This is one in a series of posts that compares different EBRs (E-Book Readers). I have previously listed features of the nook, the Sony, the Kindle, the OpenBook, and the eBookwise. You can read those articles here.
First, I have to say that the information is somewhat limited at this point. You can pre-order the Kobo eReader right now, and some reviewers have them, but they haven’t put up a User’s Guide yet. In fact, they have a page that says it is tech specs (technical specifications), but it’s a bit sparse right now.
Overview: the Kobo is the least expensive of the major E Ink readers at the time of writing. It does not have wireless download of books, but it will connect via Bluetooth. Content comes from Kobo, and the device will be available in Borders stores (and other locations).
Price: This is the big attraction for this device (based on the news stories), so let’s talk about it up front. It can be pre-ordered currently (for May delivery) for $149…but that’s Canadian dollars. Right now, the two are pretty close, though, so that might be the US cost as well. If it is, it’s $110 less than either the 6″ Kindle or Barnes & Noble’s nook (sic). However the 5″ Sony Pocket Reader is $169…only $20 more. Sony’s 6″ Sony Portable is $299.
When you move away from E Ink, the prices get much lower. The OpenBook lists for $149 (although it has been on sale for a while from Walgreens for $99.99) and the eBookwise is available for $99.95.
Getting the books
Here’s where the Kobo is a stepdown from the Kindle/nook and Sony Daily Edition (which is $399). Those three all download books wirelessly (as do tablets, like the iPad). It’s one of the attractions of the Kindle in particular: free (in the US) 3-G downloading, which means you can get books pretty much where a cell phone would work.
The Kobo needs to connect to another device to get books. You can download the books to a computer and the “sideload” them to the Kobo. You get software to enable it to sync (so it’s less manual than using a Kindle). You can connect to a Blackberry with Bluetooth (which is very short range wireless), and transfer books from the SmartPhone to your Kobo. I think looking at this that you could buy books from your Blackberry and then Bluetooth them to your Kobo. That could make the experience close to the wireless of the Kindle/nook/Sony Daily, although obviously with a few more steps.
This is a strength of the Kobo. It uses the Kobobooks site, which does have the New York Times bestsellers, and other current releases. It’s hard to tell how many books they have, because searches seem to be limited to 500 results. They do claim to have 2 million titles. One interesting thing: they make a point about having books not available on iBooks. Amazon currently has that as well, but except for Kindle exclusives, I haven’t seen them labeling books that way.
Kobo has reportedly signed agreements with the “Agency 5″. Like Amazon, they also carry books from Random House and other sources.
The Kobo can read PDFs and EPUBs, and Adobe DRM (Digital Rights Management). Weirdly, they don’t list anything else…including txt, which is otherwise pretty universal with e-readers. My guess is that they are just failing to list some other formats at this point, but we’ll see. Would that be a huge limitation? Probably not, except for personal files. When they talk about personal files, they only mention PDFs. The free program Calibre will convert a number of file types to both PDF and EPUB.
This is much relevant than it used to be, since books sold through the agency model should cost the same everywhere.
There are two hundred and twenty free e-books listed at Kobobooks at the time of writing. It appeared to me that fewer than twenty of those were current promotional titles. This compares to about 20,000 free books directly from Amazon for the Kindle, of which about 50-75 are promotional titles. However, the Kobo should also be able to read free books from a number of other sites.
The Kobo has 1 gig of onboard memory, which they say is about 1000 books at an average of 1 meg. That’s bigger than Amazon figures is average…they work it at 800KB. That doesn’t necessarily mean their book files are larger, they may just like round numbers. While you won’t be able to get books directly to your device wirelessly, the Kobo does have an SD slot, and will take cards up to 4GB. That puts it over the walkaround memory of a Kindle DX.
This is one of the biggest advantages of E Ink devices over backlit devices (like the iPad and other tablets): the Kobo says it will last for two weeks on a single charge (or 8000 “page turns”). That’s comparable to the Kindle…better than the nook. Since the tech specs are incomplete, I don’t know if it is a battery a user can replace or not.
The Kobo is actually lighter and smaller than a Kindle or a nook.
There are free apps to read Kobo books on iPhones, Blackberrys, Android phones, and the Palm Pre. Oh, the Android one says it is “coming in 2010″. It looks like you can also read them on Macs and PCs, and they say you can read them on tablets. I presume you could not read them on a Kindle (legally), since they should contain a type of DRM that the Kindle can’t read.
The Kobo has a control sort of like the 5-way on a Kindle, except that it is a blue pad instead of a joystick.
It has a feature a lot of people want on the Kindle: it will retain the cover image of the book as a sleep screen. Other people don’t like that, though…it can be nice that people don’t know what you are reading sometimes.
They have a “chapter page count” feature, which appears to be able to tell you “how many pages” you have left in the chapter…another nice feature.
They show you the books in your library several ways…including on a “bookshelf”, like iBooks (but not in color, of course).
There are five font sizes (the Kindle has 6, to be 7 later this year)…and two font styles.
The back of the device is textured, which should make it easier to hold. There are also a number of skins available.
Grayscale is 8 levels…below the 16 on the Kindle or the nook.
The device will also come with 100 public domain books already on it. That’s an interesting strategy: it gets things going for people who are less comfortable with computers, but you aren’t choosing which books. I think most people would just as soon select the books themselves, but I do think others will enjoy just turning on the device and being able to start reading.
Overall, I think this is a reasonable option for people who don’t mind being tethered. My guess is that the Kindle will come down in price, but right now, the Kobo is considerably cheaper. No text-to-speech is a concern, and I haven’t seen anything indicating that there is dictionary lookup. The availability of books seems to be pretty good. I think this device will carve out a small section of the market as a no-frills E Ink contender.
Tip of the day: if you click on a footnote and are taken to the end of the book, click the Back button before going Home (which you should do when you finish your reading session). Otherwise, your “furthest page read” may set to where the footnote was, not where you were reading last.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.