Switching from Kindle to Kobo

My first ereader was an old Sony circa 2010. I fondly remember the first time I saw one in the store: I hadn’t seen e-ink before, so I just absentmindedly hit a button on the Sony reader thinking it was a dummy display. Then the screen changed and my mind was blown.

I bought one and used it for a few years. It was great at the time, but these were early days for ereaders, so newer models quickly had better contrast.

In particular, the Amazon Kindles had much better screens. I upgraded to one of the models just before the Paperwhite, and then always had Kindles. Even today, Kindles have fantastic e-ink, great battery, solid builds that last forever, and the Kindle ebook store is the gold standard.

But I’ve always hated how horribly they support PDF. They technically sorta “support” ePub, but it’s really “email your ePubs to our service and we’ll convert it for you”… so it doesn’t support it.

(Seriously, if I bought a music player that said it “supports MP3” but I had to convert all of my MP3s to their proprietary format to play them, then IT DOESN’T SUPPORT MP3)

Because I mostly read technical books, I tend to prefer the formatting that comes with PDFs. For reflowable content, such as novels, I prefer DRM-free ePubs as that is a standard and portable format. ePub has basically won the format war at this point (unless you’re Amazon).

With the limitations Kindles have with both of those formats, I often ran into a cycle where I would stop using my Kindle within a month or two after purchasing. Eventually, I always got tired of fighting formats and converting and syncing and sending and re-converting when it looked like crap… Even Calibre only goes so far in fixing the horrid UX that comes with using Kindles for anything but novels.

I’ve also tried iPads for reading, but they just have too many distractions and I really like looking at something that isn’t a traditional backlit screen (especially outdoors).

Fast-forward to a few days ago when I found a great deal on a used Kobo Elipsa. It was less than half of what they typically go for used and was basically in new condition, so I went for it. I’ve had my eye on Kobo readers off-and-on for a few years now, but never actually bought one.

The Elipsa itself is marketed as a digital note-taking device instead of just an ebook reader. It is comparable to reMarkable and now Amazon’s own Kindle Scribe.

As a “digital notebook”, the Elipsa is considered very mediocre, especially for its MSRP. Personally, I have zero interest in handwritten notes, so this was of no concern to me. I like “analog” stuff a lot of times, but I hate hand-writing things – I use a typewriter for my analog writing urges.

The 10" screen and support for open source alternative reader software such as KOReader (without jailbreaking) meant the price was absolutely worth risking. The Kobo supports ePub just fine. PDFs also look great. KOReader is awesome: pages render faster and I can even just dump files directly onto the filesystem via SFTP and it just works.

Even the Kobo store is better in several regards. The books you buy come in ePub format and some are even DRM-free, depending on publisher. Supposedly, even the ones with DRM tend to use the Adobe DRM which should work on any device that supports that DRM scheme (which is basically all of them except Kindle, naturally).

It does feel a little like a lateral move with Kobo being owned by Walmart. However, the device is completely untied from the Kobo store anyway, so I don’t think that’ll matter much. It is certainly nowhere near as tied to Kobo as Kindles are to Amazon.

The hardware is not quite as nice as Kindles, but only just barely. Specifically, the screen doesn’t have a warm color mode, the pixel density is lower (though I really don’t notice it), and battery life might not be quite as crazy good (weeks instead of months). It’s like it’s a generation behind and ereaders have mostly plateaued for the past several years, anyway. It’s a great example of how shitty software (on Kindle) can ruin on-paper-better hardware.

Overall, I am excited to finally have a way to read technical books on an ereader. I don’t think I’ll be getting rid of my “dead tree” copies anytime soon, but it’s really nice finally having the benefits of an ereader for books that I actually read.