Kobo Touch Review

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My Kobo Touch after I finally lost the rag and whacked it on a table

My Kobo Touch after I finally lost the rag and whacked it on a table

SUMMARY:

A poor quality but useable Ereader that is essentially spyware to sell you books but at least allows you to read epub books unlike the Kindle.

GOOD:

  • Touchscreen works ok.
  • Supports epub and pdf.
  • Feels nice in hand.
  • Good battery life.

BAD:

  • Is essentialy spyware – default settings record activity and sends to kobo.
  • Annoyingly reliant on a computer and/or Kobo store.
  • Lo-resolution, low contrast screen.
  • Slow page turns.
  • Small buttons on screen.
  • Usability could be better.
  • Buggy – often page turns don’t register.
  • Not very durable.

If, like me, you like to do a fair bit of reading while cycle touring, an E-book reader can save a fair bit of weight. You can carry thousands of books in a device that weighs no more than a single paperback, and only needs occassional charging.

I went for a Kobo as it can read epub books as opposed to the proprietary-format only Kindle.

Setting up the device was a pain in the neck and involves creating a Kobo account. You can’t simply load epub books onto the device as I had hoped. Without the account the device is unusable, which is rubbish. Be aware that when you set up the account the default settings on the Kobo will track all your reading behaviour and send it to Kobo in order to recommend books to you. This isn’t at all obvious and is really quite unacceptable.

Physically the device is very nice. It sits in the hand well, is a good weight, has a nice grip, and the screen is nice and matte – it doesn’t glare or pick up fingerprints like a smartphone. The touch aspect of the screen works well enough, though sometimes it doesn’t register taps and some of the onscreen buttons are poorly placed and a little small for large fingers.

The quality of the screen for reading isn’t too great though. For some reason Ebook manufacturers decided that 166 dpi was adequate for screen readers. It isn’t. Small text looks horribly pixelated and can be hard to read, particularly if trying to view pdfs. The contrast is also very poor. With large text in good light the screen is bearable but it really isn’t great.

The usability of the device has room for improvement but is generally adequate. It would be nice if the main screen showed the book title rather than just a picture, as books from Gutenberg, for example, generally don’t come with a picture. Finding settings isn’t intuitive and moving about within a book is a real nuisance compared to flicking through a paper book. You also have to get used to waiting a second or two for taps to register, which, compared to the speed of most touch devices can be frustrating. With a little patience though the Kobo Touch is reasonably useable. However, it is annoying that there is no way to delete books from the Kobo without a computer or logging into the Kobo store. It would also be nice to be able to mark a book as read manually, otherwise the Kobo never registers it unless you go all the way through to the very final page, even when there are appendices.

The ability to view pdfs is nice, however, the poor screen quality makes them very hard to read without zooming in, and trying to move about the page when zoomed is horrendous. In addition, for some inexplicable reason the Kobo insists on adding page numbers at the bottom of the page, which hide the content on the page! There seems to be no way to turn this annoying ‘feature’ off.

The way battery life is measured on Ereaders is dishonest and misleading. Most manufacturers measure it in terms of months, but this is assuming the device is used for 1/2 hour a day. So a battery life of one month is about 15 hours – not much longer than most mobiles. By that measure the battery life on my laptop would be nearly a month, which is clearly nonsense. Why not simply measure battery life in terms of hours or page turns? I found in practice I got a few weeks out of the Kobo reading a couple of hours a day.

Although it looks quite durable the Kobo is pretty flimsy. I accidentally dropped mine onto a hard floor, only from sitting height, and the case cracked open. I managed to get it back together again but it never was quite the same. The battery performance dropped steeply after about 18 months use and eventually I gave up on it.

Price and value

For the price I paid – £70 – I think the Kobo Touch is reasonable value and they can be obtained cheaper now. However, this device is now several years old and even when it came out I was disappointed with the screen resolution and general performance. I would have expected Ereaders to have moved on considerably so am surprised this is still being sold. There are better devices now but the resolution on them is still quite low.

Ereaders are a bit of a scam. While they are sold as reading devices, they are actually more like an interface to a single retailer’s online bookstore. The Kobo is more open than other devices but still it cannot be used without the Kobo account, which by default tracks your reading activity. If you’re the sort of person who prefers real books I certainly wouldn’t suggest moving to an Ereader. If you really want the extra portability be aware that your Ereader will probably be recording your reading activity. For cycle touring I would recommend a case as the Kobo Touch isn’t very durable – an padded envelope does the job fine.

Summary

The Kobo Touch is reasonably light, has good battery life and holds a lot of books, but the screen and interface are poor. Beware the default settings which track your reading activity.

4/10

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