Kobo Touch

New Zealand PC World editor Zara Baxter reviews Kobo's latest e-reader.

NameeBook reader: Kobo Touch
At a glance:6-inch touch-screen eBook reader with eInk version 6,New features and much better responsiveness than previous NZ Kobo model,Features Facebook sharing, reading awards and statistics
Summary:Whether you’re after large print or a comfortable hand-held reader for your next vacation, the Kobo Touch is worth a look.
RRP:$179 (TBC)

I have to say that using the Kobo Touch has been a very friendly experience. When switched off initially, it had a smiling computer as its home screen, and similarly while sleeping and charging. These change once you install the software to run the Kobo and download books onto it, but it makes a good first impression.

Also pleasing is its convenient size – with a 6-inch screen, it really does fit into your hand neatly. The on-off switch at the top and single home button at the bottom are the only decoration, and the rear of the device is a smooth, nicely tactile quilted-feel plastic. New in this version is a micro-USB slot for charging, which makes for easy compatibility with PC, Mac and wall chargers. It’s also robust, surviving several days unprotected in my bags without ill-effect.

Setup is a simple matter, though it does require a computer (PC or Mac) in order to install the Kobo desktop software, which finalizes the updates and software setup on the Kobo Touch.

It took around 15 minutes, all up, including the time taken to download the software.

The Touch uses eInk Pearl (version 6), which is also the technology behind the Sony Touch readers and Amazon’s Kindle DX. The newly announced Kindle readers use Triton, which is an even more recent eInk version.

The last version of the Kobo eBook Reader we tested used eInk version 4 and according to those who’ve recently used an eInk 4 gadget on our team – a Kindle International and Kobo – the improvement in speed and responsiveness is noticeable between version 4 and 6.

With eInk version 4, the entire screen blacked out, then refreshed with the new page text, each time you turned a page. eInk Pearl instead lets you click through six pages by default before it refreshes the screen with a black-to-white transition. This means that you get a little bit of ghosting in exchange for much-improved speed. The previous page text outline remains – for four of five pages worth of outlines – until the refresh, akin to seeing text through the back of a printed page. I found the ghosting caused a little bit of text blurring, so that the edges of letters could appear fuzzy. Fortunately, you can change the settings for refresh frequency.

The six-inch size means that a page is relatively small, but still holds a decent amount of text. You can adjust the font size readily by pressing in the centre at the base of the page to bring up the settings. At largest print size, this works out to around four lines and 5-10 total words per page, but you can shrink the text down to fit a massive 34 lines of text in an eye-wateringly tiny (but still readable) 5-point font. The selection of typefaces include both serif and sans-serif, all “web optimised” fonts, for maximum readability.

It’s very comfortable to read, even for extended periods of time – my usual ebook reader is an iPad, and I appreciated the lack of backlight combined with high contrast, though I missed some text sharpness.

You can adjust the line spacing, margin width and justification as you prefer. A tickbox labelled “Kobo Styling” in the text settings didn’t appear to do very much, but adjusts the font-smoothing characteristics. Although we’d have liked swipe gesture capability in its touch sensitive screen, you can adjust it for left- or right-handed page turning, and its responsiveness is good.

The settings include a number of other handy features – we liked the “timeline” that shows where chapter breaks occur, the dictionary and translation options, and the ability to bookmark, search and share quotes or commentary about your reading on Facebook. The Kobo Facebook app is particularly fun: you even earn awards for your reading and social bookreading exploits which can rapidly involve other readers. This is also tracked through a section labelled “Reading Life” on the home screen of the Kobo Touch, which not only tracks your awards, but also your reading speed, pages read, and sessions, among other stats.

The only downside to sharing on Facebook using the Kobo Touch is that the keyboard is relatively small and quite slow – expect to press a key, then wait, then press again.

And while we’re talking about minor drawbacks, it’s also worth noting that the sleep screen for the Kobo Touch is still a banner displaying the book title and percentage complete for the book you’re currently reading – fine if you’re reading something salutary, but perhaps less excellent when you’re reading something a little more scurrilous or dubiously-titled.

New Zealand readers get access to a decently large selection of books through the Kobo Store. The prices are displayed in US dollars, and as an example, Terry Pratchett’s new release Snuff costs US$12.19 (PayPal or credit card) through the Kobo Store, compared to the Amazon Kindle store price of US$12.58. the price differences in general aren’t large, and I don’t think they would be enough to change your mind over which reader you should get. Other factors, such as features and reading comfort, are far more important.

Battery life is excellent – I was reading on my iPad and the Kobo alternately, and charged the iPad twice over the period through which I used half the battery charge on the Kobo Touch.

Overall, the Kobo Touch a solid, affordable eReader that provides a pleasurable reading experience. It will no doubt prove a welcome addition to many stockings this Christmas.

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Zara Baxter

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