Kobo eReaders – an alternative to Kindle

One of my recent posts was about the eReaders options we have, especially when in vacation you travel and, if you’re like me, you’d like to read different books depending on your mood. Addressing this “I’d like to read a lot of books but I don’t know exactly what books/genre” is difficult if you love only printed books, making your luggage heavy or creating a bit of frustration that you didn’t bring with you “that” book you’d like “now” to read.

A solution for those who tolerate to read books in different format other than printed is having an eReader which is (in my mind) a very good compromise – offering easy on eyes reading, lightness and the full portable library you may shuffle through you vacation days.

When I mentioned eReaders, most of the people thought of Kindle…when they saw Kobo some of them asked “what’s that .. a Kobo? I never heard of them”. And this article tries to answer this question(s): “Are there alternatives for Kindle? Are they any good? Is Kobo good enough to compete with Kindle?”

I have to admit that, when I started using eBook readers, I started with Sony PRS 600 which I loved for its versatility and PDF reflow support (that’s when you don’t have to zoom in to see the content of an PDF, but just increase the font size until you see the text fine) and switched to Kobo when Sony decided that they won’t continue to activated in this field (by that moment I ws using the PRS-650). I only started to use the Kindle with their 10th generation of devices (the history is available here) and the 4th generation of Paperwhite.

Kobo stayed with me for a longer period than all the others (Sony or Kindle), because their devices proved to be reliable, open for content and easy to use. Hardware wise, I still consider them to be superior to the more famous (and more expensive) Kindles.

Kobo Aura One – one of the larger devices from Kobo (7.8′ screen) – very useful when reading PDFs for example

Kobo started their journey in 2010 releasing a number of devices since then (the list is available here). The fact that Kobo (an anagram of book) entered this business forced the prices down for Amazon Kindle and creates a healthy competition and alternative for the “behemoth” Amazon.

Hardware wise, I consider Kobo to be slightly superior in the same price range to the Kindle counterpart, usually offering a sturdy and elegant solution. But the biggest difference comes from the supported formats of files – simply said, Kobo is more open and supports epub (epub3 included), mobi whereas Kindle supports mobi and the proprietary format azw.

Using Calibre, a free and versatile desktop software available for a lot of platforms, you can bridge the worlds converting the formats from epub to mobi and vice versa. Calibre offers much more than that, but serves primarily as a great book management software.

To open the book you need to press an recessed button that leaves little room for mistakes, unlike the Paperwhite one which allowed me in various occasions to open the Kindle and change something on his settings when it was stored in my backpack.

Good grip and recessed on/off button to protect from accidental changes

The device has a micro-USB cable to be used for charging it and also for data transfer. The reader is Wi-Fi enabled and you can connect it to internet to access Kobo’s store or other sources of data. Kobo doesn’t offer any cellular connections like Kindles used to, but with the current WiFi availability (even as hotspot) , I don’t see this as a downside.

Kobo doesn’t have Bluetooth connectivity, unlike the recent Paperwhite (or superior Kindles) – that means that you can’t use the book for listening your audio books (like Kindle can).

The home screen is clean and easy to use, maybe it worth to mention the fact that Kobo doesn’t have advert supported version of the eReaders, so you’re free from “news” sent by the mother ship.

My Books interface – easy to use and intuitive (I’d say better than Kindle’s)

You can create collections and group your books, the search process being straightforward .

The purchase process is similar to what Amazon offers for Kindle, the download happens fast and you can start reading right away. The title selection from Kobo is generous but I feel that Amazon offers more titles and exclusivities. I found titles that weren’t available on Kobo (at least not directly on their store) but were available on Amazon Kindle; you can compensate this by searching other epub stores – Google being one good alternative.

In terms of prices, let’s pick a (more) recent title recommended by goodreads – The Whisper Man by Alex North.

The Kindle price for “The Whisper Man” is 13.08USD
The price with Kobo is 11.19USD

Having just one book as a base of the comparison is not fair and some other people compared the prices on the platforms using more titles, but I’d say that there is not a consistent difference of price .. in my experience, I found the epub titles less expensive (by a little) than Amazon …

There is a difference though, when you’re looking at the romanian book market – most of the publishing houses are publishing their titles in epub format, protecting the titles by using the Adobe Digital Edition. For that, Kobo is better equipped and even though you can try to convert the epub into mobi format to make it available on Kindle as well, the process is not always straightforward and may create issues for non-technical people.

Kobo display some stats of your reading habits and also employs some gamification to keep you interested in reading the books.

Reading stats – nice to have, for geeks (and not only)

The “prizes” for reading may be nice initially and are linked to your Kobo account and not the device .. you can go from device to device with them.

Reading awards – nice for some

One of the strengths of Kobo is the font management and flexibility, being highly customizable.

Another nice feature is the ConfortLight, which allows your device to adapt to the environment and moment of the day, sensing the light intensity and adjusting the brightness and also the color of the light – going from the blue (default for Kindle) to orange (after sunset – actually based on your bedtime moment).

Options for ConfortLight – Brightness and Color with manual and auto adjustments

In terms of light, when I read on Paperwhite which is perfectly fine for reading in the dark, I miss the warm light of the Kobo Aura One and also the even distribution of the light.

One nice thing that Kobo has is the integration with Pocket (https://getpocket.com/) which allows you to send various content available in your internet wonderings into a “pocket” with articles for later consumption on the Kobo. That’s handy if you discovered a nice article that you don’t have time to read now, but would like to read later on your book. More details here – https://help.kobo.com/hc/en-us/articles/360017763753-Use-the-Pocket-App-with-your-Kobo-eReader. It’s nice and clean, works fine.

Articles collected to be read later using Pocket and Kobo integration

To be fair, Kindle has a similar integration with Instapaper, but the advantage for Kobo is that Pocket seems to me more easily integrated with my reading habits – your preference might differ.

Kobo added in the recent years also the audiobooks in their offering, but that’s not (yet) integrated with the devices, but only available in the shop. That’s a disadvantage compared to Kindle which supports the “Amazon account” with all the goodies and also allows streaming the content from the bluetooth capable Paperwhite (and superior devices). Another weaknesses for Kobo might be considered the English dictionary which is not as capable as Kindle’s is – you may read new books with terms that you won’t find in the dictionary. Yes, you may search online .. but that’s an annoyance you’d like to avoid.

If today you’re exploring the option of buying a ebook reader, you may take into account the Kobo devices for their hardware refinement. Currently, Kobo sells their devices at competitive prices and stand pretty well against the Kindle counterparts.

They have 4 devices available at this moment – ranging from 6” to 8” screen and with prices starting at 100 USD up to 250 USD. All of them have ConfortLight and except the entry-level Nia device have 300ppi screens. The higher level devices Forma and Libra H2O are waterproof, so they are suitable to be used in/by the pool.

Amazon offers 3 devices at his moment: Kindle, Kindle Paperwhite and Kindle Oasis, the first two being 6” devices and the later being a 7” screen device. All support bluetooth audible and the Oasis has adjustable warm light. Kindle prices start at 90USD, Paperwhite being 130USD and Oasis 250USD. All the prices are for “ad-supported” devices, if you want to be “free” from ads, then you should add 20 USD for “unlock”. More details here – KoboKindle.

Even though I use the 7.8” Aura One, which is a large device which offers a lot of screen, I still prefer the convenience and easy to use 6” devices which are more pocketable.

The sweet spot of the market there is disputed by Kobo Clara HD (120 USD) and Kindle Paperwhite (130 USD) – both with WiFi and 8GB of storage. Kobo Clara is a bit lighter at 166g compared with 182g, but Paperwhite is waterproof and has audible available over bluetooth. Kobo offers 7 leds for even light and adaptive warm light, Paperwhite has 5 leds which offer a even blue light. So, it depends on how much you’re close to the epub publishers (at least in Romania most of them prefer the epub solution) or how much you want to enjoy the comfort of the Amazon ecosystem. You can order Kindle in Romania directly from Amazon (or buy from a local store – the final price won’t be 130USD obviously), for Kobo you only have the option to buy it from a local store at a higher price than the one listed on the Kobo.com website.

For people who like to read books, Kobo in my opinion offers a better experience and also lives in a more open publishing world (without the “griping comfort” of the Amazon world).

Enjoy your time and read!

Author: Liviu Nastasa

Passionate about software development, sociology, running...definitely a geek.

2 thoughts

  1. Kobo is actually great. Feels, reads, behaves better than the kindle. The only issue it does not come with an email address, so the wireless transfer of books is difficult. If they would add some kind of wireless transfer of books, it would be the allover winner

    1. You’re right, that could be improved. I’d say that with the Pocket integration, OverDrive integration and Kobo book shop – we have some good options. Most of my syncs are still done with Calibre (laptop/usb) regardless if it’s Kobo or Kindle and that won’t go away (soon).

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