Kobo Nia review: Few thrills, fewer compromises

Kobo Nia
  • Kobo Nia
  • Kobo Nia
  • Kobo Nia
  • Expert Rating

    3.25 / 5

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Solid e-Ink display
  • Library integration

Cons

  • No physical buttons

Bottom Line

If you want to chew through a few MOBI files without breaking the bank or buying into Amazon’s ecosystem, the Kobo Nia is a natural candidate.

Would you buy this?

The Pitch

I haven’t been eager enough on eBooks to replace my Kindle since it died on me but, if you’re like me and keen to arm yourself with quality digital literature ahead of your next local coronavirus-related lockdown, the Kobo Nia pitches itself as a compelling option. 

It’s as lightweight as you’d like and if you want to chew through a few MOBI files without breaking the bank or buying into Amazon’s ecosystem, it’s a natural candidate. 

Specs

  • Dimensions: 112.4 x 159.3 x 9.2 mm  

  • Weight: 172g

  • Ports: MicroUSB

  • Battery: 1000mAh

  • Storage: 8GB

  • Water Resistant: No

  • Display: 6-inch E-Ink

  • Backlight: Yes

Price

In Australia, the Kobo Nia retails for AU$149 through Kobo.com and select retailers.

Design & Performance

At a glance, the Kobo Nia looks like a fairly typical eReader. It’s a grey plastic slab with a monochromatic e-ink display squished into the center of it. Given the entry-level price tag, this unoriginality is hardly a sin. All the same, if you’re expecting Nia to redefine what a thrifty eReader can or should look like, you might come away disappointed. It’s another one of those in more ways than not. 

Aside from the Kobo logo on the front, the device is fairly featureless. The screen takes up most of the real-estate here while the Micro USB and SIM ports lurk on the bottom-most edge. The reverse side of the piece features an almost perforated design and a second logo but little else to speak of. 

The Nia is available in a single color - black - but you can dress it up using one of Kobo’s three SleepCovers: either Black, Aqua or Lemon. 

Credit: Kobo

For what it’s worth, this barebones design does yield some unexpected dividends. It doesn’t feel like a fancy piece of tech and with a form-factor that weighs just 172g, it’s extremely easy to just chuck in a bag if you’re looking to take it with you. Though it’s probably worth investing in some sort of cover regardless, the Nia isn’t the kind of tech purchase that has you overly worried about incurring scratches or scuff-marks.

Under the hood, the Kobo Nia comes equipped with 8GB of on-board storage. Kobo says that number works out to around 6000 eBooks. In terms of formats, the Kobo Nia will play nice with HTML, MOBI, PDF, TXT, EPUB and RTF files. I’m an EPUB kind-of guy but it’s nice to know I have options. 

Unfortunately, the Nia doesn’t really do audiobooks nor does it work with subscription services or Amazon’s Kindle store. Instead, it’s integrated with the Kobo Store (which is fair enough) and OverDrive (which I actually didn’t know existed before sitting down to review this thing). 

The latter is particularly nifty, assuming your local library supports the service and I dig that the Nia actively integrates it as an equal alternative to buying eBooks outright and doesn’t just privilege their own platform when it comes to the way the interface is designed. 

I was less thrilled by the lack of physical buttons on this thing. If you’re a veteran of the genre, I can’t imagine this detail will be a deal-breaker but I often found myself frustrated that the touch screen on the Nia was too slow or sometimes outright unresponsive. What’s more, typing on this thing is also a particularly painful experience if you’ve got larger hands. 

Credit: Kobo

Still, as someone who usually does the bulk of their e-reading on a tablet or phone screen, I appreciated the gentler display on the Kobo Nia. For an e-ink display, it’s surprisingly sharp and boasts an unexpectedly endearing level of contrast. It also compares favorably against Amazon’s own entry-level Kindle with a higher pixel-per-inch (212 PPI) and an extra backlight. 

Despite the digital element, reading on the Kobo Nia doesn’t feel like you’re staring at yet another screen. That being said, I did also find myself wincing at how slow and charmless it felt to read on this thing.

There’s a case to be made for lo-fi but despite not using a dedicated e-reader for seven or eight years, the Kobo Nia didn’t really feel like that much of an upgrade on what I remember my old Kindle offering. I’m sure if I was a more diehard eBooks person, I’d pick up on more details here but I can’t help but wish those iterative and technical improvements were a little more obvious for everyday users. 

For now, reading ebooks on an iPad or Galaxy Note smartphone feels much smoother even if it does put a little more strain on my eyes than an E-Ink based solution like this one.

Battery Life

Running down the battery on an ereader like the Kobo Nia is a little tricky given these things are designed to run for weeks at a time on a single charge. 

Kobo specifically claims the Nia can deliver “reading for weeks on end with a single charge, depending on individual usage." This isn’t particularly far off what Amazon’s stable of Kindle devices claim. 

Apart from the flagship Oasis, most Kindle’s also tout ‘weeks’ of battery life per charge. As a result, the Nia doesn’t feel like it has all that much of an edge nor does it feel like it lags behind the curve when it comes to battery life.  

The Bottom Line

Even if it's a cheap way to replace my old Kindle, the Nia doesn't do enough to make me feel like the future of eReaders like it is anything better than the past. The battery life is better and the screen is undoubtedly sharper but it feels like the category itself has yet to find a way to evolve and become more than what it already is.

Then again, maybe it's a little unfair to hoist those great expectations upon the humble Nia. After all, it's an entry-level eReader. Ultimately, affordability is its biggest interest and asset.

If saving a few bucks matters more to you than features like water resistance or audiobook integration, this might be an option worth investigating. Across the board, it’s more concerned with function than flair though it doesn’t make much of an argument for why you should choose it over the other options beyond the obvious. 

In some ways, the Nia feels built around the assumption that you’ve already written off or are leaning away from buying off a Kindle than it is interested in making that kind of case for itself.  It isn’t a Kindle-killer but it’s not trying to be one. Instead, the Nia settles for being a perfectly competent alternative to Amazon’s e-reader with few thrills and even less compromises.

Credit: Fergus Halliday

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