Canadian e-book retailer Kobo’s new $130 touch screen reader is lighter, cheaper and is said to be faster and more powerful. It’s definitely way cooler than the old Kobo reader, offering a new, sophisticated graphic home screen interface and it gives consumers the ability to easily synch their reading across desktop, phone and tablet devices. While none of this is unusual among the leading e-reading devices, Kobo continues to serve notice that it plans to compete in the international e-book market.
It seems that e-reading devices—and their prices--continue to shrink in size and the devices are both easier to use and more powerful. For the most part, Kobo’s new touch screen reader follows suit. You can’t beat the Kobo Touch Edition’s price and the device’s touch screen technology makes even the Kindle 3—still the King of e-ink reading devices—seem a little dated.
Kobo’s e-Reader Touch Edition has a clean simple design—it’s basically all screen with no physical keyboard—and offers wireless access. The device has a 6” Pearl e-ink Screen—updated e-ink screen technology that’s also used in the Kindle and Sony e-Readers—in addition to extended battery life (Kobo claims a month on a single charge); and tap and swipe page-turning. The new device has but a single physical button, a “home” key that will bring the reader back to a graphic display of the last 4 or 5 books read as well as offering a menu that includes the reader’s complete library of Kobo content; the ability to sort titles and change how you view the library; and of course the usual highlighting and dictionary support by simply touching the word you want to be defined.
The home screen also offers a link to the Kobo online e-bookstore and Reading Life, Kobo’s social media and reading “stats” software, a clever reading bragging rights platform that tracks what and how much reading you’ve done and hands out badges and awards when you hit certain benchmarks. Reading Life is actually kind of fun and readers can watch as they pile up statistics about how many hours, pages and books they’ve read.
We found the Kobo Touch Edition easy to set up. You’ll need to download the Kobo desktop software and despite initial misgivings—I’m always dubious of the need for yet more software—it turned out to work easily and allows you to do most of what you can do on the Touch Edition on your laptop or desktop. Readers can see their entire library, read their books and synch everything up. But it’s the Kobo touch screen that makes the device standout. Let’s face it, thanks to proliferation of iPhones, iPods and now iPads and other tablets, I find myself inadvertently touching the screen of even my Amazon Kindle 3 out of habit. Touch screens are becoming a de facto e-reading standard and Kobo’s will only take the market further down that road.
The Kobo Touch Edition seems virtually weightless, comes in a variety of colors and reads PDF documents. And while virtually all devices these days offer the ability to synch reading across multiple devices, I was still most impressed with the Kobo Touch Edition’s synch function. Since I happen to have a WebOS phone—Kobo was quick to offer a WebOS client app, so I’ve had an Kobo e-book account for awhile—I was quickly able to download all my past books to several devices including a Palm Pre smartphone, iPod Touch, iPad and a Mac Book Pro. There were a few glitchy moments but all my Kobo books—oddly, a public domain copy of Huckleberry Finn showed up everywhere but the Kobo device; never could figure that out—downloaded to the various libraries, all more or less synched to my last page read. The desktop softwar is convenient, easy to set up, offers acess to all your Reading Life stats and it seems to work.
The Touch Edition’s screen page-turns are mostly, although not totally, free of the black screen flash but the flash shows up now and then. While Kobo claims the device is more powerful than its older version, it can still feel a bit underpowered and at times there’s a bit of lag bringing up titles—especially graphic heavy works like comics—and while navigating online at the Kobo e-book store. Nevertheless the onscreen keyboard works remarkably well and while the device’s ability to display photos and graphic work like comics, isn’t bad, it’s still an e-ink device and graphics could be better. Reading a manga biography of the Dali Lama was a bit glitchy and I encountered random blank and unnumbered pages in between the numbered pages for some reason. And while I couldn’t get the zoom function to work on the Kobo device, Kobo software for iPod Touch and the iPad was terrific and will let you easily pinch and zoom comics panels and increase their size for easy reading.
The Kobo e-reader Touch Edition is an excellent and easy to use device. Of course even new and improved e-ink screen devices have certain drawbacks—yes, you can read an e-ink screen in broad daylight just like a paper book; and in low light you’ll need a lamp, just like a paper book. There’s no color and no multimedia content. And while the new e-ink screens offer improved display of graphics, photos are still basically dim and low-res and the devices do not offer such hip functionality—yes, popularized by Apple—as pinch and zoom. And even so-called powerful e-ink devices can seem a little pokey when compared with an LCD backlit device.
Nevertheless readers choose to use e-ink devices because they are pretty much a kind of mechanical book. And much like a physical book, e-ink devices are mostly idiot-proof, the price is right and thanks to cut-throat competition in the e-reading device market, these devices are getting better and cheaper all the time. Kobo is doing its part to stay competitive in the e-reader game with the Kobo Touch Edition.