At AU$189, the Kogan eBook Reader is one of the most affordable on the market, even clocking in below the new Kindle, which goes for US$189 plus postage. Unfortunately, it shows.
The Kogan sports a navy blue plastic chassis with the six-inch E Ink display situated in the middle of the front. To minimise the space needed by navigation, the button placement has been streamlined and placed on either side of the screen instead of the lower half of the facade. While these are well placed for thumb access, they're stiff to press and feel plastic-y and cheap; we can't help comparing the 12 tab buttons down the right-hand side unfavourably to the minimal rubber nav-pad on the Kobo.
The power button is discreetly tucked away on the rubberised back; since the top and bottom edges are curved, this protects it somewhat from unwanted presses. The rubberised back also houses an SDHC card slot and reset button, as well as a mini USB port for charging and computer connection and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
At just 229g, the Kogan feels light and comfortable in the hand, the rubber back smooth and pleasant; although with the included leather protective case, how often you'll be holding the device naked is up in the air.
For a basic, inexpensive device, the Kogan sure packs in a lot of features. The first is file support: it supports 17 types of ebook format (including PDF, ePub and TXT); image file formats BMP, GIF, JPD, PNG and TIF; and audio MP3 files.
Because of the 12 buttons down the left-hand side of the screen, a few options are available that aren't available on the Kobo. For example, the device integrates a search function; the buttons are assigned a few letters each, like a mobile phone's keypad, and you cycle through letters to type in words. Because of this feature, the Kogan can also use a dictionary, although this isn't included: you have to provide your own.
Two things we particularly liked: included in the box, which we thought was a splendid idea, is a rather natty protective leather case. The other feature is the inclusion of 1500 ebooks, although this actually isn't without problems. All the included books are out-of-copyright titles from Project Gutenberg, and while there are a few titles here and there that you might want to read, most of them are obscure, lesser-known works or authors; and navigating through the menu to view all 1500 would be arduous, too. Luckily, Kogan included a handy list on its website, so if there are any you actually would like to read, you can view the list then search for the title in the reader.
If you've not used any other e-reader, the Kogan would be difficult to fault. We put it through its paces against the Kobo, though, and found it a little on the slow side; the device took 32 seconds to boot up, compared to the Kobo's 27 seconds; since the Kogan shuts itself off after a relatively short time, this got to be somewhat annoying. It took five seconds to load a TXT file, compared to the Kobo opening an ePub in seven, but the page turn on that TXT file was then half a second slower.
The other thing we found frustrating was the menu system and search function. As mentioned above, you cycle through letters to type in a search term; given the slow refresh rate of the screen, this could get to be a bit like pulling teeth. The alternative was to scroll through the menu page by page, but that was slow too; we never got past the letter B of the 1500 books loaded.
However, its open format policy means that the Kogan is compatible with pretty much whichever book store you choose to purchase from (with the exception of Amazon, naturally), and you can either use Adobe Digital Editions to manage your files, or enter the folder system directly for drag-and-drop management, something you can't do with the Kobo. The ability to bookmark pages was handy, too.
If you're looking for a first reader at an affordable price, the Kogan is definitely a good option, although for user-friendliness we'd recommend strong consideration of sucking it up and shelling out the extra AU$10 for the Kobo. On the other hand, if you want features such as a full keyboard, 3G connectivity and speedy page refreshes, with the Aussie dollar so strong right now it would be silly to ignore the Kindle 3.
If this isn't your first e-reader, though, you might find the Kogan's peccadilloes hard to ignore.