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E-Reader Wars: $99 Kobo Challenges Barnes & Noble, Amazon

Joining the likes of Barnes & Noble and Amazon, Kobo is the latest company to offer a touch e-reader priced less than $100. The news comes just in time for the holiday shopping season which analysts predict will see e-readers flying off the shelves.

At $99, the Kobo Touch with Offers achieves its impressive price point by presenting readers with ads and discounts on the lock screen and at the bottom of the home screen. The e-reader has a 6-inch e-Ink touch display and comes with access to 2.2 million books, newspapers and magazines, including more than 1 million free books. The ad-free version of the device costs $130.

But it's up against tough competition.

The Amazon Kindle Touch with Special Offers and the Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch both also cost $99, although the latter lacks ads and is available today -- both assets that are going to score bonus points with eager buyers. The Kindle Touch with Special Offers is due to ship November 21 and the Kobo Touch with Offers supposedly will be shipping in two to three weeks, but the company's website says it is currently out of stock and BestBuy.com shows it as back-ordered.

But assuming Kobo's inexpensive reader does become available soon, why would anyone consider choosing it over one of the big brands?

Its open platform, for one thing. It's got out-of-the-box native support for a variety of e-book formats including ePub, PDF, Adobe DRM, JPEG, GIF, PNG, TIFF, TXT, HTML, RTF, CBZ, and CBR. And the Kobo app lets you access your e-books across multiple devices, including PC and Mac computers, iPhones and iPads, and Android and Blackberry mobile phones and tablets.

As PCWorld's Melissa J. Perenson pointed out when she reviewed the Kobo Touch (3.5/5 stars), one cool thing about this particular e-reader is its Reading Life social networking platform. It not only tracks your reading patterns, such as how long you're spending reading your current selection, how many pages you've turned, and how many books you've finished reading, but also lets you earn awards for your progress and share your Reading Life status via Facebook and Twitter.

The capability to share reading activities with friends and followers is a boon for heavy social media users looking for posting fodder.

"Kobo is the most social eBook service on the market," said Kobo CEO Michael Serbinis in a statement last week announcing the interesting -- and possibly game-changing -- news that the company will be acquired by Japanese-based Rakuten, one of the world's largest e-commerce platforms. It will be interesting to see if Kobo devices get into the hands of more consumers once that happens.

One thing is certain: With the holiday shopping season upon us the falling prices in the e-reader space couldn't come at a better time.

Follow Christina on Twitter and Google+ for even more tech news and commentary and follow Today@PCWorld on Twitter, too.

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