Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Kobo E-Reader Review

As promised, here's my review of the Kobo E-Reader after having read a novel on it.

First, some of my points are no longer valid as the company has come out with a firmware update. Some of the things they're addressing, quoted from this post:

1. Font scaling
A number of people have had issues resizing fonts on epub files they have imported into the eReader, especially files from other stores/sources. Font issues have been tricky. [Warning: content of a technical nature] They are most often caused by hardcoded absolute font sizes in the epub CSS. Doing wholesale overrides of CSS can earn us bad karma with publishers. And while we can easily override some CSS elements (font face, for example, since we have a limited number of fonts on the eReader), the Adobe SDK actually prohibits override of absolute font sizes. (Grrr…) So we have had to do some crafty things behind the scenes to get around that limitation. We have tested the new release of firmware with every file that users have sent us with font resizing issues and it has worked in all cases we’ve tested so far.

2. Title Management
The biggest irritant we heard from lots of users was “I don’t care about *&@^#$# Jane Eyre! Get it out of my Library!” Totally understandable: some people feel it clutters up the Library or makes it harder to find purchased books. (Others love having a reader that is full of books as soon as you plug it in. That’s the way it goes…) There is a short-term fix in the new release while we work on a longer and more complicated one. In the short term, you’ll be able to hide pre-loaded books on the device — get them out of the way so you can look at the other books you’ve added. That definitely won’t address all issues, but it will address the biggest pain point while we work on a wider range of library management features for a subsequent release.

3. Battery Life
This was a software problem rather than a hardware one. Even when the device is in sleep mode, there is a negligible amount of activity on the device. The bug: in some situations, power consumption wasn’t tapering off as much as it should have when the device went into sleep mode. We found the bug and fixed it, so people should be able to get the 8,000 page turns they were expecting.

4. Charging Light
Used to: show nothing until it was charged and then turn red when it was done. (Yep, that makes absolutely no sense.)
New release: turns red when it’s charging (so you know something is going on), turns blue when it’s done. Should generally provide a more accurate sense of what’s going on.

There are a bunch of other things rolled up in the update (universal mac builds for PPC+Intel for the Desktop Reader, better indications when the device is off, etc.), but I wanted to flag those four since they’ve been a topic of some discussion here.

The book I read, On Basilisk Station, by David Weber, was, due to the fact I got it from a BAEN CD rather than the kobo store, a bad choice. I encountered the font sizing problem (books from other sources couldn't be resized, and showed up on the kobo on the smallest font). Several people came up with their own fixes and posted them online, so I was eventually able to fix this, but it made reading in bed less pleasant as I had to hold the kobo fairly close to my face.

The reading experience itself is good. The page turns feel slow, but only because computers have gotten so fast that any electronic device that isn't instantaneous seems slow by comparison (and e-ink readers have slower page turns than the i-pad or computer). The quilted backing is comfortable to hold and the size is good for reading (fits the hand and has a decent sized screen, regardless of text size). And if you're just reading straight through, it's a good device.

Other problems I encountered though were discovering 3/4 of the way through the book that there was a prologue I somehow missed, difficulty scrolling back to remind myself of details (I tend to check back to confirm details and remind myself of important events once new knowledge pops up, something that's difficult on the kobo since you can't jump to specific pages, only one page at a time or to chapter openings).

I also encountered a problem with the formatting beyond the sizing - which I hope this upgrade will address. The original file I uploaded (the one I couldn't change fonts on) had paragraph indentation but no page breaks. I know this is a format issue not a kobo issue, but it did cause me problems, not realizing the scene changed (I even checked it against the paperback to confirm it was a formatting error and not an idiosyncracy of this book). When I changed the format so it could be resized, the formatting got rid of the indentations (which I prefer) and started putting a space between paragraphs. On occasion there would be a double break to show scene changes, but not always. So I was more on guard, but still blindsided by scene changes every now and then.

For those of you out there who think putting digital version of books out should be easy, let me tell you, if the book isn't formatted properly it's a royal pain to read. The number of times I had to backtrack and reorient myself made the book feel very disjointed and the reading experience a lot less enjoyable than it should have been. If you want to know what does go into preparing an e-book, here's a wonderful post.

I also spent most of the time reading in a room with poor natural lighting, forcing me to use a lamp (yes, a paper book would require the same thing, but the i-pad doesn't, and so I mention it here).

If you're wondering at the speed of the kobo, I filmed a quick video showing the navigation, page sizing and page turning of the device. And yes, I say 'i-ink' rather than 'e-ink'. I'm blaming that on Indigo and Apple's fondness for 'i' words. :)

Ultimately, I still prefer paper books to electronic ones, but the problems with reading On Basilisk Station notwithstanding, now that I know what to expect I can see myself reading on the kobo again and enjoying the experience. I'll be more careful about checking for a prologue before skipping to chapter one. The page turn speed didn't bother me so much once I got into the book, and my battery lasts a good week between charges, even if it's left on between reading sessions.

For the price, it's a great reading device if you don't want to do other things with the machine. If you do want to do other things... I still prefer the i-pad. For all it's greater size, the i-pad's instant page turns, ability for colour and backlight (great for reading in darkened rooms and at night) is an excellent machine.


Anonymous said...

Great review. Have you had a chance to try out the Kindle or the Nook? I wonder how the kobo would compare to those now that the prices have dropped across the board. Thanks!

Jessica Strider said...

Sorry, I haven't tried either of those as they're not available in Canada. I do know the Kindle allows for note taking and the Sony Reader is capable of flipping to specific pages. I don't know much about the Nook.

One thing I didn't emphasize in my review that I probably should have, is the kobo's ability to read any and all e-pub files, not just things purchased from the kobo store. Which places it above some of the other readers that are more proprietary. And you can read books purchased from the kobo store on other things (like the i-pad, computer, etc.)

Kaz Augustin said...

I have an Iliad and I've noticed the e-ink display noticeably deteriorate as time's gone by. On top of that refresh delay (which is okay when you get to anticipate, but can be a pain from time to time), it's killed e-ink devices for me.

I'm after a full-colour, backlit iPad-like device with an open operating system next time around. I enjoyed reading ebooks best on my little Ipaq before it bit the dust. Surely this calls for a resurgence of PDAs? Or is that what the iPad is and we don't want to call it by an old-fashioned moniker? ;)

Jessica Strider said...

I had a pretty crappy PDA. I'd dreams of reading books and editing manuscript on it but could never figure out the file type I needed to upload stuff to it and gave up in disgust. I also find a paper calendar easier to use then the day by day planner the PDA had, so I'm probably not the best judge.

It takes me a while to get used to new electronics. My Mac drove me nuts until I'd figured out all the differences from the PC I used to have. I assume e-readers are the same. I complain because I love books. They're easy to use. They're familiar. But in time the kobo (or whatever reader I'm using in future) will feel like an old friend, allowing me to read whatever I feel like on vacations (instead of the one book I packed).