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Kobo Glo HD review: A great option for your first e-reader

The Kobo Glo HD melds great design and good pricing, but it's up against some stiff competition in a crowded market.

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Michelle Starr
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Michelle Starr

Science editor

Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.

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7 min read

The Glo HD is the latest E-reader from Kobo to hit the market, and it's a handsome, compact little device.

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7.5

Kobo Glo HD

The Good

The Kobo Glo HD is sleek and compact, with a nice fit and feel in the hand. Its user-friendly interface, clean crisp screen with comfortably even lighting, and font customisability make reading a pleasant, uncomplicated experience.

The Bad

Like most E Ink e-readers, it handles PDFs badly. In addition, its recommendation algorithms are generally quite baffling, and its store, while growing, is small compared to its direct competitors.

The Bottom Line

Though its store still has room to grow, the Kobo e-reader offers a smooth, simple and user-friendly experience at a competitive price point.

It also marks a return to the Glo range for Kobo, who followed up the original Glo with a series of higher-end devices: the Aura, the Aura HD and the waterproof Aura H2O. For the last few iterations of Kobo's devices, changes have been incremental as the company toys with different sizes and features, boosts the resolution of the E Ink display, and tweaks the software.

But now manufacturer Rakuten has turned back to the Glo with a new high-resolution screen. The Glo HD is a worthy successor to 2012's Glo, graced with a six-inch screen packing in a resolution of 1,448x1,072 pixels, or 300ppi. Its nearest equivalent would be the recently released Kindle Voyage, which has an ever-so-slightly lower resolution at 1,430x1,080 pixels.

The company has also learned a thing or two about competitive pricing, bringing the Glo HD to a $129 price point. It's an attractive option next to the $139 Kindle Paperwhite Wi-Fi, or even the $99 Nook GlowLight, which has a lower-resolution screen and isn't available outside the US.

If you're in the UK or Australia the Glo HD is going to set you back £110 or AU$180.

Design

The Glo HD has made a return to the smaller build, after the larger "premium" sizes of the Aura HD and Aura H2O. It comes in at 157 x 115 x 9.2 mm (6.1 x 4.5 x 0.3 inches), and 180g or 6.3 ounces, a size much more amenable to being slipped into a coat pocket or a bag.

Kobo has always preferred a minimalist approach to design. There are no external bells and whistles on the e-reader's chassis, just a power button on the top edge and a micro-USB port on the bottom. This means that the Kobo Glo HD has eschewed the micro-SD card slot that has been present in the majority of the company's other products, but you're unlikely to miss the expandable storage option.

Everything else is handled via the touchscreen interface: there are no physical buttons for turning pages (a common feature for e-readers now) and the Glo HD's internal lighting is controlled via a slider on the screen, accessible via an icon next to the battery indicator.

Dave Cheng/CNET

That isn't to say the design is lacking. The company has renewed its efforts in creating an appealing tactile experience. The black bezel has a comforting curve around the edges, and the silky rubberised texture on the back has made a return, this time with a dotted pattern rather than in the old quilted style.

The result is a device that is comfortable to hold for long periods, very easy to carry around and doesn't distract with excessive buttons. Apart from its tendency to smudge a little with fingerprints, it's difficult to think of any improvement that could be made.

Features

One of the things I love most about the Kobo e-reader is its stylish, yet intuitive, user interface. Based around a tiled view, everything you use regularly is displayed on the e-reader's home page, with your current book displayed in its own column on the left, and the middle and right columns shuffling to adapt to what you actually use.

These tiles can include books you have recently read, Pocket, which can be used to sync articles from the web for offline reading, recommended and related books, the on-board web browser, which can be accessed from "Beta Features" in the settings menu and Reading Life, which has become a much less intrusive part of the Kobo experience.

Reading Life, introduced in 2010, was Kobo's attempt at a "social platform" for reading. It's now tucked at the bottom of the home screen, next to the permanent links for the on-board library and the Kobo ebook store, under the heading "Extras." It offers awards for reading milestones (reading for a certain amount of time, or a certain number of books), and you can also jump in to check out your reading stats.

As mentioned, you can also access your library of ebooks from the bottom right corner of the home screen, as well as the Kobo ebook store. The store itself has improved in terms of available content since its original launch, although it's doubtful it will ever be able to match Amazon completely.

Dave Cheng/CNET

The search function used to be horribly broken. You'd search for an author or a book title, only to receive a page of unrelated results with the item you were actually searching for way down the bottom. This issue seems to have been resolved, which is a relief.

The algorithms used for the Related Reading and Recommended for You sections could still use some work, though. Firstly, these can only work on books you have purchased through Kobo, so if you like to buy from elsewhere -- which you can, as the e-reader proudly supports the open-standard .epub file format -- those books won't be taken into account when choosing recommended reads.

I suspect the kinks are still being ironed out. The bookstore could find no results for a related read on Robin Hobb's "Blood of Dragons," which seemed peculiar since the Kobo store has multiple Robin Hobb titles and titles that include the word "dragon." Nor could it suggest similar titles to Robert W Chambers' "The King in Yellow," "The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon" and several other titles that seemed to fit obvious genres.

Some related reads seemed entirely unrelated, too. For the classic "Don Quixote" the algorithm offered George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" and Kathryn Stockett's "The Help." The Recommended Reads, running on a similar algorithm, aren't much better, but you can at least help tailor it to find what you like by tapping an option on the screen to tell it when you're not interested.

The open standard approach means that the Kobo supports library borrowing, which is nice, and apps for iOS and Android allow syncing across multiple devices.The huge range of 48 font sizes is a nice touch, as is the easy-to-use slider for adjusting them. However, unlike the Kindle, it does not support book-lending, which would be a nice feature to have.

Performance

The Kobo Glo HD is a zippy little an e-reader, packing the standard 1GHz processor. Its boasting point is its crisp, high-resolution screen. That said, I couldn't pick out any significant difference in sharpness between the Glo HD and the Aura H2O, which was released in October of last year. So if you're keen on a resolution upgrade, it's not likely that there will be a large one for a while now. The good news is that with a screen this sharp, it's not really needed.

Night-time is as pleasant as we've come to expect from previous front-lit Kobo models. It lights the screen with a smooth, even glow, with a slider control that allows you to fine-tune how bright you need the screen. No more bothering sleeping partners when reading in bed at night. And I have been known to use the brighter setting as a flashlight. If the light is the deciding factor between Kobo and a competitor, you're going to be hard pressed to go for the challenger.

The screen is very responsive to taps and presses, which means text input is a relatively painless experience. E Ink ghosting is minimal and barely perceptible. If you do find it bothers you, you can enter the e-reader's Reading Settings menu to increase how often the display does a full refresh -- just bear in mind that doing so will cause the battery to run down more quickly.

Speaking of battery life, the Wi-Fi and backlight will also eat into the charge. Turned off, Kobo claims that the e-reader can run for two months on a full charge if used for half an hour every day, but, as I haven't had the e-reader for that long, I can't verify that claim. Other E Ink readers on the market can last that long on a single charge, though, so it's probably safe to believe it. I'll be updating this review with more battery information after a longer testing period.

Dave Cheng/CNET

Returning to the lack of a micro SD slot, it's not a deal-breaker for me. Neither the Kindle nor the Nook have expandable memory, and in years of using an e-reader, I've never reached a point where I've maxed out 4GB of memory.

What I'm not particularly sold on is the e-reader's ability to handle PDFs. Pan-and-scan is a terrible way to deal with PDFs, particularly on a six-inch E Ink screen with a low refresh rate. Nor can you highlight text. If you want to read and edit PDFs, we'd recommend going for a tablet instead, especially now that Sony's e-readers, which were the only ones to reflow PDFs, are off the market.

Conclusion

The Kobo e-reader definitely has its limitations. Its store will never be able to match up to Amazon's, but its ability to access multiple other stores and its broad file format support makes up for that. Its availability outside of the US makes it a clear winner over the Nook GlowLight for someone based in Australia, as does its price point, and the Kindle with Special Offers is US-only, which makes the Kobo Glo HD the most affordable option elsewhere.

Those in the US might have a little more thinking to do about which e-reader to buy. But we can confidently recommend the Glo HD as an upgrade to the Glo, or for someone looking for a first-time e-reader, given the user-friendliness of its interface. It's sleek, simple and does exactly what it says on the tin.

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7.5

Kobo Glo HD

Score Breakdown

Design 9Ecosystem 7Features 6Performance 9Value 7.5