Kobo Sage: A review of a bad eReader

I’m a big fan of eInk readers. I’ve been a happy Kindle user for 14 years, which blows my mind! Heck, I wrote a book about the Kindle that was only available on the Kindle (that wasn’t a great decision, turns out, as almost no one bought it).

Over the course of those 14 years I’ve used pretty much every major variation of Kindle plus some Nooks thrown in here and there. I was pretty happy in Kindle-land, and I didn’t feel the need to see if the grass was greener with other eReaders. But then my pal Jason Snell started to sing the praises of his Kobo. Since I respect Jason’s opinion I thought maybe I should consider a non-Kindle for my eReading needs.

Now, I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with the Kobo, but the only Kobo I ever used could almost be considered a novelty device: the Kobo mini. I fished it out of my “Tech Drawer of Fun” since I figured I could just check out the Kobo OS on a device I already had. That’s when I found out the 10 year old device was no longer supported by Kobo and couldn’t even connect to the Kobo service.

I did what any normal person would do, bought an expensive modern Kobo: the Kobo Sage.

Why the Sage? Because, dear reader, I’m a fancy ereader user. I love my Kindle Oasis, which is the top of the line Kindle, and it only seemed fair to compare top of the line to top of the line.

The Quick Review

If you’re looking for a premium ereader get a Kindle Oasis. The Kobo Sage feels cheap (things that cost $300 should never produce that “creaky plastic” sound under normal use) and worst of all: the page turn buttons sometimes just don’t work. Given the whole point of the device is to turn pages, that’s a dealbreaker. Don’t get this thing.

Furthermore, the official case, which can be used as a stand whilst reading, is an abomination that Kobo should just stop selling.

I will say, however, that it charges via USB-C which is nice and I look forward to getting a Kindle that does the same (I’m not getting another Kobo, you see).

Slightly Longer Review

The best thing about the Sage is also one of its biggest drawbacks: the screen size. Reading on the larger screen is great (when the frickin’ page turn buttons actually turn the page). Sadly, even without the cover the Sage feels a little too heavy in the hand for extended use and the weight isn’t balanced well. Adding the case makes it heavier, though the case does fold into a stand which is nice. Unfortunately, the cover in stand mode feels pretty flimsy and from time to time the Kobo slowly slides down as I read.

Speaking of that damn cover, here’s my biggest issue with it. It, like the Oasis cover, has magnets in it. When you open it, the Kobo unlocks. When you close it, the Kobo locks. That’s nice, no complaints there.

Now, I’m going to give you a glimpse into my personal life. Sometimes, when I’m reading, I have to pause for several minutes and do something else. Maybe run after a toddler, or take out the trash. Normal human stuff, mostly. Then, when I return to my Sage it is displaying the cover of the book I’m currently reading with my progress and the Kobo’s battery level. That, I like very much (especially the battery level indicator).

And how do I unlock the Sage to jump back into reading? Simple, just press the power button and it unlocks like magic. However, if you’re using the dumb Sage cover you can’t press the power button because the cover, well, covers it so it can’t be pressed.

You have to close the cover and open it again to unlock the Sage (or you can take it out of the cover and press the power button then put it back in the cover I suppose, but that’s more effort).

I find this design baffling.

Don’t buy this cover (and since you shouldn’t buy the Sage there’s no reason to buy the cover anyway!).

Were the seats comfortable, Mrs. Lincoln?

Clearly, I can’t recommend the Sage as a device, but what about the software? The Kobo UI is very nice, and I would have said it is way ahead of the Kindle’s UI before the latest major Kindle OS update.

Now, I’d say they are about even with a few, notable, exceptions:

Both will use the cover of whatever you’re reading as a Lock Screen – but you have to pay a little more to get this feature on the Kindle (most Kindles are sold with “special offers” enabled which display ads on the Lock Screen and in the homepage). Plus, on the Kobo in addition to displaying the cover of the book you’re currently reading it shows your progress (and the progress of charging if the Kobo is plugged in). That’s a very nice touch.

The Kobo is very well integrated with OverDrive, the system of ebook lending that lots and lots of public libraries use.

Adding your library card to the Kobo is simple, and it is a breeze to check out books. Even better, the Kobo treats books you have out, and those you have on hold, as basically part of your on device library.

Plus, while you’re looking at books on the Kobo store it’ll note when a book is available from the library (though I will say I think it is easier to browse books on my computer… which means Amazon beats the Kobo in the book buying/browsing experience for my money) It isn’t hard to get ebooks from OverDrive onto your Kindle, but it is even easier on the Kobo.

Bottom Line

If you’re in the market for an eReader and you hate Amazon… you should probably check out a Kobo. Just don’t get the Sage because it is way too expensive for how crappy it is.

And I should say that my sense of sticking it to corporate America by using a Kobo was totally undermined when the first login option I had as I set up my Sage was “continuing with Walmart.”


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