I was at Indigo the other day while they were setting up the new Kobo readers and I got to play with both the Glo and the Mini. My overall verdict: I was impressed! I don’t agree with all of the choices Kobo has made with their software, but they are more ‘personal preference’ things by now, as opposed to glaring bugs which need fixing.
The Retail Advantage
One thing I do have to give Kobo props for right off the bat is their employee training—their extensive retail presence (especially here in Canada, where they are branded with our major bookstore chain) is a huge selling point, and they have trained the front-line staff well. I visited two Indigo stores and checked out the display. At each store, I was approached right away by an employee. Both could answer a range of basic questions about the Kobo products. At varying stages, they reached their limit but at that juncture they each knew whom to fetch. Props to Kobo for making sure that their retail partners know the deal and equip each store with a Kobo expert!
Both the hardware and software look slick. I was able to hold both devices before they clamped them into the display stands, and they had elegant designs and felt nice in my hands. I had been drooling over the Mini, but on examination it felt a little too small. I am all about the ergonomics these days, and in spite of its lightness, I’m not sure the Mini will work for me. The form factor is not right for holding properly. But … it’s so lightweight! Maybe once after-market cases that make it feel more like a book are available, I’ll feel differently.
As for the reading experience, I was surprised by how nice the books looked. Both Kobo devices use the same software interface, and it’s much more customizable than the Kindle. You can change the font size (via sliders, which is not my preference, but oh well) and also the font face, the line spacing, justification, boldness and so forth. I played with a few fonts and found one I liked, which really did spruce up how the book looked. It’s much less computery and much more book-looking.
Kobo has also finally enabled shelves! It takes a few extra clicks to get to them (compared to my Kindle Touch), but if you want to organize your books, you can do so now. And there is also a separate wishlist feature, so that books you save for later won’t clutter up your library.
Each new Kobo has a special feature. On the Mini, it’s the rear faceplate. It’s removable and you can swap it out for a different color. The colorful replacements aren’t available yet, but they will be available in a few weeks.
And of course, the Glo has the glowing light. It turns on with a small button, and has an on-screen slider so you can tweak the brightness. The light was very blue-looking to me, but that was in daylight in a well-lit store. At night, in the dark, I may like it better.
Room for Improvement
One thing Kobo won’t let you customize: how your progress is displayed. This is an issue I’ve had with them way back from Kobo 1. The Kobo will display how many pages you have left in the chapter, but I couldn’t get it to display how many pages you have left in the book as a whole. I find I get very disoriented without a progress marker. It’s one of the reasons I have never enjoyed reading on a computer. I do wish Kobo would give you better progress markers.
I also dislike how difficult Kobo makes it to reload books from your library. After all this time, they still make you re-sync with your computer for that. That is just unconscionable to me. My Kindle Touch can be used without a computer at all. It even updates over-the-air. I can’t believe that this allegedly cutting-edge new Kobo still makes you hook into your desktop and run updates through their clunky desktop software.
I am tempted—very tempted—by the pretty fonts and the slick reading stats features. It’s definitely a prettier reading experience than on my Kindle, and I find the Kindle Touch a tiny bit too heavy for comfortable reading. But the Amazon UI is just so much easier. Everything on the Kobo seems like it takes one or two extra steps, and I would miss the computer-free operation of the Kindle and the ability to email e-book files straight onto my device.
Additionally, I do enjoy the ability to read on more than one device and sync my progress between them. But I can’t stand the Kobo iOS app. It lacks features the Kindle app has (such as the ability to sync notes and progress for even side-loaded content), and is a huge disk space hog. So I feel like if I jumped ship to Kobo, I’d be saddled with their app, and I don’t want to be.
I am keeping my Kindle Touch for now, I guess, but I’m not 100 percent happy with it. I wish it wasn’t too late to trade it in for the lighter Kindle 4 with the buttons. I did eagerly anticipate the Kobo launch. I hoped the Mini might be for me. But on the balance of features, I’m not yet ready to part with my Kindle. If I could have the Kobo Glo’s hardware and font options with the Kindle’s computer-free UI, I’d be happy.