Kobo Mini review: Small e-reader faces big competition

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MSRP: $79.99

The Good The Kobo Mini is a modestly priced, very compact Wi-Fi-enabled e-ink e-reader with a 5-inch touch screen. It supports EPUB files, it's compatible with any e-book store that uses the Adobe DRM format, and with Wi-Fi off it gets up to a month's worth of battery life from a single charge.

The Bad Ideally, the device would be even smaller and thinner. Also, Kobo's selection of e-books lags behind Amazon's and Barnes & Noble's. Loading library loaners and third-party e-book purchases requires tethering to a PC.

The Bottom Line The affordable Kobo Mini is a likable touch-screen e-ink e-reader that's too small for some and not quite small enough for others.

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6.8 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 6
  • Performance 6

Those of you out there who are e-reader scholars may remember that a couple of years ago, Sony was offering a 5-inch e-reader with no Wi-Fi, the Pocket Edition PRS-350. You can still find that model for sale for $99, but Sony has since moved on to its T-series, releasing the $129.99 PRS-T2 in late 2012.

Some people actually liked the smaller e-reader, and now Kobo is selling the Mini, a 5-inch model (with Wi-Fi) that's smaller than a mass-market paperback book, and sports a touch screen. It retails for $79.99.

I've used it for a couple of weeks and think it's a decent-enough little e-reader, cute in its own way despite its somewhat generic styling. Yeah, it could be slightly zippier (it has an 800MHz processor, compared with the 1GHz processor found in the step-up Kobo Glo), but my only real gripe is that I wish it were even smaller. There's a lot of bezel and the 4.7-ounce Mini is about as thick as larger e-readers, so you're left with a device that's fairly compact but would be cooler if it were trimmed down even more and able to fit in a shirt pocket, not just the pockets of baggy jeans.

The Kobo Mini is the lightest available e-reader at 4.7 ounces. Sarah Tew/CNET

For some, of course, the Mini's more compact size may be a problem. A lot of folks like to blow up the font size on their e-readers, and when you're dealing with a smaller display, you can end up with only a few lines of text per page. But if you're willing to read using a medium to small font, the Mini is quite usable, though you will end up turning pages more often.

Entry-level specs
From a specs standpoint, The Mini is something of a 2011 model -- it sports an older 800x600 Vizplex V110 e-ink display along with the aforementioned 800MHz procesor. The Kobo Glo and Amazon Kindle Paperwhite both feature a higher-resolution 1,024x768-pixel e-ink display.

The Mini uses the same IR-based touch technology that's found in the Nook Simple Touch, the Sony PRS-T2, and the discontinued Kindle Touch (the Paperwhite uses capacitive touch technology). It works well; the screen was generally responsive to my touch.

The Mini comes in white or black. Sarah Tew/CNET

At the top of the device you'll find a power button, and there's a Micro-USB connection at the bottom of the device for charging (you get a cable in the box but no AC adapter) and transferring files. Unlike the Kobo Glo, there's no microSD expansion slot for adding more memory beyond the 2GB of internal memory, 1GB of which is usable for storage.

It's also worth mentioning that there's no headphone jack, since the Mini, like all of the latest e-readers, doesn't have any sort of audio option.

Cosmetically, the device comes in white or black, and Kobo sells interchangeable back covers that come in red, purple or teal, if you feel like swapping out the one that shipped with your device.

The back cover is removable. Sarah Tew/CNET

Kobo's done some interesting things with the fonts on the device. You can really customize how the text is displayed on the screen, with the ability to change the margins and justification, as well the sharpness and "weight" of particular fonts. I didn't find the contrast incredibly good -- the letters aren't inky black but more of a dark gray -- but after some adjustments, the text looks quite decent, even without the benefit of the higher-resolution display found on the Kobo Glo.