The Kobo Arc has been selling well since its recent launch in Canada, propelled largely by its retail presence at Canadian book chain Indigo, where it undercuts the Google Nexus on price, and by a decently impressive spec sheet. I had the chance to speak with a few Kobo Arc customers, now that they’ve settled in with their tablet.
What’s working for them … and what’s not? Keep reading.
1. The Longing for Full Control
Firstly, most of the Kobo customers I’ve spoken with are universally impressed with the Arc’s sharp screen and front-loaded speakers. They compliment the form factor, and many are enjoying the unique tapestries feature.
A few, however, are disgruntled by the lack of customization options. The discovery bar, meant to suggest new content you might enjoy, takes up a large-ish chunk of screen real estate and there is, as yet, no way to reclaim it if you want to use that space for other things.
Two Kobo reps, both posting at Mobile Read, have defended this difficulty as a feature: You’ll like the discovery bar, they promise. Just try it! A simple preference tweak would allow users who truly don’t want this bar on their screen to reclaim that space, but the developers don’t seem inclined to permit this personalization. The only way to get rid of the bar right now is to install an alternate launcher, like Go Launcher, from the Play store—it’ll hide all the Kobo widgets so you can get rid of the bar, but it means giving up the tapestries feature too, so some users feel stuck between a rock and a hard place on that one. You can’t get rid of the discovery barand keep he tapestries.
I’ve also spoken to at least two users (including my co-worker, whose Arc I got to play with for awhile) who are finding the Arc experience a little overwhelming. Here is where Amazon might have an edge: If you’re in a market that can use the Kindle Fire, you can register it with your Amazon account and get books, apps, movies and everything all in one go.
The Arc, in Canada, at least, doesn’t have nearly as robust an ecosystem. You can do all the same functions, but they require multiple apps and multiple registrations—Kobo for the device and books, Google Play for the apps, and Netflix for the movies.
My coworker has finally gotten around to desiring apps, and couldn’t understand why it kept prompting her to register; didn’t she do that already? (Didn’t I do it for her when I set the damned thing up?)
Personally, I’m fine with the expansion-via-app system, and in our household, we have a lot of cool stuff on the iPad and the Google Nexus 7. But I can see how, for a tech newbie like her, it can all seem a bit much.
I’m starting to appreciate the advantage of the ‘walled garden’ for certain users. I do appreciate that for many users, full control over their own devices is really important, and I understand why. But I think the percentage of users who just want everything to work right out of the box is larger than many of us tech-heads realize, and for them, something like a Kindle Fire may be a better option. I fear that my co-worker is not going to use her new device very much and that she’ll write off e-readers as something ‘not for her’ because of it.
So, overall? My initial first impression holds. This is a viable Google Nexus alternative for those on a budget, and it has some slick features. But I think I’ve changed my mind about the Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet. They aren’t the devices for me—because I’m not American, and because I have too many iOS apps already to jump to another ecosystem. But I can see the appeal of that kind of ecosystem for some users.
Any other Kobo Arc users out there? We’d love to hear your opinion on the device’s pros and cons.
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