The Kobo Vox is the first tablet offering from Canadian based Kobo. They recently won FCC certification for their new device and the full specs have been prematurely leaked by Futureshop. Kobo is well known for their line of e-readers, but how will their tablet stack up against the competition?
The Kobo Vox will feature a 7 inch display and run the Android operating system. The resolution is fairly solid with 1024 x 600 pixels, which will give a vibrant experience. The tablet comes integrated with 512 MB RAM, 8 GB of internal memory, and 802.11b/g/n WiFi but no 3G. There also is a microSD card slot in case you need more storage power, while the built-in speaker will let you have a richer multimedia experience (as much as a single speaker is able to). There is a USB port and a headphone jack as well, though no microphone slot.
The price mentioned was $250 CAD which translates to $242 and would be hitting streets on the 17th of October, at least within Canadian shores. The tablet weighs a quite convenient 400 gms while battery life mentioned is about 6 hours. Needless to say, the latter aspect could have been better. File formats mentioned that the tablet will be compliant with include Adobe DRM, EPUB, and PDF.
The Kobo Vox is really nothing too special in terms of straight up hardware and puts it on a even playing field with the Kindle Fire or the Nook Color. The huge difference is the ecosystems.
Kobo has its work cut out for itself in the USA market where the tablet arena is firmly saturated and you don’t have to go far to buy an e-reader or tablet. 2011 has seen the retail sphere explode with every major store carrying a wide array of offerings. Best Buy, Walmart, Radio Shack, and Target all have a huge selection of e-readers.
Kobo had an agreement with Borders to exclusively sell its devices in their retail locations. Since the collapse of the company Kobo has really been without a home in the retail sphere. They really need to iron out a new agreement when their contract officially expires in 2012 in order to secure more stores to peddle their wares.
The Canadian e-reader company and bookstore normally does fairly well outside of the USA market where it is less competitive. Kobo has a strong retail presence in Canada where they are sold at Futureshop, Best Buy, Chapters/Indigo and many other locations. This was a good call because the selection of e-readers in Canada is very lackluster and normally each store may have Pandigital, Aluratek, and Kobo e-readers in stock.
Internationally, Kobo has been doing a good job at getting their brand out there. They secured deals with Swindon books in Hong Hong, Nigel R Khan in Trinidad in the last few months, and have expanded into Europe. Recently they launched ebook stores in Germany and in the last few days France via FNAC and will be selling their e-readers in a retail setting.
Kobo does a great job at the international accessibility of their e-readers and ebookstore. Its main competition, Barnes and Noble, only targets the USA where it is the number 2 ranked device in the e-reader product category. They see much success with the Nook Simple Touch and Nook Color but you can only purchase them in the USA and ditto with ebooks. Amazon has a bit better presence outside of the USA but they suffer from a limited selection in Canada and Europe, due to publisher restrictions. They have also done a good job at expanding their ebook store into Germany, France, and the UK this year. The Amazon Kindle Fire is going to be the largest competition the Vox faces for the next few months, although you can only pre-order the device if you live in the USA. There is zero international availability for the first tablet offering from Amazon. The Vox therefore has the advantage over both of these companies because of how easily it is available.
I foresee the Kobo Vox selling well because of their retail and distribution channels in many international markets. Many of their immediate rivals have failed to penetrate properly. Their entire book catalog is normally maintained and you are not limited to books purchased like their competition. They have a huge selection of books in English in all of their international stores with 2.3 million. Their new stores in France and Germany also offer almost 100,000 books in French and German.
The greatest strength Kobo has, in my opinion, is their social media approach to reading. Many companies offer Facebook and Twitter integration that allow you to share passages and update your status with the books you are reading. Kobo really takes it in another direction with their Reading Life and Kobo Pulse projects. Reading Life allows you to collect awards and achievements for reading and sharing them with your friends. Pulse is a very new product announced last month and gives you the ability to chat with other people reading the same book in real time via Facebook. They are leading the charge with their social media approach and many other companies could take a lesson from them.
Finally, Kobo has a ton of apps on many different platforms. Android, iOS, Windows Mobile, Blackberry, and others allow you to buy and read books on the go. This ensures you do not really need an e-reader to read books under their ecosystem.
Kobo is a distinctive company and plays the roll of the underdog in the e-reader arena. Their main advantage is their ecosystem and wide range of devices. Many of their competitors like Pandigital and Aluratek only sell the hardware. They do not sell ebooks or give you a personalized experience. They rely on pre-installing various Android or other book stores to give you the ability to buy books.
In order for the Kobo Vox to sell well they have to focus on the international approach. It is really impossible to compete against Apple, Amazon, and B&N in terms of hardware and ecosystem in the USA. Their products have too much durability online and in the retail setting. Normally the success in the USA makes or breaks a company, but Kobo does well at marketing their products everywhere else.
Stay tuned to Good e-Reader in the coming weeks when we get our hands on the Kobo Vox and do our standard written reviews and video reviews! We will also provide tutorials on library borrowing, ebook loading, and advanced features. If you want to ensure you get this in time for the holidays, you can reserve yours today on http://www.shopereaders.com
Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times.