The competition in the e-reader market never seems to be cooling down. Just when we think that’s it for now up comes a new competitor all geared and dressed to lure buyers away from the other established brands. The latest entrant is the Kobo e-reader being marketed by the Toronto based Canadian company of the same name. It is going to take on the might of Amazon and Sony when it launches on April 29. Pre-order booking though had started from 30th March through the company’s own website as well as through the site of majority stakeholder Indigo.
The Kobo is 183 mm high, 119 mm wide and just 10 mm deep. This combined with a weight of only 221 grams makes it an e-reader that you can carry around with the utmost of ease. and that’s not all for the price tag of Kobo is surprisingly low at just $149. The company has managed to keep the price so low by ensuring the device is a no frills e-reader. The physical aspects of the device though match every other e-reader from both a feature as well as a convenience point of view. It has a 6 inch screen and it weighs about half that of a 200 page hardcover book. The rubber backing provided to the device makes sure you get a good grip of it. The overall size of the device is also about 37 mm smaller than the Kindle and therefore is a cozy fit into a suit pocket or small handbag.
One single five way button is all that is required to navigate through the contents of the device. This button is also rubberized but placed with right hand operation in mind. Left handers may face some discomfort due to its positioning at the bottom right corner. There are six other control buttons all placed at the upper right edge, which includes the power button too.
Forty seconds, like the proverbial forty winks, is all it takes to wake up the Kobo for its functions. The viewer is presented with a list of books that was most recently read. Kobo has the feature of automatic book marking, which opens a book when selected, at the point it was last left off.
Four other utility buttons that run along the left edge of the device are for opening the Bluetooth connection by the button labeled Sync. The button labeled Home takes the reader to the opening page of the device. The Menu button provides help in text mode for doing stuff like browsing the book list or reading the user’s guide or set device date. The Display button on the other hand is meant for setting format size, color etc.
As an E-Reader:
The Kobo’s 6 inch screen displays 8 levels of grayscale and has a resolution of 600 x 800 pixels. This translates to a display pixel density of 170 dots per inch (dpi), which is quite impressive in its own right.
Georgia and Trebuchet, that is serif and sans serif respectively are the only two fonts supported by this device. There are five sizes for each of the font. Using the smaller font size is advisable as larger font size is at the cost of increased page turn requirements. Except for people with sight problems larger font size is not beneficial for use on this device. The device also is a soundless one in the literal sense. This means that the feature of text to voice is not possible in this device.
Search feature on the Kobo has the options of find by Title or by Author or even by time last read. Display of the books can be set to simulate a bookshelf or as a simple listing. The battery can sustain 8000 page turns and the page opening time is quick and zippy at 5 secs on an average.
The device has no backlight thus not having the associated problem of eye strain. But the backlash of this is that the text cannot be read in dark or in poor lighting.
The display on its own has a lot to demand and expect from. The background is gray and remains unchanged and does not portray a clean clear backdrop. However, the Vizplex e-Ink display with 8 level grayscale does make sure reading off this device is not a chore but a pleasant experience. Page transition also has no dramatic effect. It’s rather a bit ungraceful effect when the display flashes its content with white text over black screen and then resolves into the next page.
The device also comes sans any scrolling feature and needs a push button action to turn the page with no method available to jump to a particular chapter or page except jumping through every chapter without opening its page contents up for reading.
Powering the e-reader is the ARM9 (920T) core that runs at 400 MHz and has an SDRAM acting as the standard memory. Kobo is compatible with Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7 as well as Mac OS X and higher. It also is compliant with the BlackBerry.
The Kobo has a 1GB onboard memory that is capable of storing almost a thousand e-books and the good thing is it is further expandable to 4 GB by way of an SD card slot.
A 1,000 mAH Li-polymer battery does duty on the Kobo e-reader. Logically and theoretically the device should have a longish battery life given its E Ink display, which needs no power after the page has been resolved. As per company sources, the Kobo can last up to 8000 page turns on a single full charge. In a real life test where the Kobo was subjected to varying reading times that ranged from a few minutes to a few hours with the device kept ‘on’ on each day, the battery could last almost an entire week. Its worthwhile mentioning here that the reader can be kept on for days on end but power will be drawn from the battery only when the reader is in use. Leave it unused and there won’t be any drain of power. Meanwhile, a battery icon at the main menu displays the current power situation of the device.
The Kobo has no 3G or Wi-Fi capabilities, which means the device is not self reliant for downloading e-books. One needs a computer or a Smartphone to connect to the net and download e-books from the company’s home site. This is then to be transferred using Bluetooth or a USB chord to the Kobo for reading. For ardent e-book readers this is not the optimum choice but then every additional feature that comes in other e-reading devices come at a price.
Transfer of e-books using the sync button is a simple and fast process. Kobo uses custom software for this transfer; however the drawback is that currently the only Smartphone device that is supported by the Kobo for sync transfer is the BlackBerry. Kobo has promised to extend sync facility with other brand smart phones by this summer.
Purchase of the Kobo gives access to one hundred books of authors ranging from Austen, Dickens to Homer and Katka. All these books are public domain books and therefore available for free.
The Kobo can support ePub, PDF, Adobe DRM formats. The device however is not at all suitable to read e-books in PDF format. Size of the screen restricts proper viewing of text in PDF format with magnification or reduction both not helping in the process. Kobo e-books however come in ePub format, so this issue is not of much concern.
· Good battery life
· Excellent paper like display quality
· Compact dimensions, light weight and low priced
· Easy on the pocket, both from a price and weight point of view
· Use of quality materials
· Comes pre-loaded with 100 e-books
· Bluetooth wireless radio
· Currently compatible with only the Blackberry
· No 3G or Wi-Fi capability
· Ideally suited for right hand users
So, all in all the Kobo is a barebones e-reader that is banking on simplicity to make a dent in the already crowded e-reader market. Compared to the other low cost e-reader in the market – the Sony Pocket Edition – what you get is a device that has a larger screen, more memory and hence more book carrying capacity and a decent battery life, all at a price that is $50 less than the Sony offering. So if you like reading books and are looking for a no frills e-reading device that is also economically priced, the Kobo is the one to go for.
Keep tuned to this space for more on the Kobo as well as the latest e-reader news.
Then E-Readers as well as Tablet or Slate PCs is what the Good E-Reader Magazine is all about. So make sure you subscribe if you don’t want to miss all that is happening in this exciting segment.
Sovan Mandal is the senior tablet and tech corespondent for goodereader.com. He brings a international approach to news that is not just applicable to the North American market, but also Asia, India, Europe and others. Sovy brings his own writing flavor to the website and is interested in Science Fiction, Technology and Writing. Any questions, send an email