Kobo eReader review: Kobo eReader

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MSRP: $149.99

The Good Relatively compact, lightweight, and affordable; integrates nicely with Borders e-book store; built-in Bluetooth; expansion slot for additional memory; $20 gift card bundled with unit; good battery life (up to two weeks).

The Bad No Wi-Fi or 3G wireless; somewhat generic feel to the whole device; no competitive advantage over similarly priced Barnes & Noble Nook; screen contrast could be better.

The Bottom Line The Kobo eReader isn't a bad little basic e-book reader, but it's just not a compelling deal now that the more full-featured Barnes & Noble Nook has matched its low price.

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4.7 Overall
  • Design 5
  • Features 4
  • Performance 5

Editor's note (January 24, 2011): This product is no longer available, but it has been replaced by a Wi-Fi version. The rating has been lowered due to changes in the competitive marketplace.

Not to be left out of the fast-growing e-reader and e-book arenas, Borders now has its own e-reader, the $150 Kobo eReader. With it, you can read e-books purchased from Borders' online store, which is powered by Kobo Inc.

As the price suggests, the Kobo, which has the same-size 6-inch e-ink display as the Kindle and the Nook, is something of a no-frills e-reader: it's got no Wi-Fi or 3G wireless connectivity (and the screen has 8 levels of gray, not 16). However, it does offer a Bluetooth connection for "wirelessly syncing with select smartphones and updating your reading list on the go." It comes with 1GB of internal memory, and there's an SD card expansion slot for adding more (up to 16GB).

Needing sort of a hook to make its presence felt in the e-reader space, Borders came up with the strategy of going with an affordably priced e-reader to try to gain a competitive advantage. Late in 2009, the company took a stake in Kobo Inc., which was originally called Shortcovers, a spin-off of Canada's Indigo Books & Music (Indigo remains the largest investor in the company). Alas, shortly after the Kobo shipped in June 2010, both Barnes & Noble and Amazon lowered the price of their e-readers to $199 and $189, respectively, and Barnes & Noble released a $150 Wi-Fi-only version of the Nook.

Borders has tried to respond to those price cuts by throwing in a $20 gift card with the Kobo--which is good--but the problem is that both the Nook and the Kindle outclass the Kobo. Not that the Kobo is a bad little e-reader--it isn't--but the text on the 800x600-pixel e-ink screen could pop a little more (it's just not as dark as it is on competing models, including the $150 Sony Reader Pocket Edition PRS-300, which has a smaller 5-inch screen).

To download e-books from the Borders store, you have to install the Borders desktop app on your Mac or Windows computer (the desktop app is, conveniently, stored on the e-reader, which appears as a USB drive on your desktop). You buy the books in the application, then "side-load" them onto the device via the supplied USB cable--just like syncing your iPod with iTunes. Alternatively, you can use Bluetooth to transfer files to the Kobo, but currently the Kobo only supports Bluetooth wireless "syncing" using a BlackBerry. You have to log into your BlackBerry's Kobo app and select "Transfer books to Kobo eReader" from a submenu. In the future, the device will hopefully support wireless syncing from other mobile phones, including the iPhone and Android models (Borders and Kobo already have apps available on those platforms).

The Kobo supports EPUB and PDF documents (including those with Adobe DRM). That means you should have no trouble accessing the thousands of free public-domain books, such as those available via Google Books. Unlike some other e-readers, though, the Kobo doesn't support viewing image or audio files--that means no JPEGs or MP3s.

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