Kobo Ereader Review

January 14, 2011 | Design Basics, Design Trends

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Kobo EreaderFor Christmas I received a Kobo e-book reader. This is Border’s answer to the Kindle, but it reads ePub files and PDFs.

Let me come clean and say that: 1) I earn money from the publishing industry by designing book covers, book interiors, and even e-book files. 2) I have never previously read an e-book for pleasure (I’ve downloaded business reports in PDF format and I’ve checked epub and PDF files for my clients, but I have not actually purchased something for my own pleasure.)

The reason I mention those points is to show that even with my ties to the publishing industry, I never felt compelled to buy any e-book reader. My mother in law bought the Kobo Ereader for me.

I do read regularly: A mix of business and technology books to help me with running my graphic design firm and novels, history or biographies for pleasure. I am a member of a book club.

I decided to try out my new reader by buying Cutting For Stone through Border’s web site. It is the selection for my book club this month. Border’s had a deal on New York Times best sellers and it was $5. Hard to beat the price.

Getting set up

I am very much an Apple/Mac/iPhone kinda gal. I love how easy it is to navigate around a Mac or on my iPhone. In fact, you don’t feel like you’re stopping to think about how to navigate; it just happens. This is not the feeling with a Kobo. The buttons are really buttons… like mechanical, actually-have-to-push-them sort of buttons. After switching from a traditional cell phone to an iPhone a number of years ago, those buttons feel pretty clunky.

To get the Kobo up and running I had to set up certain account information. Using the onscreen keyboard and the navigation pad was a pretty torturous experience. You have to use the up/down buttons to get to the key you need and then hit enter. Repeat for the next letter, etc.

Luckily, there’s not a lot of typing involved when doing e-reading, so that’s good! But it did leave me wondering about ordering a book using the WiFi connection. Would I have to enter all my billing information in? Ugh. I would avoid that unless stuck at an airport with nothing to read.

Downloading the software and files

The process of buying and downloading the e-book file was not difficult, but it wasn’t totally intuitive either. I felt like I didn’t get much confirmation along the way that I was doing the right thing.

The Kobo Ereader comes with a USB cord that connects it to your computer. This is also how you charge the battery. To get a book onto the reader you have two choices: go through your computer or use the built in WiFi to order directly to your reader.

I connected via my laptop and then had to install the Borders Desktop application onto my Mac. It installed easily, and after that I chose my book via the web site and downloaded to my desktop. Like I said, nothing about it was complicated, but at the same time I didn’t feel confident it was all going right until the end, when it all worked. Some sort of confirmation of where you are in the set-up process would be helpful.

Reading my ePub book file

Very quickly, I was ready to go with my new book loaded onto the Kobo.

As a graphic designer who creates ePub files, I was eager to experience the ePub format from the eyes of a reader. As I mentioned in a previous post, converting a file prepared for offset print to the ePub format is more than just a push of a button. While the export process should be as easy as that, our experience shows that you need to spend some time double-checking the formatting of the newly created ePub file.

It seems that the publishing company did not take that much care.

At least half of the apostrophes did not come through. Generally they’ve disappeared and she’d becomes shed. There are a few places where the punctuation is replaced with a space. For the first few pages, I kept getting tripped up by these errors. I would re-read a sentence talking about sheds then realize it was she’d. Now that I’m well into the book I am used to the repeated mistake.

There are also other strange spacing and punctuation problems. There are a few hyphens in the middle of lines of text which may have been from a discretionary hyphen being added to the printed book. (Discretionary hyphens are sometimes added by the book designer to make justified type look better or to work around widows, orphans or other poor line breaks.)

I was surprised that a highly popular book would go to market with such poor typesetting. I know that I would not feel comfortable releasing a book design that was this sloppy. And, I have a feeling that my clients would be proofreading my work and making me correct mistakes like this.

I like it despite my objections

Overall, I like the Ereader much more than expected. The screen is very easy to read, and the fact that it is so small and lightweight makes it easy to hold when reading in bed.

Initially, the button-pushing page-turning really bugged me. Each time I need to flip the page, I have to push the button. And there is a bit of a hesitation as the page reloads. The screen sort of flashes. Because of the small screen you “flip” pages more frequently than in a print edition. But I’ve gotten used to that now.

For me, it’s the initial price of getting started that was my obstacle. The fact that my first e-book would essentially cost me more than $100 was enough to stop me. Since my kind mother-in-law removed that hurdle, I expect I’ll continue to buy and read electronic books.

And I’ll continue to watch the typesetting and details such as punctuation in the ePub files. I hope that there is not a noticeable loss in quality and editing in the electronic editions of books.

What about you? Do you have a Kobo or Kindle, and do you like it? What is the quality of the book files?

19 comments

  1. Tom | March 19, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    I read your review because I’m thinking about buying a Kobo. I have played with one for about a half hour in the local Borders store. I actually find the interface very simple and easy — but I’ll grant you that it’s not as intuitive as an Apple user interface design. As for the actual-really-mechanical-have-to-click-it buttons, I think it’s a matter of preference. Touch screens are rather magical but I’ve found that I don’t always like them. I got rid of a touch-screen phone after I found my ear pushing “buttons” for instance. On the Kobo, the lack of a touch screen doesn’t bother me at all.

    I do wish the page “turning” were faster but I’m encouraged that you’ve gotten used to it. I also think it’s sloppy that anyone would sell a book without checking for the kind of errors that you encountered in what we used to call typesetting. I’m sure that’s an artifact of conversion, possibly due to character sets or markup codes. I hope the market demands a bit more attention to detail and the quality improves. Really the display of the type on e-ink is remarkably good, and there’s no need to spoil that with such errors. The type is very clear even in the smallest size. And the ability to increase the font size is wonderful.

  2. Emily Brackett | March 21, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    Tom, Thanks for your comments. I agree, the screen and type quality are wonderful and I hope the market demands cleaner typesetting to match that quality. I’m continuing to enjoy my Kobo.

  3. Carol | August 24, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    I hate the KOBO ereader. I have called customer numerous times to no evail. Kobo desktop keeps saying it is full when I try to sync but my ereaders shows I have 90% free space. Customer service has been no help.
    Anyone have the same problem?

  4. Marie | January 4, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    Yep, I have a frozen ereader kobo touch, only 2 months old, and customer service continues to give me the run around, no help for what is now a useless piece of crap.

  5. Ruth McVeigh | September 23, 2012 at 10:12 am

    My son gave me this as a Christmas present last year. I was fine until about two months ago. When I push the ‘starter’, it flashes green twice and then reverts to brown and does not “catch’. I took it to The Source (which does not repair) and was told what to do. I followed his instructions and it started again but only after reverting it to “factory condition” which means everything was wiped off. No books.
    Now, just two months later, it is again refusing to start up, although when I was reading last night I noted the charge was almost topped up. To get an answer on line from a tekkie will cost me $30 and what guarantee do I have that this won’t all happen again in a couple of months.
    I’m not happy!

  6. E | March 21, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    Today I picked up a Kobo on clearance sale (Borders store closing). I’ve been a Kindle user for 8 months now and really like a good ereader. Thought the simpler interface would work for my mother. Once the Kobo is set-up it is easy to use and I think she will like it. Totally agree with your comments about the on-screen keyboard being tortuous to navigate but that is used primarily for the setup and hopefully for little else.

    The screen is equal to the Kindle’s. The page turns are slightly slower and more noticeable but one can get use to that.

    As for your comments about ebook typesetting it does occur. Most books do fairly well but some are just aggravating. Usually a complaint to the store will result in a refund and sometimes a publisher will send an update with corrections. Of course, I have found print books with similar problems and that is just as irritating.

  7. Emily Brackett | March 22, 2011 at 9:33 am

    E, thanks for some comparison notes to the Kindle. And I do think consumers should put some pressure on booksellers (and in turn publishers) to keep the quality of the ePub files.

  8. Lei | May 4, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    Mine too was a gift, and at about three months old, while performing an upgrade, crashed. Then, after being mislead by customer service I would be receiving a new (and upgraded) unit, my three-month old unit was replaced by a refurbished unit (which they lost track of as well). First it required constant reset because it would freeze every other time I loaded a book or used the menu and after performing a factory reset it still is not opening certain books. Apparently they’re too large.

    Kobo appears to have no interest in finding a resolution for my problems.

  9. Barry | May 9, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Call me a book nerd, but I love my E reader. It’s not a Kobo. It is an Aluratek, which was sold at Borders as well. I am partially blind, and I love the e ink and the fact that you can adjust print size. Very easy on the eyes and does not reflect light like ink on paper.

  10. Sarah | June 16, 2011 at 10:50 am

    I now have the new Kobo Touch edition and I love it. It’s lightweight easy to use and you just tap or swipe the screen to change pages. Worth the upgrade.

  11. greg | July 6, 2011 at 7:00 am

    I’ve had a Kobo for a months. Today it froze for the third time. In two hours it “fixed” itself…, but my two downloaded books were delited.
    Tomorrow it’ll go back to where it came from.

  12. Steve H | August 22, 2011 at 9:44 am

    hello read some of these posts with interest just thought I would add my experience
    I an in the UK purchased a Kobo for my wife for birthday I got the KOBO as it was the cheapest available and as my wife had always said she didnt want such a thing 3 weeks later it crashed the screen would not dispaly anything I sent it back to the online retailer I got it from and they basically said it was abuse and would not repair it. I know this isnt the situation it was in a case and well cared for I have since been out and purchase a Sony and hope this willprove to be a better option

  13. Ahamin | September 6, 2011 at 7:35 am

    Kobo Touch edition is wonderful. I won’t give comment to site but it is amazing.

  14. Rob E | October 1, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    I was upgraded to the Kobo touch because I was having problems with the old style. Very short battery life, freezing etc.. well the new one is exactly the same. Page freezes often. Battery needs recharging even if not used every 3 days.The darn thing spends more time on the charger than in my hands. Refund!

  15. Jocelyn | October 24, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    I love my kobo, I first had the non touch edition and had no problems but I dumped a full beer on it, I sat it up and let it dry out (liquid literally ran out the bottom) and the thing turned on and worked fine (but the battery would only last a half hour after that).
    I bought the kobo touch shortly after, again, I love it, the battery life is better then the first the screen looks better and I like the touch. And of course cant beat the price!

  16. John Bolduc | August 20, 2012 at 12:22 pm
  17. Ruth McVeigh | September 23, 2012 at 10:18 am

    Looks as though quite a few people have had my experience with frozen screen. It doesn’t seem right to have to pay $30 for on-line “repair” when the Kobo is less than a year old — with no guarantee it won’t happen again in another couple of months.
    I would not recommend the Kobo.

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