Reading with Kobo

Kobo, boxed
The Kobo is still in the box, clearly

Electronic book readers have been around for some time, but I only recently started using one: the Kobo, produced by – wait for it – Kobo, based somewhere in Ontario.

The Kindle is the obvious leader in the e-reader market, largely since it is backed by Amazon. I looked at the Kindle, but in my opinion it tries to do too much – it has a keyboard, a basic web browser, and can even play music. Too much for what, in my view, should be a simple device for doing a simple thing: reading. The Kobo is a better match for my preference, and it being of Canadian origin doesn’t hurt either!

Box contents
Not very much is in the box, but then not much is needed

Getting started is really simple. Unpacking the box yields the Kobo itself, a USB cord, and a manual. The only way to charge the Kobo is to connect it to a computer via the USB cord. One less cord, but requires a computer. There was a bit of a charge on the device already, so turning it on and browsing the contents was a simple task.

The Kobo ships with 100 classic novels preloaded, written by the likes of Jules Verne, Charles Dickens, and H.G. Wells. The Kobo bookstore also has a freebies section, where additional free ebooks can be downloaded. These are mostly additional classics, though there are also more contemporary novels in the mix. There seems to be some overlap between preloaded novels and the extra free ones available online – after downloading a bunch of these, I had two of the same book in a few cases.

Kobo closeup
Showing the Kobo's main screen

Reading is simple. From the main screen, select a book, using the control pad, and “click” by pressing the centre of the pad. There is a short wait while the book loads, then reading commences. Turn pages by pressing the left or right side of the control pad; page changes have a bit of a lag, more than it would take to turn a physical page. It’s not bad as it is, but any longer and it would get frustrating quickly.

The controls on the left side of the device, Home, Menu, Shop, and Back do just as they sound. Home returns the user to the main screen, Menu brings up the device menu, Shop provides access to the shopping mode (I prefer doing this on a computer as it’s less painful), and back changes your view to where you were previously (except if on the home screen), or removes the side menu if it is visible.

I’ve purchased numerous books from the Kobo store. There is a good variety, and the prices are less than equivalent paperback versions. I’ve also been able to sideload, via my computer, a number of books (in ePub format) from other sources, as well as some magazines (phpArchitect and Hacker Monthly). The Kobo has quite a bit of storage onboard, but can be supplemented with an SD memory card to expand the storage, especially useful for sideloading extra reading materials.

Syncing Kobo to computer
The Kobo reader can be connected to a computer and be synced via the Kobo software

There is an application for computers, supporting Windows and Mac. This can be used to sync book purchases from the bookstore, and read downloaded books on the computer – a nice facility in addition to the Kobo itself. The device has the capability to connect to WiFi networks to directly sync from the store; it can also be connected to a computer with the Kobo software installed, and be synced via the software.

If that wasn’t enough, Kobo also provides reading software for smartphones, essentially a scaled-down version of the computer-based application. Smartphones don’t have very big screens, so this facility isn’t as useful as the actual device or the computer-based software, but it’s still nice to have the option. I had this working nicely on my BlackBerry Tour, useful for doing little bits of reading while waiting for a bus or the like, where I had a few minutes to spare.

Kobo recently released an updated version of the device. It features a touch screen, a minimized single physical button on the front, and a redesigned back. It was announced just two weeks after I got my second-generation device, and I’m not at all bothered by that. I’m quite happy with my Kobo as it is.

I’m not planning to switch completely to electronic books anytime soon, though my ratio of text on paper to text in bytes may eventually change. For the moment, an e-reader is a supplement to my existing library and to any future reading materials I like to have in physical form.

The bottom line: the Kobo is a simple device. I recommend it as the ebook reader to use for the first-time ebook user. It’s inexpensive, simple to set up, and a breeze to use.