Kobo’s new E-Reader touch is up against some tough odds.
It’s the odd man out against industry giants Amazon and Barnes & Noble; that Kobo is the underdog hardware-wise and book catalogue-wise.
Kobo’s trying to bank on the minimalist theme as well as a price point that’s easier on your wallet (barely), but is it all worth it?
The Kobo isn’t a slow e-reader, but I found it to be the slower than the Nook or Kindle. There should never be a spinning wheel graphic at the top of your screen while you’re trying to read a book, and I shouldn’t see slower page turns before the current pages finish “rendering.”
Also, it has the smallest library of new books. Kobo did a great job including tons of free content on its store so its all easy to access (it has more de facto free content than competitors), but Amazon and B & N’s libraries of new content are bigger and more refined.
By grabbing the Kobo, you’re spending $9.99 less but you’re trading off, among other things, humongous collections of books and curated recommendations by staffers at those sites.
As far as looks, the Kobo looks handsome. It has a simple metallic home button, and the entire device is wrapped in soft-touch plastic. It’s rectangular and has a textured back that ensures nobody will mistake this thing for a Nook or Kindle.
Once you put your hands on the device, however, you realise that the build quality is just so-so. The power button on its top is finicky and looks like an afterthought (see images).
Most importantly, only once you put your hands on the Kobo do you realise that it’s hard to hold without letting your thumb touch the screen. If your thumb touches the screen, you’ll turn the page (you can swipe or touch to turn the page). It happens a lot accidentally, and I don’t want to hold the Kobo with two hands.
The Kobo looks slick, but it just isn’t as ergonomic in practice. I tried various ways to hold the thing, and the only comfortable way I could hold it for a long period of time was by using two hands, or by holding the unit by its bottom.
The software on the Kobo is good enough, but it can get very sluggish. You should never ever see a spinning “loading” icon on an e-ink reader device. I got pretty impatient a few times, and the device needs to load a bit once you open a book. Sure doesn’t feel like it has a 800 Mhz processor baked in.
The Kobo’s 6 inch e-ink touchscreen isn’t as sharp, and doesn’t have as much contrast as the Nook or Kindle’s. Kobo released an update a few weeks ago that allows you a great degree of customisation: several fonts (which you can also sideload from a computer), different line spacings, justfication, margins, and more.
People who really want to cater the reading experience to their preferences have a lot of options on the Kobo. This is a strong point.
The recent firmware update also improved responsiveness and contrast, but I still found the display to be grainier than the displays on the Nook or Kindle.
Another thing I’m not crazy about is that the screen of the Kobo is the only way to turn pages, whereas the Nook and Kindle have the option of physical buttons (no touch screen on the Kindle, however). This means that it’s even tougher to hold the unit with one hand.
If you are to turn a page while holding the Kobo with one hand, you have to hold the device parallel to the ground so you don’t drop it when you move your thumb.
One nice touch (which you’d think Amazon and B&N would’ve figured out by now) is that whenever you sleep the device, the cover of the book you’re currently reading shows up.
You can do it on a Kindle, but it requires some tinkering.
Another nice touch is the social feature called Reading Life, which lets you keep track of friends and give each other badges based on reading accomplishments. But, are any of your friends using a Kobo?
Lastly, battery life on the Kobo is quoted at one month, which is half what the Nook and Kindle are quoting. Hardly competitive.
If Kobo could position its reader under one hundred dollars, then it might be a different story, but for $9.99 cheaper than its two biggest competitors, skip it. If you’re really worried about cash, Kobo gives you a $9.99 book voucher with your purchase, so the unit is essentially $119.99 if you plan on buying any eBooks.
Related: E-Reader Showdown: Nook Vs. Kindle Vs. Kobo