Last time we reviewed a Kogan e-reader, it wasn't the best we'd seen. Now we have our hands on the new touchscreen reader and, while initial impressions were fairly positive, they didn't last. It genuinely is a shame, because the more competitive products available, the better the market has to be. Alackaday, the Kogan eBook Reader with e-Ink touchscreen isn't even the droids we are looking for in disguise.
The design is an improvement on the previous Kogan e-reader, with a sturdier feel and more streamlined interface. It seems that Kogan may have switched OEMs for its e-readers; certainly the touchscreen reader has a weightier heft, and the buttons don't feel like they're about to snap off.
The case is black soft-touch plastic, which has a matte finish. It is surprisingly much worse at picking up oil from your fingers than piano black, but, with its curved edges, it feels comfortable in the hand. Some people find the soft-touch finish a bit skin-crawling, though, so bear that in mind.
A small array of buttons tidily arranged below the screen lets you move back and forward; jump quickly to the home screen; view a pop-up menu; go back to the previous screen; and lock or unlock the device. In tactile contrast to the e-reader's case, these buttons are slightly textured; since they sit flush against the e-reader, it's a nice touch. An indented border hugs the lower edge of the buttons and swoops up around the sides of the screen. Visually, it adds a certain something, but we're not sure that its tendency to catch dust and grime is a good trade.
On the bottom edge of the device, you'll find a 3.5mm audio port, an SD card slot discreetly tucked away behind a closing flap, and a mini-USB port for charging and data transfer. The power button resides along the top. All in all, it's a lot more handsome and comfortable than the previous Kogan e-reader, with everything in a position that makes sense.
This Kogan e-reader introduces a capacitive touchscreen to the brand's line. We have tested several types of touchscreen by now, including capacitive, infrared and resistive; and, although capacitive is in general the most responsive, in e-readers, infrared seems to be king. Like resistive touchscreens, capacitive requires a layer that adds a heightened gloss to the E Ink screen; and, in this particular example at least, it responds mostly slowly and sometimes not at all. That could be a software issue; see the performance review below for more info.
But the Kogan is also bundled with a large range of cool features. You'll get 1500 public domain books (you can see a list of these titles here) from Project Gutenberg. Granted, these are all free titles and you probably won't end up reading most of them, but the experience of loading the device for the first time and wandering, dazed, through the catalogue, is almost like finding yourself in a second-hand bookstore and searching for the hidden gems. It won't be for everyone, and it's certainly a large list to wade through, but there's fun to be had there, if you want it.
You can also create collections; add titles to your favourites; sort by name, title or genre; and search for specific titles. These search and sort features are very useful, since there's 200-odd pages worth of titles there.
We like that the interface allows you to explore folders on the device, which means you can easily add folders, and you can edit, copy and rename your files from within the device.
The Kogan touchscreen reader supports a massive range of file types; as well as the standard ePub, PDF and TXT, you can also read HTML, RTF, MOBI, PRC and other document types (see the "Specs" tab above for the full list), as well as various image and audio file types, although you can't play audio files while reading (admittedly, not a problem for some, but others do like a little Nachtmusik from time to time).
Finally, the device includes a separate notepad, so you can jot down random thoughts and shopping lists.
Now, we have to give this e-reader points for its design and features; they really look great. On paper. But a perfect design, more features than stars in the sky, are worth very little if the device in question doesn't work properly. And we're afraid the Kogan falls into this category.
Firstly, the Kogan is slow. It took 35 seconds to boot up and load a book, although this seems to vary according to the book; we chose a 94-page volume, which added perhaps three seconds. George R.R. Martin's 2668-page A Dance With Dragons took six seconds, although that could have been the device telling us the file was too big (and then opening it anyway).
It's not just booting, though; the Kogan has to stop and think about every command you give it, whether it's opening menus or turning a page. Add to this the touchscreen: a finicky thing that sometimes won't register your presses, leaving you blinking owlishly at the screen, unsure whether the device is being slow or if it is blithely unaware you actually want it to do something.
It is not, in actuality, hugely slower than other devices we have tested — a few seconds, here and there (the Kobo Touch went from turned off to book open in 23 seconds, for comparison) — but it moves so sluggishly at everything, even page turns, that every action feels like the device is muttering to itself, "I think I can, I think I can".
Search functions and the notebook are likewise an exercise in frustration. You have to take a significant pause between pressing each letter, so much so that it would be quicker and easier to whip out your smartphone to make a note; good luck, though, finding a book. It can be done, but our advice would be to transfer the files to your computer and reinstall on the e-reader as you require — otherwise you'll be trying to find one book out of 1500+ every time you load a new one on.
Worst of all is the battery life. The first device we tested didn't last three days on a full charge. Thinking the unit must be faulty, we requested a new one for comparison; the first device did indeed turn out to be faulty in other ways, but the battery life was consistent across the two: we were lucky to get three days, even if we didn't use it once. And the results were the same, whether switched off or in sleep mode.
Further, charging from the computer via USB takes a few hours (charging from a power point takes less time, but no power point charger is included in the box). We find this lack of long life unacceptable — especially since many people buy e-readers for travel, and will go long periods of time without reaching an opportunity to recharge.
Does it work? Yes. Sometimes. Is it worth spending your money on? Well, in a blunt word, no. For an extra AU$10, you can grab the new Sony touchscreen reader in October — it performs much better and includes Wi-Fi — or, if you're more conscious of your budget, the Kobo eReader Touch (coming soon). Either of these provide much more value for your dollars. Unless it gets a serious software overhaul (and even then we have serious doubts), the Kogan e-reader just can't cut it.