Canada’s e-reader gets tough U.S. reception

Toronto-based Kobo Inc.’s e-reader is now out south of the border… but it already seems like nobody cares.

The few availalbe reviews say that the Kobo is competent but little more, which paints a rather grim future if retail partner Borders expects to compete with the mega-selling Kindle and Nook e-readers.

Related Video: Hands-on review of Kobo

Here’s what the critics are saying and why the Kobo may have been dead before it landed.


Retailing for $150 on, the Kobo was briefly the most inexpensive e-reader on the market — by far its most enticing selling point. But since both Amazon and Barnes and Noble cut prices on the Kindle and Nook, respectively — and the $150 Wi-Fi Nook was unveiled — the Kobo lost the advantage. To retaliate, the Kobo began offering a $20-off gift card with purchase, making it once again the cheapest e-reader.

Still, the gift card is a limited time offer, so what really needs to happen is a permanent price reduction.

Kobo’s Basics are its Advantages

The Kobo was designed to be a barebones e-reader, so if you’re looking for an e-reader solely meant to read e-books and absolutely nothing else, the Kobo is for you. There’s no keyboard, notation features, built-in e-bookstore, search, apps … you get the point.

The Kobo is a featherweight, clocking in at only 8 ounces. By comparison with other e-readers on the market, the Kobo is one of the lightest available. Here’s how fat its main competition is:

    • Cool-ER = 6.2 ounces
    • Sony Reader Pocket = 7.8 ounces
    • Kindle 2 = 10.2 ounces
    • Spring Design Alex = 11 ounces
    • Nook Wi-Fi = 11.6 ounces
    • Nook 3G and Wi-Fi = 12.1 ounces

It also has a two-week battery life (the Kindle 2 lasts only for a week) or about 8000 page turns.
Computerworld liked the look and feel of the Kobo. It has a “quilted, slightly rubbery back” that was nice to the touch — however, the reviewer’s colleague said “it looked like a bad velvet couch from the 1970s.”

Crunchgear was sold on the look and feel, stating that “Switching between the Kobo, the Kindle, and the Alex, I felt that the Kobo was the most comfortable to hold. The lack of a keyboard or touchscreen helps focus you on the text, and you’re not afraid you’re going to accidentally grip a function button.” Because of its lack of features, Crunchgear thought the Kobo would be perfect for educational establishments — no frills equals no distractions.

Here are a few other specs:

    • Measures at approximately 4.7 x 7.2 x 0.4 inches
    • 6-inch display
    • E-Ink screen with 8-level grayscale
    • Two font choices and five different font sizes
    • 1 GB internal memory; SD slot supporting up to 4 GB
    • Bluetooth connection to smartphones and Kobo app
    • Mini-USB-powered
    • Supports ePUB, PDF, and Adobe DRM
    • Comes with 100 free 19th century e-books

Awkward Buttons

The Kobo has a bright blue navigational pad, which happens to be the e-reader’s most awkward feature. ITWire wrote, “Eventually, after more than an hour of reading time, your hand and fingers will start to ache due to repetitive strain from pressing the button hundreds of times.”

PCWorld agreed: “… the buttons still provide enough resistance that my hands fatigued after using them for more than a 15-minute block of time.”

No 3G or Wi-Fi is a Bummer

It’s fine that the Kobo doesn’t have all the fancy features of its competition, but without 3G or Wi-Fi connectivity, the Kobo immediately presents itself as something circa 1994.

Wirelessly connecting to and downloading from an e-bookstore has become an essential feature since other e-readers sport that capability. As it stands, if you want to download from the Kobo e-bookstore, or Borders’ upcoming e-bookstore, you need to do so with a computer and the mini-USB cable. Sony’s e-reader made the same mistake.

Sure, there’s an app for the Kobo, but that requires either Bluetooth syncing or a sync via your PC. Plus, as ZDNet points out, you can’t choose what books you’d like in your library — the Kobo syncs them all.

The Verdict

When “competent” and “decent” are the best adjectives you can get in a review, you’re in trouble. The only way I can see the Kobo surviving the battle of the e-readers is if the price is lowered by at least $50. That way its barebones makeup would be justified by its price.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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