Along with the opening today of its online ebook store, Whitcoulls has launched the Kobo dedicated eReader, giving Kiwis their first retail experience of an e-Ink ebook reader.
The Kobo eReader will be stocked in about 30 of Whitcoulls’ stores as well as being for sale online at whitcoulls.co.nz. It sells for NZ$295 including GST which is a little higher than we’d hoped it would be. In the US, it sells for US$149,in Canada C$149, and it’s A$199 across the Tasman in Australia. But even at $295, it represents very good value compared to other offerings and it’s a price that should encourage a lot of Kiwis to jump on board. The Kindle for instance — still unavailable to New Zealand buyers — retails for US$259 which is about NZ$430 with GST added.
The Kobo/Whitcoulls service is more than an eReader and you don’t actually need this eReader to read the Kobo ebooks. One of Whitcoulls/Kobo’s distinguishing features is its support of the industry standard ePub format along with a wide range of reading devices from PCs and Macs (not recommended for in-depth reading) to iPhones, iPads, Blackberries and Android smartphones.
Whitcoulls launched its iPhone/iPod Touch app (link opens iTunes) today and will shortly roll out support for Blackberries, Android smartphones and, in time for its July New Zealand launch, the iPad.
Despite all this choice, if you can justify the cost, a dedicated ebook reader will add plenty to your ebook reading enjoyment.
Whitcoulls and Kobo have been smart in opting for a basic specification with a good price point rather than loading the the Kobo eReader with lots of expensive features that don’t always add a lot to the reading experience.
Don’t let its budget price fool you. The Kobo is one of the best ebook readers around, functionally, ergonomically and style-wise. It has a quality feel, weighs in at 221 grams making it ideal for one-handed reading. Try doing that for long periods on an Apple iPad.
Its 6-inch/15 cm e-Ink screen operates crisply with nice typography including a choice of a serif and a sans serif typeface plus five type sizes. The black and white e-Ink display gives it a stable paper-like appearance, much easier on the eyes than the more common backlit LCD/LED displays, and offers great readability in natural light conditions, including outside in sunshine. Add a long battery life measured in weeks rather than hours and you’ve got a compelling feature set for comfortable reading.
One of the best usability features of the Kobo eReader is its “D-Pad” (short for “Directional Pad”). It’s a large round button which you press on the right or left edge to turn the pages forward or back. A neat feature is that pressing the D-Pad at the top or bottom will increase or decrease font size. A minor criticism is that the Kobo works best when held with the right hand but is a little less comfortable when held in the left. Many ebook readers solve this with an extra set of page forward/page back buttons on the left.
The tight integration with the Whitcoulls/Kobo ebookstore should make it a good choice for readers who aren’t tech whizzes, something that can’t be said for many of the eReaders out there.
You can download your ebooks to several devices, such as your Kobo eReader and an iPhone. I like to do this and find that having the iPhone or iPod Touch is great for catching those few extra minutes here and there during the day when you have a spare moment to read. Once you’ve set up a Whitcoulls’ online ebook account, your ebook collection is stored in “the cloud” (that is, on the internet) so they’re accessible from anywhere at any time, and from several devices.
The Kobo eReader boots up to a home screen which shows your latest downloaded titles and the titles you’re reading currently. If you get lost, pressing the “Home” button on the left-hand edge will always get you back to this point. You can organise your ebook collection by title, author, or most recently read, and they are added to an alphabetical tabbed section which is great for organising a large collection. The Kobo comes pre-loaded with 100 classics (none yet from New Zealand, alas).
Unlike the Kindle and several other eReaders, the Kobo does not have a wireless connection (other than Bluetooth which you can use to connect to a Blackberry). To buy and download ebooks, you’ll need a PC or Mac connected to the internet, basically the same system that Apple uses with iPods and the iTunes store. The ebooks are then copied to the Kobo reader which connects via a normal USB cable (supplied).
You can add an SD memory card up to 4GB which, along with the Kobo’s 1GB of onboard storage, gives you heaps of room for a thousand or more ebooks. Apart from ePub, the only other format supported at the moment is PDF but Kobo promises more will be added by way of software upgrade in future. This means you’ll need to convert your business documents to PDF to read on the Kobo.
So what’s missing from the Kobo eReader? The main thing of value is wireless connectivity, something that has been a winner for the Kindle. But frankly, given how easy the Kobo is to get ebooks on to, it’s a nice-but-not-necessary accessory. Another feature some eReaders offer is a touch screen, again nice but not necessary: I’ll take the saving (and crisper screen). Then there’s colour. The Kobo, like all of today’s e-Ink displays, is black and white but so are most of the ebooks you can buy today. Finally, if you’re looking for a device that will surf the net and do your email as well as read books, you’re better to wait a couple of months for Apple’s iPad, albeit at almost three times the price.
But if you want a gadget that — a bit like the book itself — does one thing really, really well and won’t break the bank, the wait is over. The Kobo eReader, and the flexibility the Kobo system offers to read your ebooks on several devices, is a great way to take your first step into the world of ebooks.[I’ve posted a video review and demo of the Kobo reader on bookTV.nz. If you haven’t already done it, head over to booktv.co.nz and sign up to follow us via Twitter, RSS, Facebook or good old email. Lots of good stuff coming.]