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.
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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.
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