The Kobo honeymoon is officially over—the verdict is, the device is cute and adorable and has potential, but this potential is increasingly being compromised by niggling techie issues, some of which are user-fixable and some of which will need some firmware tweaking. So, what are the concerns? And what is my prescription for setting things right again on the good ship Kobo?
1) THE FONT SCALING ISSUE
Users continue to experience frustrations with a known glitch involving some files not permitting font ‘scaling’—the book will render with a teeny-tiny font, and the font size changer has no effect on it. Whatever it gives you, however unreadable, you’re stuck with it.
The user fix right now involves unwrapping the epub and deleting the style sheet—you’ll lose some other format specifiers like font justification, but you’ll be able to scale the font. However, this fix will be beyond the technical skills of most newbies.
This needs to be fixed via firmware update, ASAP. I am especially galled by this one because I alerted them to it myself at least a month before the official release of the Kobo. So I feel like they have had plenty of time to fix it, and should not have shipped if such a glaring issue which they knew about pre-launch had not yet been addressed.
2) THE ISSUE OF THE SQL DATABASE
Kobo made the decision to embed all store purchases and pre-loaded content into an SQL database, rather than having each file exist on the reader as a document in its own right. This has created a number of issues for people.
– It means you can’t remove the pre-loaded books if you don’t want to read them. There is a user fix out there that is very brute force, and again, beyond the technical skill of most newbies. They will apparently be addressing this in a later update, but a tech support email one Mobile Read member received indicated that this fix is not among the top priorities.
– If the SQL database becomes corrupted, you can’t load any new books onto the device—from Kobo, or via ‘side-load’ either. I experienced this with my mother—tried to load some stuff for her before her trip, and they all got on there when you looked at the disk contents on the computer. But they never appeared on her file list when we unplugged. I assumed that perhaps she was low on battery and told her to charge it overnight, but that didn’t solve the problem and then she left for a holiday. I learned of the SQL issue after she had left (along with, as usual, a user-created hack to fix it), and will have to try and sort her out when she’s back from her holiday.
3) THE CLUNKINESS OF THE KOBO SOFTWARE
iTunes, Adobe Digital Editions and nearly every other software program out there uses a simple interface: a list of files on the left, and the contents of your device occupying centre screen as soon as you select it. All you have to do to load new content is drag something onto your device. Not so with Kobo. The desktop software is unbelievably clunky. Here are some issues with it:
– Nobody quite understands how the ‘I’m reading’ list works. Both purchases and non-purchases you save for later seem to get added to this list, and it seems to be what syncs with the device. But you can’t modify it from within the desktop software, so if you want to make something not be on this list, you have to leave the program and go log into the website to change it.
– When you delete something from the ‘I’m Reading’ list, people are not completely sure where it goes. To the library? To the trash? And how do you get it back onto the ‘I’m Reading’ list if you want to sync it again later?
Why even have this whole conceit of the ‘I’m Reading’ list in the first place? Why not just have a drag and drop file system where people can load books onto and off of the device with ease? Because the Kobo software lets them wrap everything up into the SQL database. See problem #2.
The user hack is, of course, not to use the Kobo software at all and manage everything via Adobe Digital Editions or Calibre. But if the SQL database gets corrupted, those users still have to deal with the clunky Kobo architecture. And of course, there is no way to get the promised but not yet delivered firmware fix without the Kobo software…
3) MY PRESCRIPTION
For those keeping track, that’s three main user problems, and three user-generated hacks. If readers can fix these issues, why can’t Kobo? What on earth is taking them so long to address these basic usability problems?
Priority number 1 has got to be a firmware fix that addresses the font scaling issue and lets users perform basic maintenance on the device such as removing the pre-loaded books and resetting the database if it becomes corrupted.
Priority number 2 should be a vastly, vastly simplified desktop software. It is inexcusable that readers should have to leave the desktop software and log into a website to perform basic tasks. And the whole ‘I’m reading’ conceit has got to go. What we need is a drag and drop list of purchased books we can easily load onto the device directly, and then a wish list feature for items we haven’t bought yet. If they’re smart, they will implement an iTunes/esque browser interface of the type their users are already familiar with, but I’ll settle for them addressing the usability issue first before they get into the aesthetics.
The natives on Kobo Early Adopter Land are restless. These fixes need to happen soon.