum of two metres of water. So whether you’re lounging by the pool or you like to read in the bath, the Sage is the perfect partner.

The stylus

Now, the big feature of the Kobo sage is the stylus allowing users to make notes, annotations and highlight notable passages whilst reading. The stylus is made using aluminium, so it feels very solid and there’s a textured area around the base for a better grip. It’s a very comfortable pen to use and operate. Because it’s made using metal, it has a nice weight, much like you’d expect from a regular pencil. It is pressure-sensitive, so it can take a bit of time to get used to how much pressure you need to apply, but overall it performs very well. There are two buttons on the side of the stylus, one is to activate the highlight function, and the other is the eraser.

There is a specific note-taking app built into this Kobo, the features are limited, but you do get everything that you need, such as being able to change the page background, clearing and deleting the page. There are a range of pen styles to choose from, including ballpoint pen, fountain pen, brush and highlighter. You can also select the pens size and when it comes to colour there are five shades of grey. One thing we found strange was when you erase anything, it erases the stroke, and until the whole thing is erased, you’ll still see the pixels on the screen. However, these disappear after a page refresh.

Read more: Kindle paperwhite 10th gen review

The stylus is powered using an AAAA battery, and even with our solid use, we didn’t even make a dent in the battery. Kobo states that with normal use, one battery should last several months. This stylus will only work on the Kobo Sage, or elipsa so don’t expect to buy it and use it with other tablets. The stylus is also magnetic, and if you purchase the power cover, there is a slot for it, otherwise, it just rolls around, so it could benefit from a holder for those who don’t have the expensive cover.

Marking up books and making annotations on PDFs is really easy. Any notes made will be automatically saved and visible at the same font size used when creating the markup. If you change your font size at any point, the markup will be transferred to an icon that will show the markup in a popup box. Something we found a bit annoying was that once the markup is made, it is stored under annotations, and that can’t be deleted unless you go in and manually delete each note. It would be great if we could just highlight the markup in the annotations page and just delete it.

The screen size makes a difference when it comes to using the stylus to make notes on books and documents. The 8in screen may be more ergonomic when reading in comparison to the 10.3in screen of the elipsa, but it doesn’t give you much room to make notes in the sidebar. So, in reality, note-taking feels cramped. It works really well when highlighting passages, and we love the function that when highlighting a single word, there are options to translate it into a different language or look it up on Google or Wikipedia.

Battery life

As you would expect from an e-ink ereader, the battery life is superb, and with normal use, it can last up to six weeks. Of course, if you use it a lot for notes or audiobooks, we would expect the battery to drain a little quicker. We used it for at least one hour per day for two weeks and still have plenty of juice left. This ereader would certainly see you through a two week holiday without even needing to consider charging. But when it comes to charging, the good news is that the Kobo sage has ditched the Micro USB in favour of a USB-C charging port.

Buy now £249.99, Kobobooks.com

The verdict: Kobo sage

The Kobo sage is a fantastic ereader that allows users to read, listen and write all on one savvy device. We love how fast and responsive it is, and the “comfort light pro” feature is especially good for reducing the blue light exposure when reading before bed.

However, the only difference between the sage and the libra 2 is the stylus support and the quad-core processor. So we’re not sure that’s worth the extra price tag. Especially when you factor in that the sage doesn’t even ship with the stylus. If you take a lot of notes, maybe for a book club or for study, then the Kobo sage would be a good buy. But if you mostly use your ereader for reading and listening to audiobooks, then we’d advise that you stick with the Kobo libra 2 or, if you’re already sucked into the Amazon ecosystem, the new Kindle paperwhite is a good choice.

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