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Kobo Arc 10 HD review: Android in the front, library in the back

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MSRP: $399.99

The Good The Kobo Arc 10 HD boasts a sharp screen with a high color gamut and performance is consistently smooth. Kobo's useful baked-in software makes reading, organizing, and shopping for books easy. Its faceted back feels comfortable and the inclusion of a Micro-HDMI port is a nice perk.

The Bad It's heavy and the pointed corners uncomfortably dig into your palms when holding it. Internal storage is limited to 16GB and there is no memory card expansion slot.

The Bottom Line If you can get past the clunky design, the Kobo Arc 10 HD offers a unique tablet experience for avid readers.

Visit for details.

6.9 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8

Review Sections

The Kobo Arc 10 HD could be a tablet worthy of replacing your bookshelf, if the damn thing didn't feel like holding a bookshelf itself. The 10-inch slate includes useful e-book-centric software that will appease avid readers seeking an Android experience, but its brute force design misses the mark with an uncomfortably heavy and thick build.

It houses a fast Tegra 4 processor, super-sharp screen, and despite its corpulent build, the matte faceted back is actually pleasing to the touch. Its inclusion of a nearly pure version of Android 4.2.2 is only enhanced by Kobo's useful and unique user-friendly interface.

However, today's top tablets boast thin and light designs that put the Arc 10 HD's 1.4 pound weight to shame and with thinner, lighter, and cheaper options like the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 around, the Arc 10 HD fails to make a strong enough case for your tablet dollar.

Design
The Arc 10 HD is sleek in design, but not in build. The first thing you notice when you pick up the tablet is its 1.4 pounds. It's almost as heavy as the thick hardcover books some readers are trying to ditch. Needless to say, the tablet does more than a hardcover book can, but still, it's heavier than I'd like to carry around.

The Kobo Arc HD 10 rocks a simple and slim design, reminiscent of the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 and Sony Xperia Tablet Z. It looks like an average tablet from the front, with its all-black body, (almost) edge-to-edge glass screen, and moderately thin profile.

Tested spec Kobo Arc 10 HD Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 Google Nexus 10
Weight in pounds 1.4 0.82 1.3
Width in inches (landscape) 10 9.1 10.4
Height in inches 6.8 6.2 6.9
Depth in inches 0.39 0.31 0.35
Side bezel width in inches (landscape) 0.6 0.7 0.9

The volume rocker is located on the top right edge, and the Micro-HDMI and Micro-USB ports are on the top left edge. The red power slider on the top right corner feels cheap and, like the volume rocker, it's too flush to the tablet's edge to be easily found.

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The back is soft to the touch and comfortable for resting your fingers on. Josh Miller/CNET

The 10-inch tablet's faceted back is a comfortable landscape for resting your hands; fingertips easily float across the soft matte finish as palms reposition and conform comfortably on the angled sides. I really like the faceted back and the feeling that I was holding onto something with more dimension, like a book, instead of a flat slate.

Unfortunately, any pleasantries provided by its innovative rear are trumped by the Arc 10 HD's heaviness and uncomfortable corners. The hefty tablet's pointed corners dig into your palms and, after holding it for a long time, your wrists and hands feel strained. While reading, I found myself putting the tablet down often because it became too tiring to hold.

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The only ports are located on the left edge. Josh Miller/CNET

Features
Kobo adds its personal touch to Android with its reader-geared software, but still offers the functionality of Jelly Bean 4.2.2 without much compromise. The Arc 10 HD's three main screens include a traditional Android home screen, the Reading Life dashboard, and the Collections menu. Each offers unique features that, when combined, are some of the tablet's best assets.

The traditional Android home screen is a familiar space for adding app shortcuts and widgets, but since there's only one, there's limited space for customization. However, I didn't find the limitation detrimental to my needs, since there's still an app drawer easily accessible on the bottom Android navigation bar. Unlike the Kindle Fire lineup of tablets, the Kobo Arc 10 HD includes full access to Google's Play Store.

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There is limited space for widgets and shortcuts on the Android home page. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

There's a customizable app bar -- located on both the Android home page and Reading Life dashboard -- that offers easy and quick access to your most used or favorite apps. The ability to access my favorite apps on two of the three main screens saved me a lot of time and I ended up using the shortcuts more than I thought I would.

Kobo's Reading Life dashboard features a graphics-heavy Pinterest look. The dashboard displays an overview of your reading activities, like recently read books -- with completion time estimates -- and personalized recommendations. Visually, I think it compels you to continuously scroll through it, however, the layout is a little sloppy and the content isn't organized in any particular order.

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The Reading Life dashboard shows recent and recommended reads. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

From the Reading Life dashboard, swiping from right to left reveals the Collections menu. Collections are like folders where you can save books, magazines, videos, websites, and other content. Your books and magazines are automatically sorted into their respective categories, but making a new Collection is easy and adding new items to one is as simple as highlighting what you want to add and selecting the share button.

There is a customizable reading mode geared toward providing a distraction-free reading experience. In addition to turning off notifications for apps like Facebook and Skype, it switches into power-saving mode to extend battery life. It's easily accessible from the Android pull-down menu, where you can turn it on, off, or auto -- so it will turn on whenever you are reading a book or magazine.

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Collections are an easy way to organize content into specific categories. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Beyond the Book is a feature that makes it easy to dive deeper into some of the key terms or concepts inside of a book you're reading. If a word is underlined, you can tap on it to learn more. It's fun addition for the consistently curious, but I didn't find it incredibly useful.

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Definitions are easily found by highlighting the word or term. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Hardware
The Kobo Arc HD 10 houses a 1.8GHz Nvidia Tegra 4 quad-core CPU, Nvidia AP 72-core GPU, and 2GB RAM.

Other features include a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera, Bluetooth 4.0, a gyroscope, and an accelerometer.

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The swift swiping of a page on the touch screen will put your own abilities to shame. Josh Miller/CNET

Performance

The Kobo Arc HD 10 performs consistently smoothly for most tasks, even when many apps are running in the background. The 2GB of RAM is evident when trying to multitask or switching between apps quickly. I rarely experienced any lag or slow loading times.

On two occasions the tablet acted as if it were possessed; without any help from me, it opened and closed various apps and erratically navigated to the different home pages. A quick restart ended the problem and I couldn't replicate it, so it's probably just standard Android bugginess...or a ghost.

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The comfy and smooth faceted back can't make up for the Arc 10 HD's extra weight. Josh Miller/CNET

The Arc 10 HD responds slowly to the power slider. There is a permanent lag when waking up the tablet and it usually takes a few seconds for the lock screen to appear after sliding and holding the power switch briefly. This was frustrating to consistently encounter, especially if I was just trying to quickly check the time or my notifications.

Touch-screen response is fast and accurate, but I occasionally had to repeat some gestures, like highlighting text, because they weren't recognized. Recognition also suffers dramatically if the screen is dirty or full of smudges. While reading, taps and swipes for flipping through pages in a book are impressively seamless, even when many apps are open.

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HD videos are almost as sharp as the Arc 10 HD's corners. Josh Miller/CNET
Tested spec Kobo Arc 10 HD Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 Google Nexus 10
Maximum brightness 371 cd/m2 472 cd/m2 368 cd/m2
Maximum black level .32 cd/m2 0.40 cd/m2 0.44 cd/m2
Maximum contrast ratio 1159:1 1180:1 836:1

One of the Kobo Arc 10 HD's most impressive features is its sharp and bright 2,560x1,600-pixel resolution screen. It boasts a Google Nexus 10-matching 300 ppi, but falls short of the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9's super-sharp 323 ppi display.

No matter what's on the screen, the display looks bright and vibrantly saturated, comparable to the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 edition), and the impressive range of colors begs to be used for something more than the simple black text of a book.

Device CPU GPU RAM OS tested
Kobo Arc 10 HD 1.8GHz quad-core Nvidia Tegra 4 Nvidia AP 72-core 2GB Android 4.2.2
Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 Adreno 330 2GB Amazon Android Mojito 3.0
Google Nexus 10 1.7GHz Dual-core Samsung Exynos 5 Dual (5250) Mali-T604 (quad-core) 2GB Android 4.4
3DMark (Unlimited)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Mobile games run without a hitch and larger games load impressively fast. N.O.V.A. 3 level one load times averaged around 35 seconds and gameplay was smooth sailing after that. Graphics looked great on the screen and they didn't lag or stutter while playing.

The tablet's speakers are tinny and weak no matter what type of audio is playing. The volume level is too low, but they suffice for movie watching and game playing. Since the speakers are located on the rear, if you lay the tablet flat on its back audio gets muffled and hard to hear. Considering how harsh some of the audio sounds, this might be a good thing.

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The speakers look and sound small. Josh Miller/CNET

The 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera performed decently for video conferencing and photos come out with a nice level of saturation, but focus is fuzzy.

Battery life lasted about a day with casual use. Check back for official battery testing results when we're done testing it in the CNET Labs.

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Which one of these does not belong? Josh Miller/CNET

Conclusion
Comfort is integral to a pleasant reading experience and the Kobo Arc 10 HD's soft faceted back can't save it from the discomfort caused by its heaviness and pointed corners. With top tablets boasting thin and lightweight designs for the same price or less, the Kobo Arc 10 HD's flawed build is an inadmissible offense.

Passionate readers who want a tablet worthy of ditching their library card for may find the Kobo Arc 10 HD an attractive compromise between an e-reader and tablet, but the $329 Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 is a better value that offers useful reading resources and fast performance inside of an impressively light tablet.

For bookworms on a budget, the Barnes & Noble Nook HD+ starts at only $149 and offers heaps of features. It also includes a Google Play store -- something the Kindle Fires miss out on -- a pretty sharp screen, and good performance.

The Kobo Arc 10 HD provides a visually immersive tablet experience that puts reading at the forefront without ditching the perks of full Android capabilities. However, its objectionable design flaws sabotage its chances at being as good as its competition.

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