Hello folks, today I’m reviewing the Kobo Sage from Rakuten which was released back in November 2021. With an 8 inch screen, audiobook functionality and comprehensive note taking features, the device looks initially pretty impressive from the outset. We’ll dive into some of the features in depth and you’ll hear my verdict at the end. I’ve also included their promo video below which gives you a bit of an overview.
8 Inch Screen
The 8 inch screen is a nice departure from the traditional 6 inch EReaders. Bigger screen means less page turns to get to those crucial moments in your stories when you just can put the book down. They’ve also done a pretty good job in making it versatile between portrait and landscape mode (although through continued use, I ended up using landscape mode more). With the size of the device, it is going to take some time to get used to it, especially those who are coming from more traditional EReaders. Final thing to mention on the portrait and landscape mode is that the device adapts automatically when you rotate it, but can also be locked into one position if that’s your preference.
Audiobook Support At Last!
This is a nice bonus that I’ve not seen on previous EReaders from Rakuten and makes them a stronger competitor against the likes of Amazon. There are a couple of things to note here. You can only purchase audiobooks from the Rakuten store and you can only listen to audiobooks via bluetooth (no audiojack). The first issue I can live with as I know it’s in their best interests to promote their own audiobook library but the second is pretty annoying. Especially given there’s plenty of space on the EReader to put a 3.5mm jack. I like to have the choice here, especially if my bluetooth headphones go flat and I want to continue listening.
No Ads – A Step In The Right Direction
One thing I really do appreciate on the device is that there is no in your face advertising which is way too prevalent on other EReaders. Given the cost of the device, I’m glad to see that there isn’t additional cross selling to try and get you to buy more. Nice one Rakuten.
Whilst this kind of feature has become more of the norm these days, I’m still pleased to see the Kobo Sage has followed suit. If you so choose, you can submerge your device in 2 meters of water for up to 2 hours. There are conditions to this, so make sure you read the manual to avoid disappointment.
Comfort Light Pro
Again, this is the norm for EReaders but I do particularly like Kobo’s implementation which reduces eyestrain and gives a warm glow during evening reading. The colour can be adjusted manually or set to automatic if you enter the time when you’re planning to go to sleep. The feature is easy to use and not buried away in a myriad of menus.
Advanced Note Taking & Drawing Capabilities
Now this is what sets the Kobo Sage apart from the rest. The stylus pen (sold separately) allows you to take notes, highlight text and draw to your heart’s content. It also has the impressive ability to convert your handwritten notes into text! There are two types of applications which support note taking. The basic app simulates writing on paper whereas the advanced app converts your notes to text and lets you insert drawings into your documents.
Now whilst this all sounds great there are some drawbacks. The first is that the stylus requires a battery to run so therefore adds extra weight. This is fine for the odd note and highlight but for longer periods of time, it is a bit annoying.
Secondly, some customers have reported losing their notes/drawings on the device and having to start again. There’s also the issue that not all notes can be exported and some will stay locked on the device (even though they have Dropbox support). I hope this gets fixed in the next firmware update as it really does limit this feature.
Thirdly, the stylus should be included as part of the price, rather than having to be purchased separately. The functionality has already been built and customers shouldn’t have to fork out more cash to use it.
When looking at this feature, if you’re just planning to doodle and take some non critical notes here and there, you should be fine.
Experimental Web Browser – I Thought We Were Over This
So for those of you who have followed me a while, you’ll know one of my pet peeves is when EReader companies add a browser to the device and calls it experimental. Unfortunately Rakuten has gone down this route. It’s functionality is limited at best and you’re just better off using your phone
The Subscription Services – Pros & Cons
Let’s talk about the ecosystem supporting the device, starting with Dropbox support. Providing you have an account (free to set up), you can send and receive files to your Kobo effortlessly. It works really well in my opinion and I’m glad Kobo went with this feature. This is where you can save some of your notes off the device.
Next we’ll jump into Overdrive support. For those of you who have not had a Kobo before, Overdrive allows you to borrow EBooks from your library. A great feature if you don’t want to pay for them or keep them. The service is also free and is currently available in the following countries:
- New Zealand
- Hong Kong
Once your Overdrive account is set up, you can also search for titles on the EReader to see if they are available. This is a fantastic selling point that the likes of Amazon could learn from.
Moving onto the paid subscription services offered by Rakuten. Let’s start with the audiobook service. For a monthly fee you receive 1 credit which you can exchange for 1 audiobook. The price changes regularly and they offer deals (such as free trials) from time to time so it’s worth checking their site for the current price. You can also buy a bulk pack of 3 credits if you need more books in a particular month.
Couple of things I like about the service are that you get to keep your audiobooks even after you cancel your subscription (which you can do at any time). They also have samples of the books you can listen to before you commit which is ideal as sometimes the narrator can make or break the story. The thing that is a bit ridiculous is the price of the audiobooks if you don’t have an audiobook subscription service.
For example, at the time of writing Moby Dick was $161!
It’s also worth calling out that you can only listen to books from the Kobo store. Sideloading mp3’s or other audiobooks doesn’t seem to work
Moving onto the EBook subscription service. So for a fixed fee you can read as many EBooks as you like (but you don’t get to keep them). I also wanted to call out that not all of the titles are available on the subscription service so you may end up needing to still purchase them. You can find out more about pricing and which countries this is available to on their website. So my two cents on this service is that it’s probably not worth the cash unless you’re a hardcore reader that doesn’t really mind if specific titles are not available. Whilst I don’t appreciate the fact that you don’t get to keep the EBooks after the subscription ends, I understand their reasoning given that it’s an ‘all you can eat’ service.
Now let’s chat about the subscription service they don’t offer but they really should. I’m pretty surprised to not see a combined offering of audio and EBooks as a subscription, even if it cost a little more. There are going to be times when people want to listen to books and times when they want to read them. Whilst I’m no market research expert, I’m guessing their analysis didn’t show that they are only two cohorts of customers (audio and EBook users) and they will never make a cross purchase. Let’s see what the future holds here.
Let’s start off with screen size and casing. The 8 inch screen is both a pro and a con. A larger display is certainly a plus but the plastic casing surrounding it to make this happen can feel bulky at times and generally an awkward fit. I don’t think this alone would put me off buying it, but it is certainly something to get used to. Also worth calling out that the plastic casing does tend to smudge easily but that’s kind of expected with most devices these days using that kind of material.
During a typical review I’d only call out the weight of the device as a passing comment to compare against others but in this review this does need highlighting. Overall it’s a pretty heavy device and gets even heavier when you add accessories such as sleep covers. So the device on its own is 240g which makes it significantly heavier than any Amazon device out there. The sleep cover (sold separately) is an additional 140g and if you opt for the power cover (charges device when closed), that’s an additional 213g. So with all these accessories you’re looking at a combined weight between 380-453g! That’s the heaviest I’ve seen on any of my reviews and to give you some perspective, that’s around the same weight as a football! This doesn’t even include the weight of the pen!
I have to say that I’m not impressed at all with Kobo on this, especially when they know people are going to be holding the device for extended periods of time. The only saving grace is that the case can be converted to a stand but to be frank it just feels weird using the device this way for reading.
OK rant over, let’s cover the rest of the design. As you saw on the intro video, the Kobo Sage has physical buttons to turn pages. This is a nice feature and the buttons feel a bit more solid than its predecessors. If you’re not interested in the buttons, you can always swipe to the next page by touching the screen directly. Though I’d question, why would you want to buy an EReader with buttons?
Continuing the theme, let’s talk about the power button. So it’s deliberately been placed on the back of the device to prevent you from accidentally pressing it during reading. Whilst I appreciate the concept, it does take some getting used to and at the start I frequently ended up having to turn the device over to remind myself where it was.
Let’s chat about the battery. Most users of EReaders have come to expect weeks of use with a single charge but you don’t seem to get that level of usage with the Kobo Sage. There have been multiple customer reports of it only lasting hours and that listening to audiobooks drains it even faster.
Here’s a few reviews from Amazon as an example:
The one saving grace here is that the charging port is USB-C so that means it will charge faster than other EReaders out there.
The final thing to touch on around the design is the audio support. Whilst it’s great that it does have Bluetooth support, I was hoping they’d still keep the 3.5mm audio jack. The device is clearly big enough to house a slot but like so many other EReaders they’re unfortunately moving to Bluetooth support only. I know battery life for Bluetooth devices is much better than what it used to be, but I’d still prefer the choice.
So looking at the price, it’s definitely in the premium category and at the time of writing it’s about the same price as Kindle Oasis. When I compare this to the Kindle Paperwhite, what you’re paying extra for is the bigger screen, Overdrive support and the advanced colour light pro technology. Given prices change all the time I’d recommend checking the Amazon website for the latest deals
Some Specs To Compare Against
I’ve included a summary of some of the specs that I feel are personally important to consider when looking at getting a new EReader. Overall, it stacks up pretty well against the competition with the exception of the weight of the device.
|Category||Kobo Sage||Kindle Paperwhite||Kindle Oasis||Kobo Firma|
|Size||8 Inches||6 Inches||7 Inches||7 Inches|
|Display||300 PPI||300 PPI||300 PPI||300 PPI|
Some Accessories That Are Available
As I mentioned earlier you can purchase separately the stylus pen, the sleep cover and power cover to enhance your Kobo experience. The sleep cover comes in Black or an off green colour (why they picked that colour I have no idea).
As mentioned earlier, the covers can convert to a stand so you’re not having to hold the device all the time.
The power cover only comes in black as does the stylus pen.
What I Like
So summing up all of these features here are the top 3 that stick out for me. I appreciate the fact that Kobo Sage has a bigger screen than most EReaders out there. Whilst it can feel a little clunky to start with in terms of the casing, I think it’s worth getting used to. Secondly, the integration with Overdrive (public libraries) is excellent, providing you’re in a country that supports it. Finally, it’s nice to have an EReader that’s not full of ads. You paid enough for it already, you don’t need to be upsold even more.
What I Don’t Like
Let’s take a look at my top 3 where I think they could have done better. Starting with the browser. Either commit to developing it fully or don’t bother. Secondly, the weight of the device is a real killer for me. Especially when you start adding additional accessories such as the sleep/power covers. Given it’s going to be held for long periods of time this seems a no-brainer for me that you need to keep the weight down. Finally, I don’t like the fact that the stylus pen is not included as part of the standard package and needs to be purchased separately. I’ve paid enough for the device already and you’ve included so many features that cannot be used effectively without it.
So who should buy this device? If you need a larger than life screen and are planning to take a lot of notes/draw on the device and you can get past the weight issues then I think this device is for you. If those are not a must have then you may want to consider some of the budget EReaders such as the Kindle Paperwhite which still has a lot of crossover with the Kobo Sage but is a fraction of the price.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my review and shout out if you have any questions in the comments section below.
Until next time
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