Today I’m going to be reviewing the Kobo eReader. This won’t be too formal a review–it’s just my thoughts and observations after owning one for a while.
I’ve had the basic Kobo for a little over a year now. Initially, I was reluctant to get an eReader because I *like* paper books- the feel of them in my hands, the look of the cover, the excitement of reading the description on the back, flipping through the first chapter to see if I want to read it all the way through. How am I supposed to get an author to sign an electronic file? And I have so many books, that I’ve spent so many years collecting- I certainly don’t want to get rid of them.
But, as a (then) library student, I knew that eReaders were becoming more and more popular, and as a hopeful librarian I thought I should probably know something about them, and the best way to do that was to get one.
In terms of the physical e-book, it’s pretty good. The size is in between a paperback and a hardcover, and the weight is fine. I added a red leather cover that looks like a book to mine which does add to the weight, but it’s still easy on my wrist. Since I keep mine inside the cover when I read, I can hold it like a book, which adds to the familiarity of the action.
One minor issue I do have is with the keypad. It’s on the lower right corner of the eReader, but even though I’m right-handed I hold books in my left hand, and my finger can’t stretch that far. It means that I need to use both hands to turn the pages of the e-book. It would make more sense to me to put the keypad in the center of the bottom of the device, so it would be easier to manipulate whether you were holding the book in your right or left hand. I don’t know if there’s a particular reason for placing it in the lower right corner- any guesses from the audience?
The power button is on top, it plugs in at the bottom, and the menu buttons are on the left. No problems with those placements.
The screen is decently sized, and it’s easy to change the size of the font if I have trouble reading a particular book. The e-ink style, of black letters on a grey screen, is easy to read in bright light. It can be difficult to read in dimmer light, but that is easily rectified by either turning on the lamp or buying one of the little clip-on lights they sell.
The casing has been fairly durable- as I said, I did buy a case for mine, but I tend to be a bit hard on electronics. The right-side part of the keypad seems to have sunken in below the casing slightly, but it does still work fine. It wipes off fairly well when I’ve spilled drops or crumbs on it. I do occasionally clean the screen with electronic/glass wipes, and anything stuck to it comes right off. All in all, the hardware is just fine and I’ve had no problems with it.
I’ll be dividing the software into two parts: the Kobo Desktop software for my laptop, and the software actually on the ebooks.
The Kobo Desktop software is really just a way to buy books, magazines and newspapers from Kobo and to put them onto your device. It has no options to manage the ebooks on your device. You can read the ebooks on your desktop, but only the ebooks you’ve gotten from Kobo. If you get ebooks from another source, Kobo Desktop won’t acknowledge them. In terms of searching for ebooks to buy, it is very difficult. There is no way to narrow down your search results. It’s easy to find anything that Kobo recommends or that appears on a bestseller list, but if you want anything specific or harder to find, you either need a very specific search term, or you’ll have to winnow through several pages including some very irrelevant results. Likely both.
For example, when I searched for “Rosemary Rowe”, I got 13 results, of which only 4 were correct. There was no way for me to specify that I wanted books by the author Rosemary Rowe- there was only the one basic search box. The other 9 results had no discernible connection–the authors’ names weren’t even close, the titles were wrong, and there was nothing in the descriptions that contained the words Rosemary or Rowe.
The books have a wide range of prices, starting from about $0.98 and going up, but the majority tend to be quite expensive, often costing as much as a new hardcover or paperback physical book. This part is personal preference, but I’m not paying the same price for an e-book as for a paper book–I’ve never bought an e-book from Kobo for that reason.
All in all, the Kobo Desktop is extremely limited and as I already said it’s really just a way for you to buy Kobo ebooks. If you want a really good, useful e-library management program, I can’t recommend Calibre enough- it’s free, easy to use, and lets you manipulate your ebooks however you want, from changing the format to changing the metadata to putting ebooks on your device. I’ll be doing a proper review of Calibre later, but it is actually specifically mentioned in the Kobo user manual.
Kobo takes either epub or pdf files, both quite common. It holds approximately 1000 ebooks, and came preloaded with 100 free classics. You can search through the books on the device alphabetically by either title or author, but not by series. Since I like to group series books together and read them in order, I get around that by using Calibre to change the title to include the series name and number, eg. Hunger Games 1: The Hunger Games or HP 7: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. There’s also an I’m Reading page that you can use to shortcut to anything that you’ve recently added to the device or any book that you have open.
When reading the actual book, as I said the e-ink display is easy to read and it is simple to change the size of the font–just use the up and down buttons on the keypad to make the font larger or smaller. Right and left on the keypad turn the pages, or you can use the menu button on the left of the eReader to skip to specific pages or chapters. I find that turning the pages is a bit slow, but I read very quickly. Graphics can be a problem, since the Kobo doesn’t handle them well at all–there is one Sherlock Holmes story where he draws symbols to outline how he solved the mystery, but they aren’t shown at all on the Kobo version. The sharpness of the book covers tends to depend on the original image- since all the pictures are in black and white, there is little definition between what were originally colours.
One thing that is a problem is footnotes. The Kobo can’t handle them at all, so you have to find the end notes page and skip to it, and then remember what page you were on and skip back to it. This process is simple to do, but extremely slow and very frustrating if you have multiple footnotes that you have to read. In the case of Terry Pratchett, he tends to put a lot of jokes in as footnotes, so you either have to constantly interrupt your reading to slowly go to the footnote and back, or read straight through and read the footnotes at the end, when you have forgotten the context of each of the jokes. The Kobo is alright for most novels, since they don’t tend to include footnotes (Pratchett aside), but it’s not ideal for textbooks.
The internal dictionary is a bit limited- it is only in English, and has fewer historical words. This can be a problem since it does come preloaded with the classics, which can at times use somewhat obscure words.
I have found that my Kobo is useful in certain circumstances, primarily when I’m traveling or just out of the house. I always like to have a book with me- I even choose purses based on whether they’ll hold a book as well as the rest of my junk. The Kobo is slim, light, and reasonably sized, so it’s easy to carry around. If I’m close to the end on one book, I have several hundred more to choose from, instead of bringing a new book to start before I’ve finished the last or carrying two books, increasing the size and weight. I remember going on a trip for several days and bringing a backpack stuffed with books, and still running out of things to read–the Kobo is much more compact and carries many more books than I could in paper form. The battery has to be charged from a computer, but lasts a couple of weeks of long daily use, so I’ve rarely had a problem with that.
Even though I was reluctant at first, I warmed up to my Kobo quickly. The software could be improved, but by using Calibre I’ve gotten around the worst of my complaints, so I really don’t use the Kobo Desktop software at all. The sheer convenience of carrying as many books as I want, many of which I don’t own physically (and many of which I do) is wonderful. In addition, I have some items which have only been published as e-books, such as the Young Wizards New Millennium editions or the Derrick Storm e-novellas.
And of course, having an e-book makes it much easier to cut-and-paste the quotes that I include in my book reviews. I definitely don’t have the time to transcribe the more extensive passages that I sometimes include in my reviews.
So for sheer convenience, I love my eReader. For nostalgia, I’m still not getting rid of my paper books, and I do still read them. And I’ve still got that big pile of advanced reader copies from the OLA Super Conference to go through. Having too many books to read will always be my favourite problem, which is good considering just how big my to-read pile is right now…