Koko: A Review of the Kobo E-book Reader

ebooks kindle amazon For the past few weeks I’ve been mulling over picking up an e-book reader for a few reasons:

1) The ability to avoid having to print out journal articles (so the device needed to support PDF files)

2) The ability to port my library of “in progress books” with me (I usually read a few books in the same period of time)

3) I’m running out of room – my room, while slightly larger than a closet, is space limited. Now, I could merely get rid of books I don’t plan to re-read, but that would make way too much sense. Also, I could never pass up an opportunity to play with a new gadget.

Anyhow, I’ve been looking at a few readers, trying to get one “on sale” (read: used, and priced below market value) on eBay. Oh the joys of being a near-no-income student. Anyhow, I eventually gave up, noting that the average I’d pay for a used e-book reader like the Sony PRS-505 is about 150 CAD. The Barnes & Noble Nook is probably the ideal device at this point in time, running Android, and having a fancy colour screen below the e-ink screen, but I wasn’t willing to pay 350 CAD for such a device. With that in mind, and the cajoling of one of my friends, I picked up a “Koko” at Chapters. He didn’t quite get the name of the Kobo exactly right, hence the title of this post. All in good fun, I promise.

Anyhow, here are some images of the device and its packaging:

1 - Kobo Box - resize

Kobo Box, sans French advertising

2 - Kobo Interior Box

Kobo interior box

3 - Kobo Box Opened

Kobo interior box unfolded

4 - Kobo Components

Kobo components

5 - Device - off

The Kobo itself with screen protector, to avoid damage during shipping.

6 - Device - Power on

The Kobo powering on, with USB cable connected.

7 - Kobo Set-up

Kobo first set-up screen.

8 - Kobo App Install - web

Installed Windows Kobo management application.

9 - Kobo Store - web

The ITunes.. err.. Kobo Store!

The hardware:

The device itself is rather light, and really well designed. The textured backing also comes in handy, and slightly reduces the probability of accidentally dropping it (which I appreciate, given my phenomenal coordination). The device doesn’t come with any bells or whistles – it uses a standard Linux based operating system, provides USB connectivity (for data management and charging), and that’s it. No WI-FI, no 3G, no fancy colour screen to browse your books. The battery supposedly lasts about 2 weeks, obviously dependant on use and how many pages you flip. All in all I’m happy with the device itself – does what it was meant to do, which is allow you to read text. No iPad for me, hippies.

One issue I’ve had revolves around the hardware being a little less than cutting edge – turning the thing on takes a subjectively fair bit of time. There’s also a noticeable delay when using the navigation menus on the device. Certainly not a deal breaker, but something to keep in mind. Also, from an aesthetic design point of view, the fisher price blue D-Pad leaves a little to be desired. For 150 Canadian though, I can live with it.

Readability:

So far, I’ve read about a chapter of Seth Godin’s Linchpin, and the readability is great (file in EPUB format). E-ink is definitely wayyyy easier on the eyes than an LCD screen. The device presently supports both EPUB and PDF format. The Kobo comes with a feature to “resize” text, however on the one EPUB book I tried, it didn’t seem to work properly. From what I’ve been reading over at the mobileread forums this is a problem with EPUB documents not adhering to standards expected by the device. The 100 included titles that *do* conform to the expected standard should all resize properly. The one PDF i transferred over (random journal article) worked perfectly, and was quite readable. I’m well on my way to doing my part to save the rainforests, or some such thing.

Where to get books:

The best location to track down public domain books is Project Gutenberg and feedbooks, where you can find some classics like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, or Ulysses by James Joyce, if you’re feeling masochistic. Gutenberg also provides a list of the top 100 titles they have at this link. If you happen to have ebooks in other formats, you can use the great Calibre, to convert your documents to EPUB, and transfer them to the Kobo, without using the Kobo provided software. Calibre also provides great e-book management – worth a look. There are of course a variety of e-stores (the Kobo store, Amazon, etc.) where you can purchase e-books for your Kobo (remember to look for EPUB format).

Nuisances:

The Kobo comes loaded with 100 public domain books, however, they don’t provide an easy way to *delete* them from the device. Totally not well thought out – it makes your book list needlessly longer, and if you’re looking for a specific title, can increase the time required to get to it. There’s a work around to at the useful MobileReads thread on Kobo tips and tricks.

For whatever reason, there’s no way to jump to a specific page number. If you were reading paperback copy of a book such as Tigana (awesome, by the way), and wanted to  jump to the same page number on your Kobo, you’d manually have to hit the right button on the d-pad a fair number of times, to get where you wanted to go (it changes pages, one at a time). If you were on page 220, you would first need to jump to the corresponding chapter using the table of contents, then manually navigate to the correct page using the d-pad. From a usability standpoint, this is definitely not well thought out.

There’s presently no support for annotating documents, or highlighting text. Not much to say on this, beyond the fact that for a device that wants to mimic a paper book, this is extremely limiting.

When you copy books to the device, and disconnect it from your machine, it processes the documents, which can take a chunk of time. I would strongly suggest *not* sending over thirty books at a time.

On the bright side, the Kobo developers have been really responsive, and have commented on community threads. They’re aware of concerns and issues, and are working to fix them. The next firmware update will apparently be focussed on fixing bugs, so we’ll probably have to wait three to six months or so, before any new features are introduced.

Conclusion:

All in all a great reading device – if you’ve read my notes above, and aren’t scared away, it’s probably worth the price, if you read a book every few weeks. I’m planning to take the thing with me to Vancouver, which should be nice – given I won’t have to pack multiple books in my bag. I’m looking forwards to future firmware updates, to resolve some of the issues mentioned above.

If you want to read another review, nouspique and Kris Abel of CTV News have decent write-ups.

If you want to see a write-up on the release issues with the Kobo (there are a bunch, though I’m not nearly as bothered as the post author), you can find a good write-up here:

http://bookbee.posterous.com/kobo-growing-pains-user-issues-and-my-prescri

Addendum – Fixes for random issues:

Getting rid of the 100 project Gutenberg books (to facilitate easier book browsing):


1) Connect your Kobo, open the device from your disk manager, and delete the sqlite database (back it up if you like, should you wish to restore your Kobo to its previous state)
2) delete the image cache files, leave the directory intact (there’s an images folder that caches cover images – given you’ve deleted the database, you now probably have 100 cover images which are unnecessary)
3) restart kobo to recreate database – it will have no books (even if you copied some over to your kobo using calibre previously)
4) run the kobo desktop app, and hit sync – this will fix database related navigational issues

Fixing borked EPUB font resizing:


1) Open the EPUB with 7zip (or rename the file to a .zip and open it with your archive program of choice)
2) Delete the stylesheet.CSS file
3) Close and save the archive, renaming it to its prior state (if you renamed it to .zip, change the file extension back to .epub)

**Update: The Kobo VP posted information on the coming fixes – the firmware should hit June 28th:

http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=87406

http://www.teleread.com/2010/06/17/kobo-ceo-replies-to-issues-raised-by-telereads-joanna/

Voila,

Syd

Header image courtesy of Libraryman – ebooks kindle amazon / CC BY 2.0

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Author: sylint

I'm a business analyst, working in Information Management and Information Technology. Technically, I'm a librarian, though I prefer to think of myself as professionally varied.

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