Mini-Review: Why I'm putting down iPad, and reaching for Kobo

Don't misconstrue, but I go both ways — I'm a bi e-reader user.

My e-book reading odyssey began with the Kindle. Then I started using the Kindle app on my iPhone. I then moved to the second generation Kindle, then to the Kindle and iBook apps on the iPad.

I have now returned to a dedicated e-reader, the new Kobo eReader Touch Edition, alternating with the Kindle and the iPad Kindle app where I have most of my unread books. As soon as I finish reading my pending Kindle books, I believe I will stay with Kobo.

While not exactly typical, I believe I'm not alone in my tablet v. dedicated e-book reader vacillation.

iPad Reading Pros And Cons

iPad seemed like the perfect e-reading solution. Both the Kindle app and Apple's own iBook app were easier to read than the Kindle — finally, true black-on-white text! — and I could read in the dark.

But iPad e-book reading presented its own problems. Like the ads say, you can't really read it outside in the sun. And though I'm not a beach person, I'm not sure exposing iPad to sand and sea is a good idea.

Soon, however, I found myself reading less and less on iPad, and then not at all. Why? iPad has too many other distractions. I could surf the Web, play Scrabble, read email, play Scrabble, check baseball scores, play Scrabble, watch a movie, play Scrabble, write, play Scrabble, play Scrabble — did I mention I liked to play Scrabble?

I wanted to read, but I was pulled to too many other iPad places.

Keep It Simple, Stupid

It finally dawned on me that all I wanted from an e-reading device was to read books. And that's where the new Kobo eReader Touch Edition ($130) comes in.

You're forgiven if you don't know Kobo. It's a Canadian company that actually supplies e-books to Borders and other book sellers, and the third-place e-reader maker behind Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook. (I have the Kindle 3, and am due to receive my review sample of the new Nook this week, although I played for an hour with one I bought for my mom. I'll have a more comparative look at these three e-readers in a few weeks.)

Other than a nearly useless Web browser, Kobo is an e-book reader — no MP3 player, no email, no games, just books. Which means all I can do on it is read books, which, quite frankly, is all I ever wanted to do with an e-reader.

Three other aspects of Kobo make it the best e-book reader available (IMHO).

First, it's cheaper than its two primary competitors. Kindle 3's non-ad supported edition and Barnes & Noble's All-New Nook touch e-reader are both $140. (Then again, the strip ads on the ad-supported $114 Kindle 3 are pretty unobtrusive — they don't show up on actual book pages. Still, $16 is a paltry sum to avoid them — and that's the difference between it and the Kobo.)

Second, Kobo is lighter and around a half-inch shorter and less wide than Nook and the Kindle 3, which makes it easier to slide in and out of an inside suit jacket breast pocket or cargo pants pocket.

Third, like the All-New Nook, Kobo has a touchscreen. A touchscreen means Kobo can eschew all buttons but a Home key. By comparison, Kindle 3 looks like a huge scientific calculator. Everything else is done by touching the screen, including simply tapping or swiping to turn pages forward and back. Intuitive and simple.

Once you touch, you'll never go back.

Kobo Comparisons

Like the new Nook, Kobo offers 2GB of internal memory, room for around 2,000 books — the same as Nook, or half that of Kindle 3's 4GB memory. Like its competitors, Kobo has a micro SD card slot if you need more memory, but, seriously — you need room for more than 2,000 e-books? And Kobo only has to be charged once every couple of weeks, so disregard the battery life brouhaha. Kobo also automatically turns off its Wi-Fi when you're not in its store.

A recent much-needed software update vastly improves Kobo's touch sensitivity. Before the upgrade, I could tap or swipe a page three or four times without the page turning. Now, it's rare when I have to tap or swipe twice, although there is a two-second lag between book chapters. But I still wish Kobo would have done what Barnes & Noble did on the Nook — unobtrusive page-turn ridges on either side of the touchscreen.

Buying books on the Kobo is as easy as it is on the Kindle 3 or Nook. If you buy online, your book isn't automatically transmitted to your Kobo like it is on Kindle; you have to sync your Kobo wirelessly — one touch of the circular Sync button on the home screen — or via a USB connection. Not a big deal.

Nook offers a bunch of social networking extras Kobo doesn't, such as a book lending feature and the ability to create Nook book clubs with friends — all superfluous, as far as I'm concerned.

You can easily start reading for free on Kobo. Listed in the store menu is a "Free eBooks" category, with 220 titles to choose from (I just read both "Alice In Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass" for the first time). Good luck finding free books on either the Kindle — which does offer a bunch of free classics you probably read in high school — or the Nook. All three services let you download sizable samples of e-books.

Kobo has, thankfully, re-ignited my iPad-retarded reading habit. Whether or not I'll find the Nook an even better touch experience — I'll let you know.

About The Writer: Stewart Wolpin has been bloviating about consumer electronics for more than 25 years for the likes of DVICE, Tech Goes Strong, the American Heritage of Invention & Technology magazine, and elsewhere on the Web. Stewart is also an elector for the Consumer Electronics Hall of Fame, and has written two books: Bums No More: The Championship Season of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, and The Rules of Neighborhood Poker According to Hoyle.

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