22 June 2010

Kobo review -- includes instant DIY case info!

The first time I did any research on ebook readers was around 1994-95. E-ink was already being talked about, as was desktop synchronisation. Since the Web only started in 1995, people were talking about downloading a lot more than they were doing it.

I never got to actually handle any of the ebook readers I checked out back then. The first reader I've had a chance to take for a real test run was the Kobo I won at last Friday's Book Summit. The main place they seem to be sold in Canada is Chapters/Indigo.

The Kobo got its initial check-out over some post-Summit libations on a patio by the lake. The company that makes the Kobo is very smart about getting on a new customer's good side right away. The reader comes out of the box with enough of a battery charge for an initial play session, and 100 books are pre-loaded so you can start reading right away. There is only one page of settings to adjust, and then you're ready to read.

I already read ebooks a lot — I put free (and legal!) downloads from Craphound and elsewhere on my Nokia tablet, mostly PDFs. So I'm used to reading novels on a colour screen about the size of an slightly-larger-than-average smartphone. Given that, these are the things that jumped out at me about the Kobo:

Positives

  • I managed to choose the right date & time settings, adjust the reading font, flip through the catalogue of loaded books, choose a book, and start reading without ever looking at the manual. Having said that, taking a careful look at all the edges before you start playing with it in earnest is a good idea. Some of the buttons are so discreet that it isn't obvious where they are. Once you know where they are, they're easy to use and remember, but it's more pleasant to find them before you want to use them.
  • The device is light, light enough that you can comfortably hold it in one hand and read with it while waiting at a TTC stop for a long time — which is exactly what I did with it after I went to the Small Press Fair last Saturday. It's also more than light enough to read comfortably lying down.
  • It is also completely easy to read in bright sunlight. That TTC stop I just mentioned didn't have a shelter, and it was about four o'clock in the afternoon on a very bright day. No problems at all.
  • I didn't time it, but the battery seemed to charge very quickly. Although I've read about people having problems with battery life, my unit seems to be fine. Then again, I'm used to having to recharge my Nokia tablet every day because I use it so much, so I'm easy to please in that regard.

Negatives

  • I can read the Kobo fine under natural light and fluorescent tubing (ironic, since the latter gives me eyestrain headaches), but it seems too dim when I have lamps with energy-saving lightbulbs on at home. I knit, read on paper, and bead under the same lamps, so I know that normally they provide enough light. The Kobo seems to do better under the halogen reading lamp I have by my bed.
  • The navigation rosette (they call it a D-pad) doesn't always interpret a "next-page" click correctly. If my thumb really loses the mark, I can wind up in a menu or at the home page without meaning to, and have to wait for the book to load again to continue reading. So far it hasn't happened often, but if I did it a lot it would be annoying.
  • The desktop software, which is an essential install on your computer if you want to buy books for the Kobo, does not have an official Linux version. That means I can't buy new books for the device, because my home computer and my Nokia tablet/phone all run Linux.
About that last negative point: Kobo does have an unofficial Linux distro of its software. Unfortunately for me, it's compiled for 32-bit processors, and my laptop has a 64-bit processor. However, I want to take a moment here to thank them for thinking of Linux users. Just because we decided not to give money to Microsoft or Apple doesn't mean we won't cheerfully buy things from other companies!

Because I can't buy new books for it at the present time, I decided to give my won Kobo to my mum. She runs Windows, so she'll be able to install the required software just fine, and she's been coveting a Kobo (and specifically a Kobo) for a while now.

"You're going to need a case for it," I said when we talked about it over the phone. "I've been reading the reviews on the Chapters web site, and everyone says that protecting it from any accidental drops is very important."

"Does it feel fragile when you use it?" she said.

"Not for reading with it," I said. "But when I brought it along on the TTC, I was really glad my backpack had a pocket almost exactly the same size. I could see it getting smashed or cracked if you're rough with it. Probably true for all of these things."

"I'll have to watch out for that," she said. "Well, stick it in an oven mitt in the meantime until you give it to me. I'll have to figure out whether I'm going to buy one of those Roots cases or just sew my own."

I've talked about it on my other blog, but let it be known here as well that I don't come by this DIY stuff all by myself. A lot of it is inherited. Mum's completely right — the Kobo fits perfectly into a standard-size oven mitt, and gains a little eccentric je ne sais quoi that appeals to me, like when women use tea kettles or other found items as purses:

If I tie a length of grosgrain ribbon or seam tape to one side of the mitt and a button to the other side, I'll have a strap to keep the Kobo from slipping out if the oven mitt gets turned cuff-side-down, at the cost of less than 15 minutes of work! (Oven mitt: $3.99 for a matching pair of two at Canadian Tire.)

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