Review: Kobo’s Sage and Libra 2 e-readers improve displays but compromise on design

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Kobo’s latest pair of e-readers offer a slight but noticeable upgrade to the display, stylus support, and Bluetooth for listening to audiobooks, but take a step down in build quality from admirable forma. But the new capabilities can be worth the upgrade, and the Libra 2 in particular makes for an attractive little package.

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The device is the successor to the Forma and Libra H2O, whose appearance (I’m sorry) has been my daily driver ever since I cracked the screen of my beloved Books Pok 3. The main difference between the two new readers is size; Most other features are similar. at $260 and $180 sage And Libra 2 Aren’t cheap, though I think at least the latter is worth considering if you use an e-reader regularly and like audiobooks and Pocket.

The most visible new feature is the screen, which is the latest Carta 1200 E Ink display. Both readers have 300 ppi, which is more than enough for text to appear sharp. Comparing the old Forma to the Sage (since they have very similar builds) I was surprised to find that the new screen really makes a difference; Contrast has improved significantly and forma letters looked a bit gray next to very dark sage. To be clear both look excellent, but the new screen is an improvement.

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Operation is similar to previous devices, though upgraded internals mean they’re a little quicker to wake, navigate, and re-orient when you flip them on. Once in a book, page turns take about the same amount of time as older equipment, which means almost no time at all, even if you skip a few at a time. But when I loaded a new part of the book I found the old form is really fast. It’s fine to say all that, but don’t expect iPad-like fluidity from either of these or any e-readers.

image credit: cobos

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Audiobooks are a new thing for Kobo and new devices have Bluetooth connections to make this possible – no speakers. Syncing a pair was as easy as it is on any other device, and from there I listened to one of the included books from Kobo’s store (you can’t load your own for now) and expected it. According to it was too much. You can speed up and slow down playback, skip back and forth, and it holds your place if you disconnect or turn it off. Aside from the usual minor glitches that occur with quick playback, audio quality was fine.

I’ve never found it practical to use a stylus on a device, but I can certainly see that it could be useful for an editor or something that likes to mark up their books. The functionality I found on Ellipsa is… well, functional. Nothing fancy, there are only a few ways to directly mark up your books and documents. A symbol or notation-based way of adding notes that you can refer to later (like Sony’s Stars) would be nice, but they’re just getting started. Either way the stylus works fine, but since there’s no place to put it, you’ll probably lose it in short order.

Sage ereader on a table next to a laptop.

image credit: cobos

Both devices have become thicker than their predecessors, possibly to accommodate the new hardware and the stylus detection layer. It’s not an improvement in my opinion, and the devices feel cheaper than the Forma and somewhat of a bent H20. The body feels more like molded plastic than something sculpted, partly because they took away all those pivotal angles and wedges that made the Forma such an interesting shape. New readers are also heavier than older readers, who were not among the lightest readers in the beginning.

Kobo has never been good at buttons, and these are no exception. The page turn buttons, especially on the Sage, are soft and indecisive and so are its recessed power buttons, while the improvement on the Forma’s formidable side still isn’t great. The smaller Tula 2 fares better, with clickier but not too many clicky buttons.

image credit: cobos

I’m not a fan of the changes, as you can tell, but it’s not like it ruins the whole thing. But I expect Kobo to regain a bit of that premium feel in its next generation, because it’s definitely a step back.

slipcover makes it and/or breaks it

Kobo wipes away his sleeping affairs.

image credit: Devin Coldaway / Nerdshala

The recommended accessory for both devices is the $40 Slipcover or PowerCover. These leather-esque (not sure if real or fake, but it looks cool) folio covers attach securely and, like the others on the market, wake your reader up or down when you open or close them. If so, put them to sleep. These add a new origami-like fold system that lets them stand at an angle.

I like my e-readers naked, so I wasn’t expecting to like these—and at big sage, I didn’t. Already quite large, the sage with the case gets bigger, the folding bit seemed too loose and it covered the power button. Even though it was kind of superfluous, it bothered me. Yet without it the monks looked a bit fragile and pale.

On the smaller Libra 2, however, I loved the cover. It turned a somewhat plasticy device into a more premium-feeling one, and the red color is actually quite attractive (plus the power button is accessible). Not only that but the fold-out piece is great for both putting it down and holding it in place – giving it a little more shape, like folding back the first half of a paperback. The recessed screen (I prefer a flush one) is also protected from grime. While I still prefer the Boox’s ultra-compact, ultra-smooth design, the Libra 2 quickly climbed to second place when I’m not so concerned about the space it takes up.

There are “powercovers” for more money, but if your device already lasts for weeks, I don’t see the utility in adding more weight and bulk so you can last a couple more Week.

My final recommendation here is to skip the Sage and PowerCovers – if you want bigger, go bigger and get an Ellipsa or Remarkable. If you want Kobo and you want audiobooks, get the Tula 2 more slipcover – you’ll love it. If you don’t need audio books, you can still get a form. All tools and accessories are now available.

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