Hot on the heels of Amazons launch of ebook reader Kindle and tablet Kindle Fire,Canadian firm Kobo has brought out three e-readers and one tablet in India. Kobo is a relatively small company but its products bring much-needed competition to the ebook reader market. In India,Kobo has tied up with bookstore chains Crossword and WH Smith to retail its products.
Like the Kindle Fire,Kobos tablet is built to sell its ebooks,and hence,offers an interface different from that of an Android tablet. But Kobo faces stiff competition from Amazon,which has a bigger library of books. Lets see if its devices offer a better experience than the Kindle and Kindle Fire.
Kobos seven-inch tablet is called Arc. Its interface relies heavily on user customisation. When you first power on the tablet,you will be asked to sign in with a Kobo account. After that,Kobo prompts you to pick a few books you like and shows recommended books on the bottom panel of the screen. It keeps updating recommendations based on the books you buy. This is a good way to engage users and sell its ebooks.
Kobo makes heavy use of tapestries. You can pin an app,book,website or YouTube video to the homescreen. These will appear as icons on the homescreen and you can group a few of these icons into a tapestry. While the tapestry icons are well-designed,the Kobo Arc lagged slightly during transitions between homescreens.
Unlike the Kindle Fire,Kobo Arc lets users access Google Play to download Android apps. The tablet feels good to hold due to the soft rubber-like material on the back panel. Kobo has placed both speakers in the front,on either side of its logo. The tablet has a 1.3-MP front camera,which means you can make video calls,but has no rear camera. It is not an omission that users will miss because the tablet is for readers,not photographers.
The 1,280×800-pixel resolution is good for reading ebooks,graphic novels and watching videos. However,the screens reflective screen hampers reading under sunlight. Its 16 GB internal memory should be enough for most users. This tablet performs well when reading,watching HD videos and playing light-on-graphics games (Temple Run,etc). For playing graphics-heavy games (Asphalt,Real Racing,etc),users should look for other devices.
The battery lasted around six-and-a-half hours on intensive use. However,the lack of 3G is a disappointment as WiFi connectivity is not widespread in the country yet. Overall,this tablet is a good product that faces tough competition at its price point (Rs 11,999).
Kobo Aura HD
Aura HD is Kobos flagship ebook reader,priced at Rs 13,999. Why would anyone want to pay so much for an ebook reader? Kobos view is that it is a product designed for power users. The 6.8-inch screen has a resolution of 1,440×1,080 pixels and is great for reading books. It has a few advantages over the Kindle Paperwhite. Text and pictures look better on the device,and it has superior front lighting. The Paperwhites front light is a little distracting near the bottom of the screen (referred to as light bleeding). Kobo Aura HD users can also quickly switch off the front light using a switch at the top,which Paperwhite users cant (its light is on even at zero brightness).
Aura HD also allows users to drag and drop books in popular formats (epub,PDF),so users are not restricted to buying ebooks from one store. Its 4 GB storage can be expanded with a microSD card. The Aura HD has a sculpted back panel with two ridges that make it good to hold. However,the device is made of smooth plastic,which makes it slippery. The Paperwhite is more suited for long hours of reading due to better grip offered by its back panel. Kobos bookstore is well-stocked,but Amazon has a wider array of titles and better pricing.
Kobo has done well to create a product with features not found in Amazons ebook reader. It would have been easier to recommend buying the Kobo Aura HD,Touch (no front light,Rs 7,999),or Glo (inferior screen,Rs 10,999) had they been cheaper.