The Kobo Sage is a new premium e-reader with a large eight inch screen. It is a dedicated ebook reader that has new audiobook functionality, the Kobo Store has a new audiobook section, which customers can buy and listen to it right on the device. This is accomplished via Bluetooth technology, so it is quite easy to use wireless headphones or an external speaker. The Sage is also compatible with the Kobo Stylus, so you can take notes inside ebooks, manga and PDF files, there is also a dedicated note taking app to freehand draw or solve complex math equations. Should you buy it?
The Kobo Sage features an E INK Carta 1200 display. This new screen tech delivers a 20% increase in response time over E Ink Carta 1000, and an improvement in the contrast ratio of 15%. In addition, faster response time enables smoother handwriting and animations displays. This is how the technology works, the 1200 modules consist of a TFT (thin film transistor), Ink layer and Protective Sheet. The capacitive touchscreen is incorporated into the module stack. Kobo is utilizing the Digitizer stack, which supports robust stylus integration. with the touch sensor sitting under the TFT. How does this affect the overall user experience? The background will have more gradients of grey and the black fonts will really pop. The stylus also has less latency, shaving off precious milliseconds when drawing on the screen.
The screen is 8 inches in size and has a resolution of 1440×1920 with a staggering 300 PPI. The screen is completely flush with the bezel and protected by a layer of glass. It has a series of white and amber LED lights which provide a nice candlelight effect when the two are blended together. Of course, the amber LED lights can be totally turned off and you can enjoy a vibrantly white screen. There are physical page turn buttons on the right side, which can be used on their own, or you can simply swipe and gesture with the touchscreen. The responsiveness of the page buttons is lighting fast, quicker than tapping on the screen.
Underneath the hood is a massive 1.8 GHZ quad-core processor , which is the first time Kobo has ever employed anything more than a single core. It has 32GB of storage and 512MB of RAM. You can connect up to the internet using the web-browser via WIFI 802.11 ac/b/g/n (dual band.) It has a USB-C port, so you can charge it with your PC/MAC or wall charger. It is powered by a slightly underwhelming 1,200 mAh battery, which should provide around three weeks of ebook reading and less if you listen to audiobooks. The dimensions are 160.5×181.4×7.6mm and weighs 240.8g. It is also rated IPX 8, so it can be totally submerged in fresh water for up to 60 minutes and a depth of 2 meters. This should be a boon to anyone who wants to read it in the bath or the beach, or are clumsy like me, and often spill things. You can easily run it under tap water to clean it off, this is especially useful when you are eating and reading at the same time.
Kobo is using an active stylus for the Sage. It is powered by a AAA battery. The Kobo stylus is made of a aluminum and inside the stylus is metal. There are two buttons on the side of the stylus, this is mapped to erase and make highlights, two things that people will normally do when editing an ebook, manga book or a PDF. The stylus is compatible with sideloaded PDF files, but right now, it does not really work with sideloaded books or manga, these have to be purchased through Kobo for it to work. The smooth tip permits flawless writing and it can be replaced to make sure of prolonged use. Kobo also sells replacement nibs and replacement stylus, in case you loose it. The Kobo Stylus is only compatible with the Sage and Elipsa. The Sage screen is not using WACOM, so standard pens will not work, such as the Lamy Al-Star, or iReader X-Pen.
Drawing inside books or PDF files is really good. You can easily make highlights, on specific words or a body of text. When highlights are made, the word or phrase can be looked up in the dictionary, translated from one language to another or looked up in Wikipedia or Google, these last two things utilize the internet browser. It is quite excellent to draw inside of books, you can make little notes, underline things and get access to different drawing types, such as pens, pencils, calligraphy and others. There is also various thickness settings that are available.
Kobo told me that the Elipsa and Sage are not going to be the last e-notes that the company makes, they will release more devices over time and they have a special engineering team that is responsible for adding in new features, adding in more functionality to the drawing experience and solving bugs, as they arise.
I think the Sage is the perfect e-reader. It is elegant, using new e-paper technology, the optional stylus is perfect for people who want to draw, but you can get a lot of value, without needing the stylus at all. Overdrive, is also one of the big reasons to purchase this device, you can easily attach your library card, browse your local branches collection of books, manga, magazines and read them, without needing a computer. The web browser is fast, overall performance is really impressive, thanks to the quad-core processor.
Kobo launched an audiobook subscription service in 2017 and membership costs $12.99 per month in Canada and $9.99 in the US. It comes with a with a 30-day free trial period. Customers will get one credit a month with their subscription and they can be redeemed for any audiobook title on the platform. You can also purchase Kobo Audiobooks individually and shop with confidence with their Price Match Guarantee. Their apps for Android and iOS were quickly updated with an audiobook player. So why did Kobo bring audiobook’s to the Sage?
A couple of weeks ago, before the Sage was officially announced, I spoke at length with Ramesh Mantha, the VP of products and devices at Kobo. He stated that providing support for audiobooks was not expressivity done to compete with Audible, who has provided audiobook support on Kindle e-readers for the past four years. Although the Kindle had first mover advantage, Audible is only available in a few select countries, where Kobo operates worldwide. “We want to compete everywhere where Kindle and Audible isn’t.”
The decision for Kobo to introduce audiobook support was done right away. Since 2019 they have been asking their Kobo Insiders, a private, invite only group where the most hardcore talk about books and e-readers, various questions about future e-readers. There was overwhelming support about the inclusion of audio. Kobo conducted focus groups, talked to users individually and looked at the market. “People think about Kobo as their book place, less distractions and no popups and frivolous notification’s, something a phone can’t do.” Kobo introducing audiobooks on the Libra 2 took a lot of work, they had to basically create an audiobook player from scratch, such as the MP3 decoder and only used a few opensource APIS for the engine. The end result will be impressive, users will be able to enjoy the same benefits of the apps, such as adjusting the speed of the playback and a nighttime mode to automatically shut playback off. The inclusion of audio on the Sage and Libra 2 was about timing, stars aligned.
When users open up their Sage out of the box and either create an account or login with an existing one, clicking on the shop is a gateway of digital content. The first thing that people will see is the ebook store, with a carefully crafted selection. There is a brand new audiobook tab, next to ebooks. The selection is also curated by real humans and there are all sorts of categories to refine your purchases. When you download a sample or outright buy an audiobook, it will appear in your library. There are all sorts of sorting options by format, author name, series or collection. It is important to note that you cannot sideload in audiobooks, the audio player is only compatible with things you download directly from Kobo.
The audiobook selection is similar to most other platforms, they have the same audiobooks as Audible, Apple or Google. You will find all of the latest big titles, with really professional narrators. They basically have over 100,0000 titles right now, and most of them are fairly recent. You will find content from Canadian books, but also American ones too. Prices for audiobooks are on the expensive side, if you are buying them individually. You can signup for a Kobo Plus subscription and use credits to buy audiobooks, which if you are a casual listener, might be the way to go.
The audiobook player is fairly standard, if you have ever used Audible or Apple Books before. There is cover that is displayed on the screen, along with a bar, that shows how far you are, in a specific chapter. There are around 10 different speed settings that increase by .5. This is useful for people who like to increase the speed of the narration, to get through audiobooks quicker. There is a Bluetooth status bar in the corner, that shows the name of the device you are connected to. During our testing, I tried my Apple Airpods Max and an external Sonos speaker, and everything sounded really good. It would be nice if Kobo introduced a higher quality audiobook system, with higher bitrate, for people who have Dolby Atmos sound bars or headphones, for a more immersive experience. Still, the audiobook player is solid, and responsive.
One of the big reasons why are you would buy the Sage, aside from the big screen to read ebooks, is the drawing experience. You can use the accompanied stylus to draw on ebooks that are purchased from Kobo or sideloaded books. You can click on the highlight button on the stylus and highlight a specific word or a body of text. You can then make a note on this highlight. If you highlight a single word, a dictionary will popup, giving you an instant definition, as well as provide links to Wikipedia. If you write on ebooks that you borrowed from the Library or bought from Kobo, you cannot save them to Dropbox or transfer them to your PC, since they have digital rights management (DRM). They drawings used to just be on your your devices storage, such as when the Elipsa first launched, but Kobo has added cloud saves, so you if you factory reset your device, you won’t lose all of your drawings or ebook edits.
Viewing and editing PDF files is also one of the flagship functionalities. You can freehand draw anywhere on the document, although you cannot highlight a specific word or body of text in a conventional manner. You basically need to press down on the highlight button and paint the highlight, think of it as just scribbling. You can save DRM-Free PDF files to your devices internal storage, send to Dropbox or export them to your PC/MAC. There are no advanced drawing features on the PDF editor, but then again, most brands also don’t offer this feature. I have found that Remarkable does it the best, as they give you their same UI for drawing on PDF files, as they give you when freehand drawing on their dedicated drawing app.
If you want to freehand draw, there are two different types of notebooks. With a Basic notebook, you can write anywhere on the page like you would on a sketchbook. However, you won’t be able to convert your handwriting into text. If you tend to draw and want more freedom while jotting notes, a Basic notebook may be more suitable. A Basic notebook has an arrow icon at the top-right corner of the screen to hide the onscreen menu. This removes distractions from the screen so that you can focus on note-taking and drawing.
With an Advanced notebook, you’ll need to write in between the lines of the page so that you can convert your handwriting into text. An Advanced notebook has a scrollbar on the side of the page. This lets you move up and down the page as you write your notes. With an Advanced notebook, you’ll always see the menu at the top of the screen. This lets you have quick access to adjust your notebook settings. This notebook provides such options has being able to draw shapes and automatically being able to free transform them, invert or just make them bigger or smaller. You can write down math equations and the Sage will automatically solve them, this is a really handy feature for students or working professionals. There is also a handwriting to text conversion engine. You can draw geometric shapes and import them into your notebook.
Each notebook has a uniform set of options. You can establish a background, such as college rules and dozens of others. There is a orientation lock option, so you can do everything in landscape or portrait mode, without triggering the g-sensor. There are different pens, such as ballpoint, calligraphy, brush and highlighter. There are 5 different thickness settings for each type and five shades, ranging from a deep black, to greys and finally white. If you screw something up, there is an undo/redo button. There are various types of erasers, such as Object and brush eraser, of which you can establish the eraser size, like you would a brush.
There is a more button on each notebook. The basic one has fewer options, such as changing background, refresh page, clear all, export and hints. The advanced has insert freeform, insert diagram, insert math equation, and export. If you want to learn about the Sage drawing experience, along with pictures and step by step guides, Kobo has one.
Kobo has always used Linux has an operating system for all of their consumer e-readers and the Sage is no different. It basically has all of the core Kobo features that most of their other e-readers have. The home screen shows you the books you are currently reading and also provides some recommended reads, based on your purchase history. There is a WIFi, sync and current time in the righthand corner, along with Bluetooth and a illumination icon, which gives you sliders to configure the lighting levels. You can choose from just using the white LED lights, mixing amber and white together, or just shutting the lights off completely. There is an automatic brightness icon that can be check marked, the Sage doesn’t have a light sensor, but uses the time of day to determine light levels.
The bottom of the UI has links to the home screen, library, notebooks, Store and discover. Library is where all of your ebooks will be situated, either content you bought from Kobo or have sideloaded. Overdrive ebooks will also be stored here and ditto with audiobooks. All content can be sorted by grid or list view. Each book has a more option, the most useful is flagging it as read or deleting it from your device, useful for expired loans. You can also sort by author, publisher or collection. You can also use Calibre for sideloaded content or mange collections easier.
The Kobo software does not really have any new features, on a pure software level, except for a drawing engine and audiobook apps. The overall layout of the home screen is fairly consistent, across all of their devices. If you have owned a Kobo e-reader in the past 5 years, there are no surprises. The OS is rock stable, never encounters crashes or makes you reboot the screen. Android or iOS users who also buy content, can sync all of the past purchases to the Sage.
Kobo does an amazing job in making their e-readers appealing to both casual and hardcore users. They have plenty of advanced options, that the competition simply cannot match. One of the most popular is having the ability to load in your own fonts. This is useful if you want to load in stuff like Bookerly or Ember, two fonts Amazon developed with e-readers in mind.
Most e-readers and e-reading apps have a few different preset options to change the line spacing, margins, or font size. Kobo does things differently, they also have a bunch of sliders that allow unparalleled flexibility in determining how much weight you want your fonts to have and configure the margins and line spaces.
The Kobo Sage was designed to excel at reading the two most popular electronic book formats, PDF and EPUB. They also have support for manga, graphic novels and comic books with CBR and CBZ, so users will be able to download them from the internet and easily load them on their reader, or simply buy them from the manga store. I have found that buying mange from Rakuten Kobo is the best way to do it, since they have all been optimized for the screen size, whereas sideloaded content is never formatted correctly, most of it was done to look good on smartphones, not large screen e-readers. The Sage supports a myriad of ebook formats, such as EPUB, EPUB3, KEPUB, PDF, MOBI, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, TIFF, TXT, HTML, RFT, CBZ, and CBR.
When you are reading a book, you have a number of options you can employ. Aside from font and customization options you can long-press on a word and get an instant definition of it. If you speak another language, you can look the word up in Japanese, Italian, German, Dutch, and many more. When long-pressing a word, you get an anchor that will allow you to select a single word, sentence, or entire paragraph. You can then highlight it either by pressing down with your finger or using the stylus.
If you are reading manga or ebooks and want to quickly scroll ahead, most e-readers do not have much support for this. Often you have to just rapidly press one of the page turn buttons, but many e-readers do not have these anymore, so you have just swipe the screen. Some devices have an option that projects every page of the book, so you can quickly tap on a specific page, but this can be daunting for Lord of the Rings, Tad Williams or Robert Jordan book. This prompted Kobo to develop a rapid page turn system that first debuted with the Kobo Aura One Limited Edition and has gradually has been incorporated into other devices, including the Elipsa and Sage.
When it comes right down to it, Kobo has the best features for serious readers. It offers unparalleled flexibility to craft your ideal reading experience. There are plenty of super advanced features available for the daring, such as changing the weight of the font and seeing a before and after picture of changes you want to make, before you make them. You can also sideload in your own ebook collection and have full access to the ebook rendering engine, manga engine and PDF engine. You can draw inside of the ebooks, make edits, highlights, underlines. This is good for a number of use cases, professionals, book club members, students or the every person that wants to just make sure they can come back to the same book later and all of their past edits are there, useful for epic books, with numerous books in the series.
The Kobo Sage is masterpiece, elegantly designed and brimming with features that new and advanced users can enjoy. It is most premium e-reader the company has ever created and there are features and functionality that everyone can enjoy. If you want to just read books or manga, the large screen provides ample real estate and E INK is very easy on the eyes, day or night. The Kobo stylus provides ample opportunity to freehand draw, take notes, edit ebooks or do advanced tasks. Kobo is a really well known company, that has been making hardware since 2009. They will support the drawing engine and you can expect further functionality to be introduced over time, Rakuten is a trusted brand.
Audiobooks on e-readers is a big new thing for Kobo. This is their second device, after the Libra 2 to support it. You can easily subscribe to Kobo Plus and get credits or purchase them on an ala carte basis. The audiobook player is meticulously designed and brimming with features. The 64GB of storage is enough to store over 100 of them, before space becomes an issue.
I would recommend the Sage to anyone who has a Kobo e-reader that is more than 4 years old. It is faster and more more responsive than the Kobo Libra 2, thanks to the quadcore processor. I find overall, it feels like a premium device, and I have to wonder if the Forma will be discontinued and the Sage will take its place?
Michael Kozlowski has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.