The Kobo Elipsa 2E offers the best in-book annotations around and some neat features but is lacking in key areas
- Superb interface and handwriting recognition
- Excellent notetaking in books
- Sharp screen
- Less responsive than rivals
- Stylus needs charging
- Plastic build
E-paper notepads used to be something of a niche product but, now Amazon has got involved with the Kindle Scribe, I guess we can say the genre is truly mainstream.
Here’s Kobo’s second attempt at the format: the Kobo Elipsa 2E. It improves upon the original with blue light reduction, longer battery life and an improved, lighter stylus.
It’s essentially a 3-in-1 device. You can choose to read from the millions of books on the Kobo Store or a near-infinite supply of online articles sent via the Pocket social bookmarking service. You can also listen to audiobooks purchased via the Kobo Store (but not anywhere else, annoyingly). And, most importantly, you can scribble digital notes with the feel of paper, via the bundled stylus.
Kobo Elipsa 2E review: What do you get for the money?
The first thing to mention is what you don’t get. While the original Kobo Elipsa came with a cover, it’s an optional extra for the Elipsa 2E setting you back an extra £70 on top of the £350 for the tablet itself.
The word “optional” is doing a lot of heavy lifting there, though. While you can use this e-reader without the case, taking advantage solely of the magnets on the front grip to attach the stylus, without the useful holster the sleep cover adds it’s going to eventually go walkies, so proceed at your peril.
What do you get for your £350? In the box is the 10.3in E Ink e-reader itself, the Kobo Stylus 2 with a couple of spare tips, and a sturdy-feeling braided USB-C cable for charging both.
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Kobo Elipsa 2E review: What do we like about it?
In general, the experience of the Kobo Elipsa 2E is very nice indeed, and if I hadn’t used any of its rivals I imagine would be blown away.
There are essentially two ways to use it as a writing device: as a blank canvas to write and doodle on as you go about your day or as a way of taking notes on books as you read them.
For the latter, you can underline bits, doodle in the margins, or highlight sections by holding down the button on the stylus. All your annotations will be saved in the menu for that book, so you can return to anything that piqued your interest whenever you feel like it.
So far, that’s not a million miles away from Kindle Scribe and ReMarkable 2, but where the Kobo Elipsa 2E really excels is when you’re making notes from scratch, thanks to the superb text recognition and smart user interface that’s available when you opt to create an “advanced notebook”. This is something, bafflingly, the Kindle Scribe cannot do.
Here, after scrawling something in seemingly illegible handwriting, you can double-tap it with your finger for the words to be converted into digital text in seconds. I can’t overstate how good it was at recognising both my and my partner’s handwriting, no matter whether we used joined-up handwriting or tried to write sloppily to fool it. It’s also worth noting that the Kindle Scribe still doesn’t offer this functionality.
Better still, once your text is converted, you can neatly edit it with the stylus. Underline something and it will go bold. Circle it, and it will be highlighted. Swipe downwards on a word and a space will be added at the point your tip met the page; swipe upwards on a space and it will disappear. It’s all very intuitive.
The stylus itself is comfortable to hold and comes with a rubber on the end: flip it over and you can erase bits by moving it over the text. It isn’t an original feature but both ReMarkable and Amazon charge more for a stylus that can do this and, with the Kobo Elipsa 2E, it’s standard. Also, I quite like the fact it actually looks more like a rubber, with a light grey tip. I am a man of simple pleasures, clearly.
Finally, it’s worth stating that Kobo has been in the e-reader game long enough now to have a good handle on what makes a good reading experience. And, while the 10.3in device may be a bit bulky for some, the text is sharp and the interface is intuitive, which are all the ingredients you need to get lost in a good book.
Kobo Elipsa 2E review: What could it do better?
As mentioned, the Kobo Stylus 2 feels comfortable in the hand and is an improvement on Kobo’s first attempt – in part because it no longer needs AAA batteries, instead charging via USB-C. But neither the Kindle Scribe nor the ReMarkable stylus need charging at all, so that still feels like a chore, no matter how rarely you’ll actually need to do it. Also bear in mind that, like all rechargeable batteries, it will eventually fail.
Sticking with the stylus, while it’s certainly not sluggish, pen marks made on the Kobo Elipsa 2E are noticeably slower to appear on the virtual page than on the ReMarkable 2. Testing the two side by side, it’s clear that Kobo is a hair behind – just enough to make you appreciate that you’re definitely not dealing with real paper, although certainly not enough lag to make it unusable.
I don’t have the Kindle Scribe to test any more but I found at the time that it was a nose behind the ReMarkable 2, which makes me think it will be a tad more responsive than the Kobo, but it’s probably much of a muchness at this point. What’s worse is that the Kobo would occasionally miss smaller strokes – something that wasn’t an issue with either the Scribe or ReMarkable.
Another area where it loses out to both of them is in the feel of the device. While the ReMarkable 2 and the Kindle Scribe both have an aluminium frame, the Kobo goes with plastic. It should be noted that this is for entirely admirable reasons – the Kobo Elipsa 2E is made from 85% recycled materials in a nod to sustainability – but when you’re spending £350 on a digital notepad, you probably want something that feels a bit more expensive.
On the subject of unfortunate comparisons to Kindle that are beyond Kobo’s control, as ever, the Kindle ebook store is off limits. As I explained in more depth in my Kobo Clare 2E review, this isn’t that big a deal for books, assuming you don’t already have a massive Kindle library you want to reread. Spot-checking select titles reveals a similar range and pricing.
But for audiobooks, Kobo’s store has some pretty conspicuous omissions. I personally don’t think that’s a big deal, as I’m sceptical many people will use such a device for audiobooks when nearly everyone has a smartphone in their pockets. Nonetheless, it remains a weak spot.
Finally, it’s worth saying that, like its rivals, accessing your notes and annotations beyond the device remains a pain. As with the Kindle Scribe, your book annotations won’t appear when reading on another Kobo device or in the app. And, if you want to look at your lovely handwritten notes elsewhere, you have to use Dropbox on the device or drag the files off manually with a USB cable, which feels a touch clunky.
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Kobo Elipsa 2E review: Should you buy it?
The Kobo Elipsa 2E is an excellent product, but it’s undoubtedly in a tricky place.
If you want a dedicated notetaking device, the ReMarkable 2 remains – for me – the gold standard. It’s delightfully designed, has a near-instant response to the stylus and feels the most paper-like of the devices I’ve tested. It’s expensive but, for a certain kind of person, it’s absolutely worth it.
The Amazon Scribe, on the other hand, has the edge as a reading device, giving you the whole world of Kindle and Audible alongside the (slightly inferior) notetaking device. The Kobo can take all kinds of file formats but it doesn’t actually have a place to buy ebooks on the device itself.
But if you’re not fully in Amazon’s grip when it comes to ebooks and you’re looking for a device to combine the reading and notetaking experience in a more effective manner, then the Kobo Elipsa 2E absolutely delivers, thanks in the main to its excellent handwriting-to-text conversion.