Look and feel
Despite being a "cheap" e-reader (more on what that means in practice below), Kobo's device is, in practice, pretty awesome feeling. No, it doesn't feel as substantial as the much heavier Nook, but that is actually a good thing, it turns out, because the device is so comfortable to hold in the hand -- an experience we've always found lacking with the Nook, and, to a lesser extent, the Kindle. The rubbery "quilted" back is tacky enough that you can hold the 6-incher comfortably with just one hand, a move we've never perfected with the Nook
, Kindle 2
, or iPad
. The large blue d-pad for paging is a little bit mushy for our tastes, but it certainly gets the job done, with very few accidental key presses -- always nice to see. The only other buttons on the Kobo -- Home, Menu, Display, and Back, are seated nicely on the left-hand side of the device. It's very bare bones, but there's really nothing to complain about.
The display is something of another story. While its an e Ink-er, meaning that reading on it is, generally, pretty fantastic, the Kobo's lack of built-in screensaver has caused our unit to already have a fairly noticeable "burned in" home screen -- something we find to be pretty annoying. But more on the display in a moment. Ultimately, the Kobo's hardware is actually more enjoyable to use than many other e-readers we've run into: its simplicity and lack of features is actually its strong point, because holding the device is the closest thing to the experience of holding an actual book or magazine that we've encountered. The relative lack of elements for your hand to encounter while holding the unit -- for instance, there's no headphone jack... because there's no media player -- make it smooth and easy to grip whether you're curled up on the couch or laying on your back across your bed, and you don't have to fear dropping it on your face (as we often have with the iPad) because, even if you do, it's unlikely to do that
The Kobo e-reader has 1GB of storage (plus an SD card for more), which means you can house about 1,000 books in it, and it comes pre-loaded with 100 classics. While that sounds great on the surface, and surely will be for some buyers, we're actually not huge fans of Gutenberg e-books in practice, but this could just be us: we'd prefer to pay $5 - $10 for a copy of Sense and Sensibility
with great formatting. But for most, the wide selection of pre-loaded classics is a nice touch -- especially since there's no internet connectivity here, and the only way to get selections onto your device is by USB connection to your computer. That's a huge drawback, to be sure -- but back to the reading experience.
The e Ink screen is very simple, but very enjoyable to read on -- regardless of your lighting situation. e Ink continues to be the standard in e-reading, and it's the option we prefer. Page refresh rate on the Kobo is slower than we'd like. It's slower than the Kindle and the iPad, and slower than the Nook has been in our experience since the 1.4 firmware upgrade (unfortunately, our Nook unit is having some major performance issues right now, i.e., it appears to be dead, so we couldn't test them against each other). This is one place where we continue to have issues with e-readers: in the time it takes to turn a page, maybe your mind thinks a bit on what it's just read, and regardless, that behavior is so ingrained you barely notice it. With an e-reader, you make a decision to hit that button, and then -- lag -- wait for the page to "turn." It is an experience-breaking lag we really wish wasn't there. Other than that, the Kobo runs quite smoothly -- after all, there's really nothing going on, so you'd expect the device to be without hiccups, and it is.