There’s a new e-reader in the house! I had been eying the Kobo Glo with some envy ever since it came out. It seemed like Amazon’s readers kept getting thicker and chunkier-looking, while Kobo’s kept getting smaller and cuter and faster. The glow light was what really sold me, though. I read in bed a lot, and was growing weary of the tiny iPod Touch screen—I wanted to take a book with me again! And even with the light on, it was too dark to bring my reader into bed. We have one power outlet, and it’s not on my side of the bed.
Another selling point for me was the font options. My Kindle Touch had but one font to its name. The Kobo has half a dozen, and you can adjust the weight, sharpness, line spacing and margins, too. Plus, unlike the larger and heavier Kindle Paperwhite, the Kobo Glo is widely available in Canada—at our major bookstore chain, and at every electronics store. (There’s something to be said for off-the-shelf availability.) So I sold my Kindle on Craigslist, and went off to Indigo to get my Kobo Glo …
1. The Setup: Slow, problematic … but ultimately successful
My last reader, the Kindle Touch, was usable right out of the box. Not so with the Kobo. It wouldn’t even turn on until it was plugged into a computer, and you couldn’t see a thing without going through a lengthy setup process via Wi-Fi or computer. I chose the Wi-Fi setup: it searched for the network and prompted me for a password, then spent some time downloading an update. After that, it rebooted … and started the whole process again, only to freeze up partway through. It took two more hard reboots before we were up and running, and then, after another pause to put in the Wi-Fi password (again), I had to zip through prompts to enter my Kobo ID, my Facebook ID and who knows what else. The Facebook connect was optional. The Kobo connect was not. Even if you plan to sideload all your books (as I do) you still had to put in a Kobo account.
I have to admit, the freezes freaked me out a little. I like my technology to hum smoothly along. Once I got underway, I noticed a glitch with the glow light (there was a noticeable reddish reflection in the top corners when the light was on) and decided to err on the safe side and exchange it. The local bookstore took it back without complaint and let me go through the setup process again in-store, so I could verify I had a working unit before I went home with it.
This Kobo worked fine, and I was able to set it up without further issues. I also found that the glow light behaved itself this time. I did peer into the under-casing off the bezel, and I spotted some red diodes that must be part of the infrared sensor. My guess is they came loose or something, and moved too far up. They’re not intended to be visible during regular reading, and the Kobo rep in the store checked the unit at my request and confirmed it was defective, and that the reddish tinge was not normal.
2. Step One: Loading Content
Since I was in the store and already hooked into Wi-Fi, I experimented with loading books onto the Glo using the store and the Web browser. Downloading a free book from the Kobo store was as simple as finding one and pressing the download button.
Accessing my past Kobo purchases proved trickier though. There is no archived items area as there is on the Kindle, and once you remove a book from your ‘library,’ it’s difficult to get it back again. Apparently, it’s possible—all your books are accessible via your purchase history—but I couldn’t figure out how to access this from onboard the device.
I also used the store’s Wi-Fi connection to test downloading directly from webstores. I was able to download from Humble Bundle, Smashwords and Delphi Classics. I attempted to access my e-book library via Dropbox. I could see the files, but there was no download button. Apparently, there are ways to configure a Dropbox server, but that is beyond my technical skill.
Once home, I used Calibre to load books from my extensive existing e-book collection. I like being able to deal with straightforward EPUB files (as opposed to the nebulous and somewhat glitchy ‘kepub’ the device uses if you download from the store) and I liked being able to configure the settings so that Calibre could create bookshelves for me on the device, and keep them updated for me. I had been eagerly awaiting a bookshelf/collection feature, and it’s somewhat tedious to set those up for each book, one by one, on the device. Calibre had no problems recognizing the Glo once I plugged it into my computer and pressed the ‘connect’ prompt. I’ve been seamlessly transferring books to my heart’s content all weekend.
3. Step Two: Reading Books
I’ve really enjoyed reading books on the Kobo; it looks so much nicer than my Kindle. I love being able to choose fonts and adjust them. I love being able to tweak margins and line spacing. Another nice thing for me has been that for side-loaded content, the Kobo displays page numbers instead of locations, as the Kindle does. I do find this to be a more natural progress indicator, and I like feeling like I’m making headway on my books.
Accessing your books is easy. When you press the ‘library’ option, you can choose amongst books, news and magazines, previews, or shelves. Selecting an option takes you to the appropriate area. I like that they’ve finally separated the previews from your actual books. And the shelves feature was more than overdue!
The library view lets you sort by title, author, file type, and recent reads. You can also touch the ‘Books’ header to access the shelves and other reading areas without needing to go back to the home screen.
Speaking of the home screen, the physical home button is gone, and that took some getting used to. It’s easy enough to bring up the button—tap the middle of the screen and you’ll get all your menus, with the home button there in the corner—but it took me a few hours to get used to not having the button. I did like the setup of the tap zones, though. The Kindle Touch’s menu chooser was the whole top of the screen, and I was forever calling up the menu when I meant to turn the page. The Kobo’s setup mirrors what I’m used to in my iOS reading apps, and feels much more natural to me.
For me, the one deficiency the Kobo has over the Kindle is the highlighting—it’s extremely finicky compared to its Kindle counterpart. You have to press and hold, then wait for the slider to come up. Then you have to slide and drag. The selector is much less precise than I’m used to, and its accuracy was terrible. It often took me several tries to get the right parts done. And then you have to go down to the bottom menu and actually choose ‘highlight’ or ‘take note.’ There are several extra steps compared to the Kindle. I use the highlighting to mark errors for later correction, and I was dismayed at how slow it was to use, and how hard it was to select text precisely.
The same menu bar is used to manage some other advanced features. The second icon from the left lets you choose a dictionary. The default dictionary will pop up a word as soon as you let go of the screen, but you can use this button to change over to a translation dictionary, or to another dictionary that you have installed. It’s not as comprehensive as the Kindle’s Google Translate option, but it does the job. And, like the Kindle, it can manage more than one language at a time. When I tested a French book, it automatically used the correct dictionary.
The other two bottom menu buttons let you search inside the book and across your device, and post to Facebook. I haven’t integrated my Kobo Glo into my Facebook account (I like to maintain control over what I share there, and when) so I didn’t test this feature.
4. The Glow Light and SleepCover
The light is great! You can use it in a decently-lit room to make the screen look crisper and whiter and clearer. When you use it in the dark, it makes the text well-lit and readable. It does not emit light like a beacon the way my backlit iOS devices do. I could use it in bed without disturbing my partner. In full dark, it’s a little blue-looking, but when I played with it during the day, it had no color, and just made the screen and text pop a little bit more. The bottom menu bar has a little light bulb icon when the light is active; it lets you call up a slider to adjust the settings.
Another accessory worth mentioning is the official Kobo SleepCover. It was quite expensive, relatively speaking— about a third the cost of the device itself! But it’s actually a very well-made and slick-looking cover. It’s sized just right, lined with a cozy, soft material. And best of all, it automatically puts the Kobo to sleep when closed, and wakes it up when opened. No more messing with power buttons in the dark: Just open and read.
Best of all, it remembers your light setting. If it went to sleep with the glow light on, it will wake up with the light still on for you, ready to go. It was a little more than I typically spend for a case, but it works so well with the Kobo that I sprang for it anyway. I was so excited about being able to read properly in bed again! I wanted the full experience.
5. Other Features
Several other features are worth mentioning. Firstly, the Reading Life features are a neat Kobo exclusive. You can access them from the ‘Reading Life’ option on the home screen. You can check stats about how many books you’ve read, and get ‘awards’ for things like reading at certain times and adding books to your library.
Kobo has also gotten onboard the ‘recommendations’ train and integrated a ‘discover’ option into the home screen. I didn’t personally find this obtrusive, but I’ve read several complaints about it on the message boards. There’s no way to disable it, so if you don’t want Kobo bothering you with book suggestions, there isn’t much you can do about it.
There are also some hidden bonus apps in the ‘extras’ section of the settings dialog. This is where you can find the rudimentary Web browser. There are also chess and Sudoku games and a sketch pad.
6. Final Verdict
When all is said and done, I’m very happy with my Kobo purchase. There are some definite plusses: a prettier UI, better font controls, proper page numbers, the excellent glow light, that snazzy SleepCover and, let’s face it, points for retail availability—no Kindle Paperwhite or Nook GlowLight here!.
I did find the setup needlessly fiddly and the forced user account somewhat irksome, but I hope I only have to do the setup once, so this annoyance won’t affect my day-to-day use. The only big deal for me was the pokey highlighting, but given the other benefits this device has for me, I can live with it. And since that’s a software issue, it’s within Kobo’s power to improve that in a future update.
I do miss being able to email books onto my device, and while cross-device syncing is possible, it’s just not the same. It works only for Kobo-purchasd books (Amazon can sync side-loaded books too), and it requires use of Kobo’s Android or iOS apps. I dislike the Kobo app intensely, so I am going to do without cross-device syncing for now.
I’m keeping reference books on the iPad for reading in little chunks while out and about, and keeping my novels on the Kobo. I mostly used the syncing to transfer from my iPad during the day to my iPod touch at night for bedtime reading. Since I can read in bed with this Kobo, the need to sync to something else is negated anyway.
On another note, I’m happy to be back in the land of EPUB. It feels like a more future-proof format to me, and since I’m buying DRM-free now, I can easily use a program like Sigil to open up the book file and edit out the typos. I like not needing to keep MOBI copies of everything.
Overall? High marks. It’s an elegant, attractive little reader … and I’m really looking forward to taking it into bed with me!
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