I wanted to love the Kobo Sage, but I can’t

Up until last week I truly had no idea that there were still other e-ink readers out there other than Amazon’s Kindle lineup. Heck, I didn’t even realize the Barnes and Noble Nook was still a thing (turns out, it is!)

But on the latest ATP episode, Marco Arment spent a few minutes talking about this Kobo Sage e-reader and it sounded absolutely magical. Powers up quickly? Responsive screen? Real buttons?! I pulled out my phone and bought one (hilariously, from Amazon) while on my walk.

Well, my very own Kobo Sage arrived the other day and I think it’s a solid effort, but I’ve already made up my mind that it will be going back.

Look, there are some truly fantastic and thoughtful features on the device, like sideloading book files via a DropBox folder sync, the ability to slide your finger on the edge of the screen to quickly adjust the brightness, Libby/Overdrive library books natively syncing without having to do the stupid “Send to Kindle” dance, and the native support for CBZ files (my kids love graphic novels). Oh, and yes—it is absolutely much faster and more responsive. It’s amazing how sluggish the Kindle Paperwhite feels after using this thing for a bit.

But compared to my Kindle Paperwhite, it’s incredibly awkward to hold. I’m one of those people who rest their thumb on the bottom chin of the Kindle while holding it one handed, and this thing has no equivalent bezel, which makes it hard for me to find a natural grip. You’d think the giant plastic side with the buttons would be a convenient spot, but the Sage is heavy enough that a one-handed grip becomes uncomfortable rather quickly and I found myself having to either use two hands or rest it on my chest. To be fair, I had the same problem with the form factor of Kindle Oasis, although the Oasis is noticeably lighter (almost 25%) so your hand won’t tire quite as quickly.

It gets worse: the physical buttons are not reliable. In only a few hours I noticed quite a times where I pressed the page turn button only to find the page not flip. At first I thought I had missed the button somehow, but it happened enough that I quickly lost confidence and resorted to swiping the screen. And that was like salt in the wound—the device had this extra width and weight to accommodate physical buttons I wasn’t even going to use.

Another perk I was looking forward to was the Pocket integration. In my head I was thinking this would be a great way to send longer-form web articles (like stuff from Ben Thompson’s Stratechery) to my Sage for easier reading, but I found that Pocket apparently no longer works with most paywalled sites:

At this time, our previous Site Logins feature described in this article is currently not available. As a workaround, while we revisit site logins in Pocket, you can open items in View Original as described above to log in and read these articles.

I tried syncing one of Ben’s free articles just for giggles and noticed that images don’t load at all and the paragraph formatting felt very inconsistent, making this feature unhelpful to me.

I swear I’m not trying to bash the Kobo Sage because I really appreciate that someone is at least pushing the technology in the e-reader space and maybe this will be a kick in the ass for Amazon to adopt some of the nicer touches. If Kobo ever makes a device roughly the screen size of the Paperwhite (they do sell a model called the Clara 2E, but it’s smaller) and skipped the physical buttons, I’d give it another go.


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Some personal background, links to related projects, and other ways to connect.

Hi there. My name is Tom Pacyk and this is my small home on the web. I love the intersection of design, technology, and communication, which is a combination that led me to a career in sales and marketing roles at places like Zoom and ServiceNow. They're a bit old now, but I also had the opportunity to publish a couple of books along the way.

Portland, Oregon is home for me, my wife Beth, and our three kids, but I'm actually a Midwestern transplant—I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and went to school at Purdue and Illinois. When I find some free time I'm probably going to concerts, rooting for the Portland Timbers, or working on my Sunshine Burn Photography project.