Ramblings of a Techno-Viking

Kobo Ereader review

Just over a month ago, I splurged and bought a Kobo Ereader in one of the many Borders bookstores that was closing for $50. During my trip to Quartzsite I found my laptop screen was pretty much unreadable even in the shade when there was bright sunlight. The E-Ink display on the Kobo is quite readable in conditions from dim to direct sunlight, and even mixed sunlight/shade. In some lighting conditions you do get irritating reflections on the screen though. The screen size is a bit smaller than a paperback, and you can adjust the type size and style. In the "large" sans-serif font I have been using, it displays about a quarter of a book page on the screen at a time. The screen is black and white, and does not use power except to change the display, so when the unit is "off" or in "sleep" it shows the cover of the book you are currently reading. The display is rather slow and takes a second or two to change.

My test was most of the 1632 series of books by Eric Flint and a cast of dozens published by Baen Books. That's about 15 books, averaging four or five hundred pages each.

The battery is a non-replaceable rechargeable that needs a USB port to charge from. (Charger not included.) The estimated two weeks per change is way optimistic, I got the "you need to charge now" screen after about four days. (After that, I just plugged it into my computer every few days to charge so I wouldn't have that happen at an inconvenient time. The manual estimates that when it is 5 years old the battery life will be reduced to 20%, which is probably based on the same light usage the two weeks is. It has a pushbutton power switch to change it between off, on, and sleep modes that seems to work randomly -- many times a quick flick will turn it to off mode, and sometimes a several second push will put it in sleep mode. (It is supposed to go off with a three second push, sleep with a shorter one.) Sometimes it will completely ignore the push. From sleep mode it only takes a few seconds to get back to where you were reading, from off it takes about 30 seconds and an extra button push to get you to the top of the page you were on. (Which may be several screens back from where you were.) If you leave it too long on one page, (at least 15 minutes) it will go into sleep mode automaticly.

The user interface is a cluster of 5 buttons on the lower right of the unit, four buttons on the left side, and the power button on the top side. Almost all of the button presses are on the right button to go to the next (sub) page. This is easy to do when the unit is held single-handedly in the right hand, but awkward when held in the left hand. The Home button really doesn't offer anything the menu button doesn't, and I've never used the shop button or the wifi interface. (The wifi is apparently only good for buying books from Borders -- you need to USB cable to manage your book collection from your computer.) The USB connector on the bottom side is a mildly irritating bump some ways of holding the unit, it would be better to have it on the top with the power button.

The Kobo will only handle epub books and pdf documents. The free program Calibre (in Debian, also available for many other operating systems) can be used to convert from other formats to epub, but has problems with many of the Baen books I tried it on. (I was always able to get it to convert one of the other formats Baen had though.) Depending on the format being converted from, the author and a pointer to the cover image may need to be manually specified to get them on the book. I generally didn't bother, so many of my books are by unknown with the default Calibre cover.

While Calibre can be used to manage the contents of the Kobo, I found it much easier to just treat it as a removable disk. (There is also a Linux version of the Kobo software that I didn't try.) Both the gigabyte of built-in storage and the sd card in the Kobo show up as disks to Linux. The manual for the Kobo says that it supports a 32gb card, but the online documentation says 4gb max. I've only tried a 2gb card. I was able to write a little script that copied books from the twenty or so Baen CDs to the SD card, converting if needed, mostly not sending multiple copies of the same book from different CDs. It takes a few seconds to check for new content on the SD card when turning the unit on, and can take quite a while when there are hundreds of new books on the SD.

Pictures do not display well on the Kobo, and it only shows the left portion on most of them. Of course they are only black and white.

PDF documents are also not handled well. There are only a few choices of magnification, and scrolling around to read is even more difficult than when doing it on a computer screen due to the slow refresh.

The screen on my Kobo now has a small white vertical line that doesn't go away, so I'll be needing to test the warranty service for it.

While they include the text of the GPL licence in one of the appendixes of the manual, they don't seem to have actually read it. They need to include the offer of source of the GPL software they use with the unit, not just on some random web page. (At least it is on a web page, unlike some other Ereaders and phones that use GPL software without making source available at all.)

An irritating misfeature is it will always start at the first chapter, skipping prefaces, forwards, dedications, lists of other books in the series, and copyright pages. Usually this just means hitting the left button a dozen or so times, but one book of short stories Calibre put the chapters of one story in the index, not the individual stories, so it started in the middle of the book.

Overall, I'm generally satisfied with it, it's easy to carry and read, but I'm not sure I would buy it again unless I got it at a bargain price.


Hey Blars! No recent updates so I thought I'd check in. I hope all is well, your house has sold for a great price and you're living happily ever after in your Rexall!

Take good care!

Cyndi & Stumpy @ RVly Ever After

Comment by Cyndi Monday 04 July 2011 02:09 UTC