Kobo Touch review: Kobo Touch

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MSRP: $129.99

The Good The Kobo eReader Touch Edition is a compact, lightweight, and affordable e-ink e-reader with touch-screen navigation, built-in Wi-Fi, an expansion slot for additional memory, and good battery life (over one month with wireless off). Also, the Kobo e-book store is integrated into the device, and you get a basic Web browser.

The Bad The Kobo's user interface isn't as slick as that of the Nook Touch, and its performance and overall smoothness could be improved. It lacks audio support (no MP3, no audiobooks) and the ability to lend out titles to friends. The magazine and newspaper selection is lackluster.

The Bottom Line Though the Kobo eReader Touch Edition doesn't quite measure up to the Nook Touch or the Kindle, it's a respectable and affordable touch-screen e-reader with a lot of pluses.

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7.3 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

Editors' note (October 3, 2011): The review below makes comparisons to the 2010 Amazon Kindle and the 2011 Barnes & Noble Nook Touch. Potential buyers should note that Amazon has since announced new Kindle models for 2011. We recommend checking out the entry-level 2011 Kindle ($79) and especially the Kindle Touch ($99, available November 21) before making a buying decision. See Kindle vs. Nook vs. iPad: Which e-book reader should you buy? for more information.

Touch is all the rage these days in the e-reader market, and just as Barnes & Noble has moved to a touch-screen interface for its latest Nook e-ink model, so, too, has Kobo with its 2011 eReader Touch Edition.

If you've run across any of Kobo's previous e-readers, the Touch Edition doesn't look so different from last year's Kobo Wireless, though it certainly has a more refined design. It's understated yet it looks sleek, with a quilted back, and is overall slightly smaller and lighter than the Nook Touch (and Amazon Kindle). It comes in a variety of colors (black, blue, silver, and lavender) and because it's slightly narrower than the Nook, it's arguably a little bit more comfortable to hold in your hand.

As its name implies, Kobo's new e-reader has a touch screen and uses the same Neonode infrared technology that's found in Sony's touch-screen e-readers and the new Nook Touch. It also has E Ink's latest-generation Pearl e-ink screen.

Here's a look at the key specs:

  •    •  Touch screen with Neonode "responsive" zForce infrared touch technology (Kobo is calling it "Real Touch")
  •    •  6-inch Pearl e-ink screen (same screen as e-ink screens on Kindle and Nook)
  •    •  Wi-Fi wireless connectivity (802.11 b/g/n)
  •    •  Freescale i.MX508 processor
  •    •  2GB of onboard storage
  •    •  MicroSD card expansion slot (add up to 32GB card)
  •    •  Battery charge lasts up to two weeks (more with wireless switched off)
  •    •  Supports EPUB, PDF, Adobe DRM (e-book library lending)
  •    •  Dimensions: 6.5 inches by 4.5 inches by 0.39 inch
  •    •  Weight: 7.05 ounces (200g)
  •    •  Comes in black (with black back) and white (with lilac, blue, or white back)
  •    •  Two fonts, with more than 15 font sizes to choose from
  •    •  Multiple languages available (English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Dutch)
  •    •  Price: $129.99 (comes with $10 Kobo gift card)

What's good about this Kobo? Well, as we said, it has a compact, elegant design, with only a couple of buttons (since this is a touch-screen e-reader, there's a built-in virtual keyboard), and it matches up pretty well with the competition from a features standpoint. It's also well-priced at $129.99.

Though it doesn't have the Kindle's audio capabilities (MP3) or text-to-speech functionality or any sort of peer lending features (with both the Kindle and Nook you can lend out certain titles you own), all the other core elements are here: there's a built-in e-book store that allows you to add titles right from the device via Wi-Fi, and it supports EPUB, PDF files, and e-book lending from your local library (Adobe DRM).

PDF viewing is actually better on this Kobo than on the new Nook (you can zoom in and out, which you can't on the Nook), though a 6-inch e-ink screen is not exactly a great platform for viewing PDF documents. If PDFs are your thing, you're much better off with the iPad 2 and GoodReader app.

In terms of extras, there's a basic Web browser that's been labeled with the "beta" tag. It's a little sluggish but works OK; the touch screen does help when navigating Web pages and clicking on links.

News junkies can subscribe to a smattering of newspapers and magazines on the Kobo. However, with fewer than 40 periodical choices so far, the Kobo falls behind on its selection compared with what's available on the Kindle, Nook, and iPad. There are myriad iOS and Android news apps (and browser-based news sites) available.

Kobo also has something called Reading Life, which tracks your reading stats and, in a nod to the game-ification of e-reading, doles out awards as you attain certain achievements. There's also a social media element with the requisite Facebook and Twitter tie-ins, though Barnes & Noble does a better job with social features in the Nook with its Nook Friends feature.

On the plus side, it's important to note that Kobo, like Barnes & Noble and Amazon, does offer apps for iOS (iPhone and iPad), as well as Android (phone and tablet), BlackBerry (phones and PlayBook), and even WebOS (Palm Pre). So you can sync your Kobo library with any of those devices you may own, and access the content there as well. In other words: you're not locked into Kobo hardware to enjoy your books.

The Kobo's touch screen has an intuitive, easy-to-use interface.

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