Over the course of the last week, our core team was split up between Toronto, Ontario and Santa Monica, California. We attended both the Amazon and Kobo launch events where we saw a total of six new devices being launched and went hands-on with every single one! This was the first time that we have ever covered two major launches on opposite ends of North America! Sure, we have covered Digital Book World and CES at the same time, but in our industry this was the holy grail for e-readers. Our popular Week in Review feature brings you the most essential stories from the last week!
Amazon Kindle Launch Event
Peter was in Santa Monica, where he bore witness to a new line of Amazon Kindle Fire HD tablets and the debut of the new Kindle Paperwhite e-Reader. The new line of Kindle Fire HD tablets feature a quad-core processor, which far surpasses the popular Nvidia Tegra 3 chipset. They boast Dolby Digital Audio for superior sound resolution, so audiobooks, movies, and games will give you elevated performance.
There are two main models of the new HD Tablet, the first of which is an 8.9-inch edition with 1920 x 1200 pixels (254 ppi). One of the great aspects of the screen is that it is high-res and has a polarizing filter that drastically cuts down on the glare. Underneath the hood is a TI OMAP 4470 processor, which promises to keep thing speedy. It also has dual speakers, a front-facing HD camera, and HDMI out. One of the most exciting features is the new dual WIFI antenna that will give you a faster internet connection than anything else on the market. The second new Kindle Fire HD features a seven inch screen with a 1280 x 800 resolution. This basically puts it on par with the Google Nexus 7. According to Amazon, you can expect 11 hours of battery life from the 7-inch model.
One of the most exciting features about these two new tablets is the synergy between Audible and Amazon. Whispersync for Voice and Immersion reading will appeal to people who tend to listen to audiobooks and read ebooks at the same time. You can follow along with the digital book and the text will highlight to play in conjunction with the audio version. You can also read the book and then pick up where you left off on the audiobook later on. Both of these new initiatives are sadly USA only with no official launch date in the UK or otherwise.
Amazon also released a new e-reader called the Paperwhite. It features a six inch e-ink Pearl display screen with 212 PPI. The big hyping factor is that they jammed 62% more pixels into the screen to give you higher resolution than previous models. Amazon really had to release a new type of e-reader that had the same glowing functionality as the Barnes and Noble Simple Touch with Glowlight and the new Kobo Glo. Customers, now more than ever, are demanding that they be able to read in low-light conditions without needing bright ambient light. The new Kindle Paperwhite is the company’s new flagship e-ink reader, that is set to take the market by storm.
Kobo Launch Event in Toronto
While Peter was in California with the rest of the mainstream news media covering the Amazon launch, I received an invite to attend a quietly promoted Kobo event. This was a great time, as I knew most of the senior executive team from Book Expo and the last time I visited Kobo HQ. Here, the company announced the Kobo Arc, Kobo Mini, and Kobo Glow.
The Kobo Arc is a direct successor to the company’s VOX Android device released last year. It expands upon the legacy and gives readers a custom user interface that is geared towards the reading experience. This is much akin to the same type of UI seen in the Barnes and Noble Nook Tablet, and to a lesser degree the Kindle Fire. The Kobo Arc features a seven inch HD display with a resolution of 1280×800 pixels and 215 PPI. The screen features IPS screen technology, which is an industry-leading display optimized for 178 degree viewing angles and ultra durable glass, resistant to damage, scratches, bumps, and drops. Underneath the hood is a Texas Instruments OMAP 4470 1.5 GHZ dual core processor and 1 GB of RAM. There are two different storage options at 8 GB and 16 GB, depending on your needs. Unlike its competition, this device will allow most of the world’s population to purchase books and download apps directly via Google Play. There are no regional restrictions and it is a good device if you want a full Android experience, centered around reading and the social aspects.
Kobo also announced two e-ink devices called the Kobo Glo and Kobo Mini. The Kobo Glo is a six inch e-reader with a new type of e-Ink display screen called XGA. This will give you an amazing resolution of 1024 x 768, which was only matched by the recently discontinued iRiver Story HD. The glowing function is built into the bezel, much akin to the Nook Simple Touch. They both use the same type of LED technology, but the Nook STR has the lights at the top of the screen, whereas the Kobo Glo has them on the bottom. I found during side by side comparison that the Kobo version actually performed better in total dark environments. To turn the Glo function on, you have to hit a button on the top of the unit that is beside the power button. This will turn it on and then provide you with an option on the bottom menu to configure the brightness settings. There are around 16 different settings so you can control the luminosity and find the perfect lighting for your environment. Underneath the hood of the Kobo Glo is a Freescale, Solo 6 1GHZ Processor. This adds a degree of power to make turning pages, accessing menus, or surfing the internet very easy. Few e-readers on the market have more than a 800 MHZ processor, so it feels a little bit more 2012 compared to the competition.
The Kobo Mini is a very pocket friendly 5 inch e-reader with a resolution of 800×600 pixels. One of the benefits of this device is the fact that it has a touchscreen and is very responsive to page turns and hitting various menu and settings buttons. It is using an older iteration of an e-Ink display with the Visplex technology. Underneath the hood is a 800 MHZ processor, which is enough to power your daily tasks, but there was no word on RAM at all, so I would guess it only has 256k.
All of Kobo’s new devices feature interchangeable quilted covers for the backs of the unit. You can easily swap different colors out on the fly for a myriad of reasons. We joked we could match the cover to whatever outfit we wore that day.
We wrote an extensive piece earlier in the week that covered a wide array of internet browser plugins and online tools that let you save online content to EPUB or MOBI book formats. In many cases you are not in a WIFI zone, but that doesn’t prevent you from reading all the news from the last few days. In all the tools we cover, you get the freedom not only to scoop written content, but strip out the images and format it correctly.
Plastic Logic has unveiled a new 10.7 inch reflective flexible color display that enhances the content viewing experience while maintaining the same durable, thin, and light properties of the monochrome version. The company will be showing this off in the United Kingdom on September 18th for the SID Organic Electronics show. In the last few month, Plastic Logic has restructured its business and is focusing on licensing its technology to other companies. This is a far-cry from its ill-fated attempts at reaching the consumer market with the QUE e-Reader and its most recent offering geared towards the Russian educational system.
At this year’s BookExpo America publishing event, Good e-Reader got the chance to attend a presentation and talk with the leadership of a small Connecticut high school that has gone almost completely digital in terms of its textbooks and nearly paperless in regards to student assignments, thanks to the incorporation of tablets for each student.
We talk about why the South Kent initiative worked and carry an interview with various faculty members of the school on their achievements of a digital classroom. This should give a realistic portrayal of the costs and the time it takes to set this type of infrastructure up. It is honestly a commitment of time and energy over prohibitive costs and hopefully we will see more schools adopt a more digital approach for books and texts.
We are back to where we started it seems. In a long-awaited decision from Judge Denise Cote, the court approved the settlement terms from three of the five Big Six publishers who allegedly colluded with Apple to set the prices of ebooks artificially high in order to rein in some of Amazon’s dominance over the market. This settlement will allow retailers to set the price of ebooks again, meaning the publishers will have to negotiate all new contracts with their retailers and agree to abandon the “agency model” that was established under the supposed anti-trust violations. There are millions of dollars available to each state in the USA to provide refunds for people who paid under the old agency model for the last three years.
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.