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This Kindle Scribe alternative offers an e-ink tablet with a great reading and writing experience

The $399 Kobo Elipsa 2E from Rakuten is terrific if you're a non-Amazon user or you're starting your e-book collection from scratch.
Written by Max Buondonno, Contributing Writer
Kobo Elipsa 2E Rakuten
Max Buondonno/ZDNET

I've been impressed with the Elipsa 2E since the moment I took it out of its packaging. The device, an e-ink tablet from Kobo (who's owned by Rakuten), is designed to be an alternative to the Kindle Scribe, reMarkable 2, and other stylus-compatible tablets with e-ink screens

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It's also designed to be platform-neutral, at least to an extent: you can read e-books on it, sync your notes with Dropbox and Google Drive, read articles you've saved in Pocket, and more.

The only real issue with it pegs one type of customer: regular Amazon users. You can't read Kindle books on the Elipsa 2E, which is a particular pain point for me since so much of my digital library lives in my Amazon Prime account. But if you're anything unlike me, this is a fantastic option if you want a no-frills e-ink tablet with plenty of note-taking freedom, document annotation, and a stylus–with an eraser–in the box. 

View at Kobobooks

There's not much to the Elipsa 2E's design which, honestly, isn't a bad thing. Kobo uses recycled ocean-bound plastics and magnesium alloy for its construction with a rubberized back for extra grip. I particularly like the thick bezel on the right side: it helps tremendously with grip and gives your thumb somewhere to live while you read or write.

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Speaking of which, you'll be doing both on a sizeable 10.3-inch e-ink display. The Elipsa 2E comes with an 1872 x 1404 resolution, good for 227 pixels per inch (PPI). At this screen size, the resolution is dense enough that everything remains pleasantly sharp.

I've enjoyed using this screen a lot. It's responsive, fluid, and looks great for general use, whether you're reading your favorite novel or catching up on articles from the web. There's a backlight that can automatically kick in when it gets dim, while an adjustable color temperature lets you match the screen to your environment and reduce blue light intake at night. It's a pretty complete package.

Kobo Elipsa 2E Rakuten
Max Buondonno/ZDNET

Power the device on, and you'll be presented with Kobo's custom e-reader experience. Granted, not much is different here compared to other e-readers from the company. You have some very basic navigation buttons on the bottom, some menus at the top, Wi-Fi toggles, Bluetooth settings -- it's all very easy to grasp. It's easily on par with Amazon's Kindle experience.

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Of course, this is not a Kindle. It's an e-reader that wants to adapt to anyone's reading or writing habits, and Kobo has done some great work to make that happen.

One of the biggest features is Pocket integration, letting you save articles and blogs from the web to your Pocket account and read them later on a distraction-free e-ink screen. A lot of my reviewer friends appreciate this feature a lot since anything they don't want to read on their phone (which pings every five minutes with a new message in Slack) can be saved for the Elipsa 2E.

Kobo Elipsa 2E Rakuten
Max Buondonno/ZDNET

There's also Dropbox and Google Drive support, which lets you save various types of files to your accounts and read them on the Elipsa 2E. This means you don't have to worry about manually transferring documents to the device before reading them, although you can still do that if you want to over USB-C. They also serve as places to sync your digital notebooks.

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The integrations don't stop there. Kobo also supports Readwise, a service that can email you a weekly list of your best highlights from e-books across a variety of platforms. This can then be tied in with note-taking apps like Notion and Evernote so you can have a centralized place to store everything.

Kobo Elipsa 2E Rakuten
Max Buondonno/ZDNET

Besides reading, the core experience of the Elipsa 2E is writing, hence the Kobo-branded stylus in the box. Kobo built a nice set of tools for jotting down your thoughts, annotating documents, and highlighting your favorite phrases in books. There's an entire section where notebooks live, which can be organized with folders to retain your sanity. 

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The notebooks can be configured with either basic sketchpad-like layouts or "Advanced" templates that can convert your manuscript into text. It's surprisingly accurate, too; I have some of the worst handwriting known to man, and it was somehow able to pick up the nuances in my handwriting that make it unreadable to most folks.

Kobo added a lot of clever gestures for editing your text, all of which you're shown when you initially set up the pen. Flip the stylus over and you'll find an eraser, which isn't something you get on the Kindle Scribe's pen. 

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It's also easy to move text around (set down the pen and touch it with your finger), edit your converted text with the stylus, and more. It's all very intuitive and easy to learn, and with all the various page layouts available (my favorite being the to-do list layout), you can really make the Elipsa 2E a staple in your everyday carry.

Kobo Elipsa 2E Rakuten
Max Buondonno/ZDNET

The best part? Writing feels very natural. I've heard from a lot of folks that it's not as good as the Kindle Scribe, which seems to have a bit more responsiveness and performance. However, I never once felt like the Elipsa 2E's writing experience was insufficient. The display kept up well with however quickly I jotted down notes, and the textured finish on the glass covering the screen helped to emulate a traditional pen-to-paper feel.

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As for battery life, it's incredible, as you'd expect. You can charge this puppy up to 100 percent and not have to worry about plugging in again for at least two to three weeks. That's the glory of using e-ink devices -- they just keep on going.

ZDNET's buying advice

Is the Elipsa 2E worth the $399 asking price? Only if you want an excellent e-ink writing experience on the go, and are okay with no support for Amazon's Kindle library.

If you aren't an invested Kindle user and lack an e-book catalog, the Elipsa 2E is a pretty great place to start. While I do think the price is a little steep for what you get (especially since it's mostly made of plastic, which is far from a premium material), you can't deny this is a great device. Just know what you're getting yourself into -- and you better be ready to take lots of notes.

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