Kobo Wireless eReader

The Kobo Wireless eReader offers better performance, but screen refresh and speed remain issues

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  • Expert Rating

    3.25 / 5

Pros

  • Lightweight, easy to hold, improved display contrast and sharpness

Cons

  • Screen refresh still slow

Bottom Line

The Kobo eReader's main appeal is to those who prefer ePub files; for now, this is the least expensive Wi-Fi-connected ePub-compatible model, and it handles the format well.

Would you buy this?

The Kobo Wireless eReader aspires to compete with the big kids in the e-reader arena. This iteration represents a marked improvement over its predecessor, offering higher contrast, a sharper E Ink display, and better performance. Unfortunately, the Wireless eReader still lacks the polish and finesse of the leaders. And at US$199 (as of December 13, 2010), it's the same price as an Amazon Kindle.

Looking for the best eBook reader? Before you buy an Amazon Kindle, Apple iPad or Sony reader check out our eBook reader comparison guide to find out the best features you should compare.

While the general design of the Kobo Wireless eReader remains the same, the company has made some tweaks to enhance the chassis. Now you can buy it in black, white and lavender, or white and silver; regrettably, though, the matte-black finish is prone to getting scratched in daily use. As on the Amazon Kindle, the black border greatly enhances readability. Kobo joins Amazon and Sony in offering an E Ink Pearl display, which provides better contrast and clarity than earlier E Ink displays (such as the one on the original Kobo).

Inside, Kobo has overhauled the Wireless eReader to provide faster page turns and performance. Indeed, in comparison with the original version, this model feels like a fleet-footed marathoner. The improved performance addresses my biggest complaints about the first-generation Wireless eReader (which suffered from poor usability, sluggish performance, and stiff buttons).

However, while the enhancements go far, they don't go far enough. The Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader Touch Edition still offer better performance. I could perceive significant page flicker and some lag while turning pages and navigating within the Kobo reader. And although the buttons are no longer stiff monstrosities and are more responsive than before, I still had an issue with trying to navigate precisely, in spite of the raised dots that are supposed to help one know precisely where to push; often, I invoked the wrong command, or I failed to select the option I wanted.

Kobo, for those unfamiliar with the company, is an international e-book service and hardware provider backed by Canada's Indigo Books & Music, the U.S.-based Borders Group, REDgroup Retail, and Cheung Kong Holdings. The company differentiates its e-reader by complementing the fairly stock hardware with pleasing touches (textured and rubberized backing, softer-touch buttons) and above-average original software. The Wireless eReader model makes for a compelling, more open (with its support of ePub and Adobe Digital Editions content) e-reader that costs significantly less than the Sony Reader Touch Edition.

Kobo marries its Kobobooks.com online store -- which has more than 2 million e-books as well as periodicals -- with mobile apps for Android, iPad, iPhone, and BlackBerry, as well as its value-priced, connected e-reader. The Wireless eReader makes it easy to sync a book with other devices by updating your library while you're reading a text. (The process isn't as automated on Amazon's Kindle, for example, but it is an option now.) You can access your account via the Web, or through an app that you can install off the e-reader.

Setting up the wireless was tedious on the on-screen keyboard, but manageable. When I connected the first time, the Wireless eReader automatically prompted me to download a firmware update, and warned me that I would need to reboot. The whole process took a matter of minutes, and was friendly and integrated. If you plug the reader into your PC, it pops up the option to charge while you continue to read, or to manage your library--a good usability enhancement. "Manage your library" simply means that the reader, and its 1GB of integrated storage (plus any card you may have in the SDHC Card slot), will appear as standard files and folders in Windows Explorer. (The card slot, located on the top of the unit, accommodates cards up to 32GB, eight times the potential maximum capacity of the non-connected Kobo eReader.)

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