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!
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!