Is the Kobo cool?

My household acquired the new Border’s e-reader, Kobo, on the weekend. The Kobo was released on Wednesday and with the dollar crashing to below 80c at one point on Friday I figured it might be now or never.

There’s no particular connection to Melbourne or to urbanism in this article but as this is the first time I’ve ever been a real early-adopter, I thought I’d share my experience. Perhaps my rationale can be that I’ve always had a page on this blog titled My Reading.

This’ll be a brief review because I haven’t really had much time to look at it, but based on my (limited) experience over the weekend and my wife’s slightly more extended experience, here are the pros and cons of the Kobo (which BTW I take to be an anagram of “book”?). Bear in mind that we only intend to use the Kobo for reading fiction.

On the pro side:

First, it’s very cheap – just A$199. It was released on Wednesday so I don’t know if there’re any left. Its closest rival, the Kindle, is US$249 and you have to wait for delivery.

Second, you can buy it over the counter. I got this one at Borders Carlton on Friday night. I’m a big user of e-commerce but having bricks and mortar to deal with is always preferable.

Third, it really is like reading paper. The screen isn’t lit by light like an LCD but uses a technology like the Etch A Sketch. It’s very easy on the eyes compared to a computer screen or an iPhone. There is a choice of two fonts and five type sizes – I expect the range will increase as the software is revised.

Fourth, it’s lightweight (221 grams) – as light as a paperback, perhaps lighter.

Fifth, it’s a good size, equivalent to a paperback. The screen is 6”, same as the Kindle.

Sixth, and possibly most importantly (see below), you’re not tied to a single retailer as you are with the Kindle. We haven’t purchased any books yet but apparently it will take PDF and EPUB formats.

Seventh, it comes with 100 free books. These are all ‘out of copyright’ books. Some are interesting if you haven’t already read them e.g. Anna Karenina, Of Human Bondage. I’m re-reading The Importance of Being Earnest. However these books had no bearing whatsoever on our decision to purchase the Kobo.

Eighth, it will take an SD card for more storage should you need it. Seems unlikely given that the 1GB storage it comes with will store 1,000 books according to Borders.

Ninth, it will go two weeks between charges according to Borders. If that’s true that’s great, but I haven’t been able to verify it yet.

On the con side:

First, the Borders web site search function is truly appalling. You put in a specific author and it returns hundreds of hits which seem to relate only marginally to your search. Fortunately there are other online e-book retailers.

Second, some books on the Borders site are ridiculously expensive. My wife was looking for American Rust by Phillip Meyer, which is $25 as an e-book but $18 with free delivery as a paperback!!! Fortunately she can get it for $18 from another e-book retailer. Nevertheless it seems the great bulk of books on Borders are $10 (e.g. all Nick Hornby titles) and it seems you can get the expensive ones elsewhere for less anyway.

Third, there’re no luxuries like an in-built dictionary or voice. All you can really do is browse the library, turn pages and bookmark your place. These limitations don’t bother me.

Fourth, there’s a slight delay as you ‘turn’ the page. We were aware of this before buying and after a demo decided it wasn’t an issue. It still doesn’t bother us. The number of words per page is less than with a paperback so you click often. Check out whether or not this bothers you before buying.

Fifth, the Kobo only has eight shades of greyscale (the Kindle has 16) so it’s not much chop for showing pictures. It probably won’t suit if that’s important to you. If you want to read newspapers you’ll probably need an iPad.

Sixth, there’s no 3G so you’ll have to download books direct from the PC. Ditto for recharging. Doesn’t bother me.

Seventh, although there are supposedly millions of books available for e-readers, there are still some that aren’t. For example, we couldn’t find The Summing Up by Somerset Maugham. Still, I expect in time it will be easier to get books this way than having to trawl through bookshops.

Maybe some serious problem will emerge over the next few weeks or months that’ll drive us mad, but for the moment my first impression is that this does the basics well. I’d like to say it’s a Kindle killer but I’ve never used a Kindle. At this price it should go gang-busters. Get yours before the dive of the dollar drives value downwards (!).

Why even buy a Kobo in the first place? One, you can carry lots of books when travelling. Two, you can download books instantaneously, including those hard-to-get books that drive book club members crazy. Three, you save a fair bit, largely because of our publishing industries refusal to acknowledge that times have changed. Four, you can adjust the font size if your eyesight, like mine, is no longer perfect. And five, if you have something like a Kindle, you can easily and rapidly check the meaning of words as you go.


4 Comments on “Is the Kobo cool?”

  1. Alan Davies says:

    It seems Borders are active in monitoring comments about the Kobo in the blogosphere. I received this e-mail a week after the above review was published:

    “Hello Alan,
    Please excuse the unsolicited email, however I just wanted to respond to one of the very valid points you made. The problems you mentioned with the search on the Borders web site should now have been fixed, I.e. Searching on an author yields far fewer results now. As you might imagine working with a catalogue that now has many millions of titles has been challenging however we are making progress. There are many more improvements coming over the next few weeks and of course we welcome any and all comments – user’s experience is key to us.

    You may also be interested to know we released a app for the iPad on Friday.

    If there’s anything I can help you with please let me know.

    Kind regards
    Paul Donovan
    Borders Online”

  2. Ryan says:

    Eighth (problem) No shopping cart on the kobobooks.com site. Was all prepared to buy and download an armful of books for my Kobo ereader but it turns out I have to run them through individually (which makes me buy fewer books).

  3. […] from various on-line retailers since. Whenever I have the option, I now download e-books to read on my e-reader in preference to hard […]

  4. […] In fact these days I’m much more likely to get an electronic copy instantly and read it on my (Kobo) […]


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