Friday, June 25, 2010

Kobo: The Little eReader That (Pretty Much) Does

The eReader market is beginning to get very interesting due to a recent price war that erupted when Barnes & Noble lowered the cost of their Nook to $199. Not to be undersold, Amazon then reduced the Kindle to $189 within just a few hours.

Additionally B&N also introduced a new, Wi-Fi only, affordable version of the Nook for $149, doing their best to aggressively take market share from Amazon and Apple.

But there's another low priced eReader that's entered the circle of E-Ink devices called Kobo, which will be prominently sold nationwide at Borders Bookstores and directly online.

The Kobo is irresistibly cute and feels great to hold. It's super light and has a nice, bright, easy-to-read screen. Part of what makes it feel so good in your hands is a quilted rubber back, which was a terrific design idea and kudos to whoever came up with that concept. There are simple buttons located on the lower left edge to navigate through the various options, like browsing your library, selecting the font size, and more.

There's also a big blue rubber button that feels like it's covering a toggle for changing pages and moving up and down on the screen. I found this feature a bit difficult to use at first, but after some time I got used to it.

But what I like most about the Kobo is how they made it out of plastic and rubber, yet somehow managed to make it not feel cheap. It feels crafted and solid and well worth the price point.

The Kobo also comes preloaded with 100 public domain classics, such as Moby Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Anna Karenina, and other familiar staples of literature. This is a very nice bonus, but oddly enough there doesn't seem to be a way to remove any of these titles from the device itself, which might miff some users.

What the Kobo doesn't have is Wi-Fi or 3G network connectivity and you know what...who cares!?! Millions of people have been hooking up their iPods to computers for years and have seemed to manage just fine. This strategy represents something close to what marketing thought-leader Seth Godin recently recommended to Amazon: To forget about all the bells and whistles but instead release a simple version of the Kindle with a $49 price tag, making reading digitally possible for just about everyone.

Just like with Kindle and Nook, you can download a very nice Kobo App for Apple's iPad to enjoy purchased titles, which was a very smart move since this amazing tablet (yes, I'm biased) has just surpassed 3 Million devices sold and there's no sign of that ending any time soon. You can also access your Kobo account across other platforms, which makes purchasing and reading very convenient. The dedicated App and online store for browsing/purchasing is clean and simple and overall seems to work well. However, some of the navigations are inconsistent and not 100% intuitive, but I suspect they'll be making improvements based on customer feedback in the months ahead. Watch this video to learn more about all the options.

But one peculiar move by Borders was the decision to immediately undercut the price of the Kobo with another eReader called the Libre. I understand the desire to provide customers with choice, but now is the time to put their focus and energy on promoting the hell out of Kobo so it resonates with the general public. I mean the Borders e-Bookstore is "powered by Kobo" so a little synergy wouldn't be a bad thing at this moment in time. If I were the Kobo/Borders team, I'd figure out a way to aggressively price this appealing gadget at $75 and shout it from the rooftops.

The one glaring thing that's most disappointing about the Kobo is how it deals with PDFs. Basically, it really doesn't beyond attempting to magnify the text to its best technical capability, which is quite poor, and honestly it's a feature that should've been kept off until ready for prime-time. Fortunately for Kobo and Borders, my impression is that most people won't be purchasing this device for business use.

Other than that, consider me a fan of this small and well-made eReader that looks great, feels great, and overall works great. Previously I had written about how I love reading on my iPad, and I still do. But the Kobo is the eReader I plan to use when reading outdoors in sunlight, especially at the beach.

Do you think Borders' new e-Book initiative with Kobo will gain market share?


  1. I don't have an eReader, but I think I'd rather pay $50 more to get one with 3G.

    Isn't access half the incentive to own an eReader?

  2. Hi Sarah,

    I suppose for some people that will be important, and that type of immediate access would call for a higher price point, but I suspect that since most people are used to tethering their iPods, they'd have no problem doing so for an eReader if they could own one for about $50.