Review: Kobo Touch – a solid entry-level reader

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In my initial review of the very first Kobo, I concluded that it was a very nice little entry-level reader that, while it fell perhaps a little short for power users, was a great ebook experience for the newbie. Well, we’re now two versions later—has Kobo learned their lessons and made enough changes to win over the power user? Yes, and no. The Kobo Touch is a slick little device, and a much improved experience for the average reader. It’s slick and adorable. But for the power user, it continues to fall just a little short of must-buy status.

SETTING UP THE KOBO

Here was my first annoyance with the Kobo: it requires a download of desktop software in order to complete the setup process. Since I never plan to use the desktop software, I balked at this, but I was told that among the last-minute firmware fixes were the firmware additions necessary to get the wifi working, so it really was a must-download. What a hassle. If you buy your books straight on the device, as Kobo intends, you won’t need the desktop app again anyway, so why are they making people complicate their lives with yet another proprietary software download? Ditch the desktop app, Kobo!

With that said, the setup itself was easy enough. Go to kobosetup.com, download the software, plug the reader in and follow the prompts. The Kobo easily downloaded the books I had in my library and it was ready to go from there. 

USING THE KOBO

The user experience of the Kobo Touch is much improved. Tap the right side to turn the page, tap the left side to go back a page. Tap the middle to bring up a mini-menu that lets you change the font (two styles and numerous sizes) or access the table of contents. Tapping the ‘home’ button—the only actual, hard button aside from the power switch—takes you to the home menu where you can access your library, the store and your ‘Reading Life’ stats. 

From the library screen, you can choose all books, all magazines, or just books in your favourites shortlist. The favourites shortlist is a fun new feature. Every book has a little heart icon beside it, and if you tap the heart, it will add the book to this special collection. Each book also has an on-screen button on the far right which lets you open the book, go to the table of contents, delete it, declare it ‘finished’ and perform other basic functions.

The store area has all of the main categories from the Kobo website store—best-sellers, cheap reads and various other special collections. Beyond that, the ability to browse is minimal. Unless you are fishing for a best-seller or featured book, you’ll need to have an exact title to search for. 

The stats area allows you to see any ‘badges’ you earn as part of Kobo’s Reading Life feature, and it shows you information about how many books you’ve read and how much time that’s taken you. It’s actually a neat feature, and I’ll miss it when I go back to my Kindle!

There is a basic web browser too. I didn’t play with it much, but for those counting features, it’s there!

WHERE THE KOBO FALLS SHORT

The Kobo Touch is really a pleasant and slick little device for the newbies and previous Kobo owners for whom this will be a worthy upgrade. But for the power user like me, there are a few nitpicks that stood out and unfortunately make this a not-so-must buy.

1) The dictionary and notes feature is only usable on books you purchase and load directly from Kobo. It does not work on side-loaded content. This is a glaring omission. It reminds me of the Astak Reader where the font choices were different for Mobi and ePub files, and where the side navigation button was only usable when you were reading certain file types. Content should be content, there should not be separate rules!

2) I found the touchscreen a little finicky. It did not always register a tap, and it does not completely refresh with every page turn, so there was some noticeable ghosting. I suppose they made this sacrifice in the name of speedier operation, but it was not a good trade-off for me and I found the ghosting bothersome.

3) A device that advertises storage for 1000 books really needs to implement some sort of book organization feature beyond the ‘favourites’ list. Folders, tags, collections, call it whatever. But we need something. We needed it since the first Kobo came out. It baffles me that it has not been implemented yet! The 100-odd books I side-loaded for my boss, for whom the Kobo I have is intended, will net her more than a dozen screens to sift through. Unacceptable!

4) You can search for a book within your library or within the store, but you still can’t search within a book itself. I think other ereaders are more robust in this area. If you are looking for a specific section of the book, you are limited to the table of contents and the new ‘fast scan’ scrubber, which is a step in the right direction but not quite a proper search tool.

5) Not every task can be accomplished from on board the device itself, and that irks me. I think sending people back to their computers, even if it is only for certain tasks, is a major UI fail, specially if you are marketing this to possibly computer-phobic newbies of my parents generation. What the software designers need to be thinking about if they want to create a truly elegant, user-friendly device is ‘how would these usage directions sound if I were explaining them to my grandma?’ Take re-downloading an archived purchase, for instance. It involves putting the device down, going to the computer, logging into your account, navigating to the purchased items tab, then manually adding that back to the library—and THEN plugging in the device, opening the desktop software app and syncing it with the Kobo desktop. That is way too many steps. Compare it to the Kindle, where all you have to do is choose ‘archived items’ from the home screen and click on the book…

6) Library books continue to require the Adobe Digital Editions software, which is yet another app to download and learn. I fail to see why they don’t just abandon the Kobo desktop app altogether and let people download and transfer books via ADE if they don’t want to buy from on-board the device directly. Even with the Kobo desktop software, the user still has to be at the computer and plugging the device in—so having it doesn’t save any steps at all. And it just creates one more thing to download, learn and have cluttering up your computer. Please, Kobo, ditch the app! 

CONCLUSION

For the entry-level newbie, or the Kobo user looking for an upgrade, or the person who does not have high needs and wants a device that is (with a few omissions) fairly all in one, or for the non-American user who wants a device with an on-board store, this is a device very worthy of consideration. It does have a few quirks, but they are not fatal ones for the average man or woman on the street. The form factor is excellent, and it was comfortable to hold and simple to operate.

For myself personally, there are some features of my Kindle that I am not prepared to give up right now. And my suspicion is that the eventual Kindle 4 will shed its keyboard bulk and go the Touch route too. When it does, it will be the must-buy for me that the Kobo Touch is not. The Kobo has the better aesthetic and form factor, but the Kindle has the better guts. It allows book organization; it has multilingual dictionary on ALL content, not just books purchased from them; you can download past purchases easily from on board the device and it has no desktop software to complicate your life and gum up the works.

Sorry, Kobo. Your new Touch is very pretty, and I do think it is an excellent buy for the newbie or the upgrading previous Kobo owner. But you haven’t won me over from my Kindle yet!

26 Comments on Review: Kobo Touch – a solid entry-level reader

  1. I agree w/ this reviewer wholeheartedly. Kobo, you know you have one competitor, Amazon. Not to go 1 or 5 steps ahead of them in offering a new eReader is simply “stupid”. If I’m buying a device /w Wi-Fi obviously I don’t want to use my computer. Look at Apple. Buying and reading books on my Kindle 3 is so easy. No wonder Amazon skipped Adobe. Having to use them is a royal pain in the “you know what”. KISS as the computer geeks used to say. And, why not add 3G? I’ll pay the premium price. Think ahead as Gretsky said. Catchup is a “fools” game.

  2. Joanna,
    That was a really thorough, balanced review and not really asking for too much.

    I had no idea about the dictionary being unavailable for non-Kobo buys. That’s one thing they really should fix.

    What I like is that international users can get more books available to them with the Kobo than is usual when buying from the U.S. when living abroad, from what I’ve read. Also, I listened to a conference presentation by Kobo folks and like their general attitude.

    The point about “better aesthetic and form factor” vs “guts” is an extremely important one that most reviewers miss (maybe due to lack of time or lack of interest in the actual functioning of the software and the capabilities).

  3. Great review as always from Teleread, good work

  4. And no DRM content on the SD card, either.

    I’m curious if there is some way to read B&N ePub on Kobo. It should be possible (or at least supported by the Adobe SDK that is on there), and if so, would not require ADE (which ironically cannot open these).

  5. I agree with most of what you say – but when you state the dictionary on kindle works with all ebooks- not only amazon books – I thought kindle did not work with any other books (kob0, library) so how can that be assessed when all you have on that reader must come from their bookstore? -If I am wrong please correct me as that is the only reason I don’t have a kindle – I would love one if I could read books from other sources like my public library.

  6. zeeke, there are ways to read other DRM-protected content, if you fiddle. A Google search can point you in the right direction. And of course, you can side-load any ebook that is NOT drm-protected. You can download free content at sites like Project Gutenberg, Manybooks, Mobile Read and Feedbooks. You can also purchase multiformat (drm-free) content, as well as download freebies, from Fictionwise, Smashwords, Baen and several other places.

  7. Power user? Strange term for an ereader user. Does that mean you read faster than the rest of us?

  8. Is wifi necessary for sideloading books? Nobody ever mentions it, so I’m wondering if I can use a USB cable to download book from my computer.

  9. Yes, Catana, you can

  10. Thank you, Joanna.

  11. The Kindle only works with mobi and prc files, but you can get those from a number of places (I get lots of books from Baen in mobi format). The dictionary, highlights, and notes functions work equally well on Amazon and non-Amazon books – you just can’t share highlights on non-Amazon books.

  12. Ron, I explain in the article what I mean by a power user. I am referring to more specialized features (e.g. customizable dictionaries) which many people may not want or need, but which those who do more specialized reading (e.g. foreign languages) might.

  13. I don’t share the dislike of the Kobo app and I didn’t find going to kobosetup.com on the first use worthy of “what a hassle!”. The Kobo app is also a reading alternative; it is superior to the ADE reader; an Kobo continues to improve its app.

    It’s only been five days, but I have not witnessed the ghosting issue on my unit. There has been some discussion of this online elsewhere … I wonder if this is something which “fades” overtime?

    I’ve done some serious reading with it — eight hours or so — and in that time I’ve also learned the technique of “tapping” with the tip of my right thumb: it’s flawless and works as well as a Kindle 3 button.

    I agree there are areas of improvement but also like to remind folks the Kobo reader has been pitched as being Simple. It’s gratifying to see how much Kobo has learned from the launched of the Original Kobo and Kobo WiFi. And the Kobo Touch has considerably more power, capability and improved user interface … without sacrificing Simple. I’d be willing to bet new users can get up and reading and getting full use of the Kobo Touch faster than the Kindle 3 (which remains my favourite device).

    Kobo has also demonstrated it is a serious player and intends to be considered side-by-side with Kindle, Sony, Nook and, remarkably, one year later, they have certainly won that place at the table. The regular upgrades of software, across its platform (Kobo WiFi, Macs, PCs, iOS4, Blackberry, Android, tablets) shows its clear intent to continue to make incremental adjustments.

    Bravo, Kobo Touch. You’re a heck of a lot of eReader for $130.

  14. Andrys Basten // June 15, 2011 at 3:19 pm //

    becca,
    The Kindle also indirectly supports (through emailing to the Kindle via Amazon servers which auto-converts them) Word Doc files, and it directly supports .txt files and of course non-DRM’d PDF ones. To your good list of places to get mobi, prc, txt, non-DRM’d pdf files, http://www.archive.org/details/texts, over 2 million.

    The ‘sharing’ is in two areas. One is what you choose to share from your private, password-protected annotations page (those are only for Amazon books), and the other is sharing a highlight w/note via sending to Facebook and Twitter, the latter type doable with personal files. The drawback on the latter is that the title is not included in the sharing and you’d need to type the title yourself into the accompanying note that’s sent.

  15. The Kobo Touch is great for an e-ink ereader and Kobo looks to be a company that could well challenge Amazon for the leadership of ebook distribution.

    It is easy to use and I too do not see the hassle others seem to think is there when you first set the device up for yourself.

  16. Until the Kindle supports epub, there is no reason to buy it IMO. I’ve purchased 3 Kobos for friends in the past, and finally one for myself. Having access to library content is crucial for my use and my friends.

  17. Kobo has an sd slot, reads epub, and handles pdfs much better than the kindle. I don’t care about the dictionary.

  18. When you look at things and see that Kobo has been in the market for just over a year you realize just how far they’ve come. In that year they have brought 3 readers to market. Sure they have room to improve but they have a decent product at a fair price and will only get better.

  19. @Alexander Inglis
    The ghosting effect only started with the latest software update which I got one week ago. The factory-installed version did not have this.

    Basically, what they did in that update is remove the full white-black-white page refresh when turning pages and replaced it with one that only refreshes the differences between pages. While this is faster, it isn’t perfect and leaves a “shadow” of the previous page behind on the next page. Even though they do a full refresh every 5th or 6th page which removes the ghosting again, I’d like to turn this “feature” off because I prefer better legibility over speed.

  20. Well, I’ve had my Kobo Touch for a week or so and I’m totally amazed by it. Let’s keep in mind it’s my first eReader… I guess it’s a bit like your first date, maybe anything looks exciting! 😉 Anyhow, I don’t care much about the ‘power user’ stuff as I read at most one book at a time, and rarely use the dictionnary although I used it once and it worked because I bought the book from Chapters/Indigo. The most important thing for me is, when I hold the eReader in my hand, can it be comfortable enough and realistic enough so that I forget I’m reading from an eReader? The answer is yes. The eInk is amazing and the Kobo Touch has the perfect form factor for me. I can read hours and it’s even easier than with a book, I don’t have to hold it in different ways depending on if I read on the left and right etc.

    The Kindle will never be an option for me, for the same reason I’ll never buy Apple products (iTunes, argh!). I don’t like “closed”, proprietery ecosystems. I like the epub format for the same reason I like Android.

    Thank you Kobo for a great Canadian product.

    PS: I experienced the ghosting problem a few times, and sometimes at the end of a chapter hitting the right side won’t go to the next page, have to hit twice or three times. I hope they fix that stuff in a future update.

  21. Willy,

    The ghosting “problem” on the Kobo touch was fixed in a firmware update yesterday (the 18th). There is now a user option in advanced settings to determine how often the screen does a full refresh. Personally the slight ghosting of the default setting (a complete page refresh each 6th page) hasn’t worried me in the slightest.

    Joanna,

    After searching for information on the ‘net, I find no credible sources that indicate that Amazon is even working on a Kindle 4, let alone what updates it would have over the 3. In fact, most articles indicated that Amazon was so happy with Kindle 3’s continuing levels of sales, that they are going to stick with that version for now.

    And when you say the Kindle has the better guts, I am assuming you mean software, as the Kobo has a much faster processor as well as memory expansion capability. Even so, software can be updated, and with Kobo’s quick response time at making firmware upgrades available, and their willingness to listen to customer feedback, I expect to see major changes in ways that users of the touch can access their book database soon.

  22. Kobo is a nogo: I bought one in April 2010, it was very very slow and basic but ok with me. In May 2011 the device stops reading pdf files, and then freezes (looks like it is programmed to die after the guarantee expires :) ).
    Resets/reboots did not change the situation, the Kobo suddenly became a useless screen. I emailed the manufacturer who is extremely quiet and did not answer my emails.
    I have ordered a kindle last week.
    If you want to waste 150$, just order a Kobo: It feels like an early 90s device distributed by crooks.

  23. Hi Joanna,

    The latest firmware allows you to use the dictionary within any e-book, not just Kobo publications. So #1 is no longer an issue. There’s also a whole bunch of bug fixes and useful feature enhancements (e.g. you can customize page turning – left-handers rejoice!). The Kobo Touch seems to get better with every software update!

    And for those complaining about the lack of 3G, why is this such a big deal? Is it really such a major hassle to find a Wi-Fi hot spot, or just update at home? I personally can’t find any justification for the increased device cost, nor the cost of a 3G wireless plan just for downloading books! iPhone owners can always use the personal hot spot feature if they really require immediate access to the latest Dan Brown ! 😉

    Cheers,
    Mark

    Cheers,
    Mark

  24. ComparingtheE-readers // November 13, 2011 at 11:59 am //

    Left side if kobo vox, middle is kobo touch, vvvvvvvright is normal kobo

    Compare eReaders
    FeaturesKobo Vox™Kobo TouchKobo
    Canadian Price$199$139$99
    AvailabilityAvailableAvailableAvailable
    ConnectivityWi Fi, USBWi Fi, USBWi Fi, USB
    Available ColoursHot Pink, Ice Blue, Lime Green, Jet BlackWhite, Black, Silver, Blue, LilacPorcelain, Onyx, Metallic Silver, Lilac
    NavigationInfrared Touch ScreenMulti-touch screenD-pad button
    Device Size192.4mm x 128.4mm165mm x 114.2mm184mm x 120mm
    Device Depth13.4mm10mm10mm
    Weight402.5g200g221g
    Diagonal Display Size7” Display6” E Ink® Pearl6” E Ink® Pearl
    Warranty1 year manufacturer’s1 year manufacturer’s1 year manufacturer’s
    Memory8 GB†2 GB†1 GB
    Memory (No. of eBooks)Up to 8,000Up to 1,000Up to 1,000
    Memory Expansion√√√
    Font Sizes42175
    Choice of Font Styles772
    Magnification√√x
    Built In-Dictionary√√x
    File Formats

    ePub, JPG, PNG, GIF, BMP, MOBI, MP3, ACC 3gp, mp4, flac, ogg, wav, mid, 3go, mp4, webmePUB, PDF, Adobe DRM, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, TIFF, TXT, HTML, RTF, CBZePub, PDF, Adobe DRM
    Bookmarking√√√
    Highlighting √ √ x
    Battery LifeUp to 7 hours with Wi Fi turned off‡ 1 month or 20,000 page turns‡ 2 weeks or 10,000 page turns
    Web Browsing √ x x
    Android™ Apps √ x x
    Music Player √ x x
    Email √ x x
    Reading Life √ √ x
    Kobo Pulse™ √ x x
    Video Player √ x x
    Audio

  25. ComparingtheE-readers // November 13, 2011 at 12:13 pm //

    here is a review of the NEW KOBO TOUCH no the old software

    Available Colors Lilac, Blue, Silver and Black
    Wireless Connectivity 802.11b/g/n
    Processor Freescale 508 Processor
    Device Size 114mm X 165mm (4.5 in. X 6.5 in.)
    Device Depth 10mm (0.4 in.)
    Weight 185g (6.5 oz.)
    Diagonal Display Size 6″ Pearl high contrast E Ink display
    Screen Grey-Scale 16 Level
    Storage 2GB*
    Memory Expansion Up to 30,000 eBooks with a 32 GB SD Memory Card
    Connectivity USB, Wi Fi
    Battery Life 1 month**
    Supported File Formats Books: EPUB, PDF and MOBI
    Documents: PDF
    Images: JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP and TIFF
    Text: TXT, HTML and RTF
    Comic Books: CBZ and CBR
    Pre-Loaded eBooks 15 Hand-Selected Free Previews
    Fonts 7 Font Styles, 17 Available Sizes
    Software New & Improved Free Kobo Desktop Software
    * 1GB is available to store content (over 1,000 ebooks).
    ** Dependent on individual usage. Actual results may vary.

  26. The power switch is a true piece of junk, sooner or later is gonna fail on you (mine is only few weeks some other might be luckier) and without the power switch kobo is pretty much unusable…
    check the web , there are hundreds of kobo owner with the same problem…

    whether is faulty design or programmed obsolescence i hardly recommend not to buy this scam!!!

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