Such has been the success of the Amazon Kindle e-book reader, it barely seems as though any other such devices exist. In fact, Sony has been making superior e-book readers for more than five years, includingtouchscreen models, while BeBook and Samsung have also scored some success in the UK e-book reader market. 

The latest Amazon Kindle-wannabe is the Kobo. There are three models in the range: the £69.99 Kobo Wireless, the Kobo Touch (reviewed here and costing £99.99) and the Kobo Vox, which comes with a £169.99 price tag. 

By comparison, the Amazon Kindle starts at £89 for the Wi-Fi only model, while the 3G and Wi-Fi version costs £149.99. Kobo therefore has something to prove to mark out a space in this territory. 

On-shelf availability in WH Smith in the run-up to Christmas and since was a good start, but an extensive library, ease of book acquisition and general usability also need to be top-notch to give the Kindle a real run for its money. 

Kobo Touch: Design and Build

Design-wise, the Kobo Touch is nearly the same as every other 6in E Ink Pearl-screen reader we've reviewed. The basic, hardened plastic chassis and screen with eight levels of greyscale differs little from device to device. 

The resolution of 600x800 pixels is also routine. The tactile raised quilted rear (ours was pastel blue, but pale pink, white and black versions are available too) gives the Kobo Touch a hint of luxury. The same quilted effect is replicated on its screen in the form of a diamond pattern. 

The Kobo Touch can hold up to 30,000 books to its internal memory, has a microSD card slot (which can accept up to 32GB cards). It charges over USB, and sits in a ‘powered off’ state of readiness when not being used. 

A sprung slider switch on the top of the device turns it on and off. Within around three seconds, the Home screen appears. You’ll get used to this view: many is the occasion you’ll find yourself powering off and restarting the Kobo Touch having reached a dead end.  

With eight greyscale shades to draw upon, the Kobo Touch’s display is capable of some visual nuances, but the resolution of only 600x800 pixels makes the small title text of the thumbnail previews impossible to read.

The suggested reading list at the bottom of the Home page is therefore rather redundant. Several ‘preview’ versions of recommended titles were actually sketchy synopses or simply left undescribed. 

Once you've entered your email, debit card and address details on the Kobo Touch, buying books is straightforward. Choose a title and press Buy Now. Next time you use the Kobo, any newly downloaded titles will appear on the home page. 

The touchscreen control is a big plus. Amazon’s Kindle Wi-Fi suffers from having too many navigation buttons down its right-hand edge. On the Kobo Touch you can tap the screen to turn the page or to bring up navigation options. 

A slim silver-coloured bar below the screen acts as a Home button, returning you to the recommended reads page. Even so, it doesn’t work that smoothly. Reach the end of a preview and you sometimes get caught in an endless loop of going forward or back through the handful of pages you’ve just viewed, with only the Store as an exit option. Switching off the Kobo Touch clears this. It’s frustrating though. 

Read all about it

The actual reading experience is good. Pages turn quickly enough that you don’t lose the thread of what you were reading – not the case with all e-book readers we’ve reviewed. 

Every so often you'll unlock a Reading Life badge that you can post to Facebook or Twitter - Kobo's way of trying to encourage reading. 

We were also impressed with the ease with which we could log on to our home Wi-Fi network. A Qwerty keyboard pops up onscreen; and the Kobo’s processor is sufficiently fast to keep up with the average typist’s input – another potential usability pitfall deftly avoided. 

When browsing the Store, though, you’ll need to be patient. Details are accessed over Wi-Fi rather than locally stored, so pages take a while to change and we got server errors every time we performed a search. 

The battery doesn’t seem to hold a charge as well as it might. Battery life (along with portability) should be the area in which an e-book reader beats a tablet. The first we knew of it being low on juice was when it announced a power-down as it had only 3 percent power remaining. We’d only read a few Grimm’s Fairy Tales. 

You can charge the device by plugging it in to either a PC or a Mac, and transfer and managed content from there too – the Kobo shows up as an external drive. 

Trying to switch the Kobo Touch on when it’s charging in this manner unmounts it, however, and leads to a stern warning that the device wasn’t properly disconnected. 

NEXT PAGE: Original Computerworld review >>

Kobo's latest addition to the eReaders market, the Kobo eReader Touch Edition, offers a simple touch interface at a reasonable price.

On 13th June, Kobo announced its latest e-book reader at BookExpo America (BEA), the annual publishing event in New York City: the Kobo eReader Touch Edition.

We had a chance to play with the new device on Wednesday for a few minutes, and while you can't  conclude anything from a few minutes of working with a demo unit at a trade show booth, we did come away with a pretty positive feeling about the new Kobo Touch. See also: Group test: what's the best e-reader?

What does it do?

The Kobo eReader Touch Edition is a lightweight, comfortable-to-hold e-book reader that offers an 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi connection to the Kobo Store.

It's got a very clean design, with only one narrow silver button below the 6in screen. Flush with the rest of the Kobo eReader Touch Edition's frame, the button brings you back to the home screen from wherever you are. And that's pretty much it. Everything else is done via the touch screen.

The Kobo eReader Touch Edition uses Neonode's zForce optical touch technology, which uses beams of infrared light to detect a touch on the display. This is different than the resistive and capacitive touch panels that other mobile devices use, which add additional layers to the display.

The home screen is laid out simply and neatly. There are three links at the top of the screen that take you to your library (the books you already own), Kobo's book store or a new social networking application called Reading Life, which lets you track your reading activity.

The rest of the screen is taken up by an overlapping "pile" of the covers of your most recently read books; the last book you read is the most prominent. (You can also view your recent reads as a straightforward list or a more typical series of thumbnail cover images).

Like many of today's e-readers, the Kobo eReader Touch Edition uses the E Ink Pearl display, which is clean and easy on the eyes. You page forward and back by either swiping across the display or touching the left or right side of the screen.

If you want to see a menu of options, you tap the bottom of the screen. This lets you go back to the home screen, go to the table of contents or any bookmarks you may have created, access an on-screen sliding control that lets you easily skip around the book, or change your font and/or type size.

Only two sizes of font on the Kobo eReader Touch Edition are available; we would have preferred a couple more. The Kobo also offers a highlighting tool and a built-in Merriam-Webster dictionary.

The Kobo eReader Touch Edition comes with 1GB of built-in storage and can work with up to a 32GB SD card. According to the company, the battery should last for up to 10 days or 10,000 page turns. The Kobo accepts documents in the pretty-much-standard ePub and PDF formats.

What's cool about it? To begin with, the Kobo eReader Touch Edition is a very nicely designed unit. Because the front is so sparse, with only that single button, there's very little learning curve. We were rather taken by the back of the unit, which is made up of a soft, quilted plastic; it was very pleasant to hold and we did feel as though we could grip it a bit more firmly than other e-readers.

Kobo eReader Touch Edition home screen

Reading Life looks like it could be an excellent application for literature fanatics. It offers statistics like minutes per reading session, the number of pages you've turned, and the total time you've spent reading. This may be a bit too much for many readers, but it could be an interesting motivating factor for others (not to mention a way to see if your kids were really reading their assignments last night).

What needs to be improved? During the time we played with the Kobo eReader Touch Edition, we found it not quite as sensitive as some other touch-screen e-readers we've used; most of the time, especially when we were selecting a book or a menu choice, we found ourselves having to touch more than once. And while swiping the display to page forward and back, we had to press a bit harder than we have on other displays.

On the other hand, as one of the Kobo reps claimed, you can actually use the Kobo eReader Touch Edition while wearing gloves, which could be a real advantage to commuters in colder climes.

Kobo's new Kobo eReader Touch Edition e-device looks like it could be a real contender, especially among those looking for a lightweight, user-friendly device that does nothing but let you read books.

At $129, it costs $10 less than the Wi-Fi version of Amazon's Kindle but is lighter (7.0 oz against the Kindle's 8.5 oz) and smaller (4.5 x 6.5 x 0.4in, versus the Kindle's 4.8 x 7.5 x 0.3in).

In fact, it's very similar to Barnes & Noble's new Nook e-reader, which weighs 7.5 oz, measures 6.5 x 5 x 0.5in and costs $139.

Like the Kobo eReader Touch Edition, the new Nook eschews a physical keyboard for a touch screen, but we have not yet had a chance to test it out.

Computerworld Verdict

While many people may be happier with the Kindle's keyboard, we could easily be persuaded to put up with a slightly less touch-typeable on-screen keypad in return for the smaller footprint and lighter weight. The company is obviously betting that a relatively basic reading device like the Kobo eReader Touch Edition can hold its own against the more expansive – and expensive – multitasking e-readers and tablets such as the $249 Nook Color and, of course, Apple's iPad 2.

Barbara Krasnoff

Kobo Touch: Specs

  • 6in screen (600x800 pixel) E Ink Pearl touchscreen e-book reader
  • 8 greyscale levels
  • 2GB internal storage
  • stores up to 30,000 books, JPEG, e-Pub, PDF viewer
  • adjustable font size
  • Kobo Store
  • USB charge
  • microSD card slot
  • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • 114 x 165 x 10mm
  • 185g
  • 6in screen (600x800 pixel) E Ink Pearl touchscreen e-book reader
  • 8 greyscale levels
  • 2GB internal storage
  • stores up to 30,000 books, JPEG, e-Pub, PDF viewer
  • adjustable font size
  • Kobo Store
  • USB charge
  • microSD card slot
  • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • 114 x 165 x 10mm
  • 185g

OUR VERDICT

While many people may be happier with the Kindle's keyboard, we could easily be persuaded to put up with a slightly less touch-typeable on-screen keypad in return for the smaller footprint and lighter weight. The company is obviously betting that a relatively basic reading device like the Kobo eReader Touch Edition can hold its own against the more expansive – and expensive – multitasking e-readers and tablets such as the $249 Nook Color and, of course, Apple's iPad 2.

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