Kobo Arc review: The less discerning person's Nexus 7

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3 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good The Kobo Arc features good gaming performance and useful e-reader features.

The Bad The Arc’s boxy build gives it an antiquated feel, it ships with an older OS, and its Tapestries feature can be buggy.

The Bottom Line The Kobo Arc is a fine tablet that simply doesn't offer enough compelling reasons to seriously consider it.

6.3 Overall
  • Design 6.0
  • Features 6.0
  • Performance 7.0

As the latest in a now long line of 7-inch tablets to hit the market with a sub-$200 price, the Kobo Arc attempts to set itself apart in two specific ways. The first is its folderlike interface called Tapestries that allows you to organize apps, articles, pictures, and other content into customizable nodes. The second is the ever-present Discover Ribbon, which, based on what you're currently looking at, constantly offers recommendations at the bottom of the home screen.

Unfortunately, these features do little to make the case for a tablet that otherwise offers less storage than the competition in a less sharply designed package than its contemporaries. All for the same price.

Thankfully, the Kobo Arc includes a powerful GPU, so at least on the gaming front it hasn't been left wanting.

Design
The Kobo Arc feels a little heavy for a 7-inch tablet, especially in a post-iPad Mini/ Nook HD world. The Arc also looks boxy and lacks the kind of design refinement shown in most major tablets released in the last year. The bezel is awkwardly narrow and isn't flush with the screen, making it difficult to hold in one hand without part of your thumb spilling over onto the display.

Kobo Arc Google Nexus 7 Barnes and Noble Nook HD Amazon Kindle Fire HD
Weight in pounds 0.80 0.74 0.69 0.86
Width in inches (landscape) 7.4 7.8 7.7 7.7
Height in inches 4.7 4.7 5 5.4
Depth in inches 0.5 0.4 0.4 0.4
Side bezel width in inches (landscape) 0.6/0.75 0.8 0.3/0.5 0.9

The 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera is recessed a bit into the tablet's body, making it difficult for a finger to get in there and smudge things up, but unfortunately, there's no other protective glass covering the camera's lens. Surrounding the camera are a microphone pinhole on the left and an ambient light sensor on the right. A power/sleep button sits on the top edge and on the right edge are the volume rocker and headphone jack. Alone on the bottom edge is a handy Micro-USB port.

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Josh Miller/CNET

On the bottom bezel sit two front-facing speakers that deliver powerful and loud sound that becomes noticeably distorted, tinny, and downright unpleasant with the volume near or at maximum. The textured, diamond-patterned back is smooth and soft, and adds to comfort. Also, the back cover can be removed and replaced with a different-colored one at an additional cost.

Tapestries and discoveries
The Arc ships with a custom version of Android Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) and features an enhanced folder system called Tapestries that you can use to organize apps, widgets, and pictures, as well as save articles for future reading. Tapestries is easily customizable, allowing you to create new ones, move them around, and alter their content with just a few drags around the screen. Despite their ease of use and the slick animation that accompanies opening them, Tapestries doesn't offer any significant features beyond what normal folders do. Also, using Tapestries isn't completely stable; I've had it crash a few times when attempting to add new assets or creating a new one.

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Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET

Opening the Reading Tapestry gives you access to Kobo's custom e-reader app. The app includes features like a built-in dictionary, a percentage tracker to help you keep track of your progression, and a estimate of how much time it'll take you to finish a book based on your current pace. You can also share details of the book and make comments through built-in Facebook integration.

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