There is a new ereader in the house: my Kobo Vox! There has been much to love about my move in with my guy some months ago, but the one thing I haven’t loved is the hit to my reading routine. The bedroom, my favourite place to read, only has one power outlet, and it’s on his side of the bed. So I struggled with reading on my backlit iGizmos (one too large and one too small for easy bedtime comfort) and then tried to revive my better-sized Kindle with one of those booklight attachments, but I just couldn’t get used to it. I could never see the whole screen at once, and if I tilted it the wrong way, I’d spray my sometimes-sleeping partner straight in the eye with an unwanted glow. I needed a Kindle-sized, backlit device. The Kobo Vox, which was recently upgraded to work with the Google Play Android store, fit my needs at a price that was right.
OPENING THE BOX
I was cautioned by the Indigo salespeople to run the software update before I did anything else, and sure enough, when I first plugged it in, I was prompted with a setup wizard. It was straightforward enough in the steps involved, but unfortunately it froze halfway through the firmware update due to a low battery, even though I was plugged into the wall. The leaflet in the box said that it could be used while charging, so I was disappointed that I couldn’t even peek at anything right out of the box. I did call Kobo support and they told me that, contrary to what was in the quickstart leaflet, they recommend a full charge (4 hours) before you even try the setup. Needless to say, this was quite disappointing.
About an hour after I plugged it in, I tried again and was able to download the update and go through the brief setup process: install the patches, sign in with a Kobo account, and away we go!
STEP 1: GO LAUNCHER
I dislike the Kobo software and plan to read ebooks primarily on the Kindle for Android app, so step one for me was getting rid of all the Kobo widgets. It comes pre-installed with menubar buttons for store, library and so on and also has a giant your library/recommended books on the home screen. On the advice of a Mobile Read poster, I installed a launcher app called Go Launcher which replaces the on-board interface.
The Vox uses the Google Play store now so it was very easy to find and install this free app. It made a huge difference! It removed all the Kobo widgets and gave me a menubar I could customize in a tap and hold style similar to the iOS interface I am used to. When you press and hold on something, options come up to remove, change icon, delete and so on, and then it was easy to drag something else on there instead. I set up my menubar to have Kindle, Zinio, View All Apps, Netflix and Youtube.
The launcher also has a useful feature where it adds some tabs to the View All Apps screen so that you can view all the apps, just recently used ones, or just running ones. On the latter tab, there is a broom you can use to close all open apps in one go. If you press and hold an app and then use your other hand to touch a lock button (a bit fiddly, but do-able) you can lock an app from being closed when you use this feature. When I later installed a battery monitor, I used this command to keep it always open.
Finally, a YouTube video taught me a useful trick for the View All Apps screen: you can drag apps on top of each other to create groupings, just like in iOS. This made a huge difference because I could group together all the pre-installed apps which didn’t interest me, and not have them clutter up the screen. There were some Kobo widgets I didn’t want, and Google also installed a bunch of garbage along with its store, so I was happy to sweep these out of sight and mind.
STEP 2: READING APPS
Next, I got my reading apps all set up. The Vox came with the pre-installed Kobo reader, as well as two newspaper apps, none of which interested me. It also came with the Zinio app, which I planned to use, and the lovely Google Play store where I could get the Kindle app I needed to make this reader work for me. Once downloaded and situated as desired on my menubar, I had to open them up and get them registered.
Zinio recognized my account immediately and opened up a familiar-looking window with all my magazines. You could sort by title (in which case, all issues of one magazine are grouped together under one icon) or by date (in which case every issue is listed individually). As in iOS, you tap to download an issue, and tap again to open it up and read it.
The Vox felt a little less sprightly when it came to pinching and zooming on the page, but some of my smaller-format magazines like Everyday Food and Reader’s Digest were easily viewable without this feature. The interface is just like the iOS version, so I found it easy to navigate and get around.
I dislike that you still have to go to the website to remove things—there were some freebies it added to my account which I didn’t want, and I had to go back to the computer to do away with them. I also don’t like that Zinio still won’t let me control my own library. There are some magazines I simply don’t plan to read on the Vox, but I could not remove the previews for them so I was left with many screens to slog through in order to find the content I wanted. I really need more customization and control here, and Zinio continues to leave these features out of its updates. I may use this app from time to time to read back issues, but I won’t be getting new subscriptions unless and until this is fixed by Zinio.
The Kindle app was just what I needed. It had a fresh-looking home screen with taps for ‘home’ (thumbnails of recently opened books and a recommendations panel), on device, archive and store. It was nice to see an in-app store, as this feature had to be removed from the iOS version due to restrictions from Apple. Tapping on the menu button (the middle of the Vox’s three hard-wired buttons) brings up the menu to change font, bookmark and so on. The interface is slightly less slick than than the iOS version—the sync button is buried two menus down in ‘more’ for instance—but the app does everything I need and is snappier than the Kobo app, which lags between chapters.
STEP 3: OTHER APPS I TRIED
I was assured that Netflix was compatible with the Kobo Vox; I have yet to get it working, but YouTube is playing just fine. I also installed Angry Birds and a few other free games, but I don’t plan to use this as a gaming system, so I did not explore this much beyond that.
I installed Dropbox as well and found it disappointing. On the iOS, I can use it to send mobi files straight to the Kindle app. I could not seem to do this on the Vox. The best I could manage, after much fiddling, was to export from Dropbox onto a memory card. I am not sure how to get it into the Kindle app from there. I think that if I want to transfer a file to the Kindle app, I will have to email it to my Personal Documents from my computer and download it off the cloud.
CONCLUSION: PLEASANTLY SURPRISED!
There were a few disappointments for me (Netflix was finicky, Dropbox was a bust, the screen and bezel got smudgy way fast) but overall, this is a solid little tablet. Go Launcher was the best idea ever. I was able to transform the Vox from a somewhat pokey Kobo storefront into a full-scale mini tablet. Many apps I installed were familiar to me from my iUse past, and since the feature set I sought was limited, I pretty much got what I came for. If I want to game, or play music, or do fancy stuff, I have my iStuff. But all I want to do is read, check email, poke around on YouTube and maybe play a puzzle game or two from the comfort of my bed without having a light on. Mission accomplished.
I can see the Vox being plenty sufficient for most people’s tablet needs, especially if they have an Android phone and therefore already have a library of apps to use with it. It’s not great for very processor-intensive apps and is a little pokey on multimedia, but I can see that improving if there ever is a Vox 2. Personally, I rely heavily on my iPad when I teach (my school has a class set of iPads, so I can run apps with the kids and also have a decent-sized screen to play video) but the Vox is filling a different niche for me. And at under $200, it’s an affordable way to fill that niche. I am pleased with my Vox purchase and I’ll be sure to update this if I learn any Vox tricks in the coming weeks.
You’re right. Kindle for Android doesn’t support sideloading. The easiest way I’ve found is to download the Send to Kindle applet, which allows you to right click on a .mobi document in Windows Explorer (there’s a Mac version as well) and send to any device. I find it easier than emailing as a Personal document.
I’m waiting for the iPhone version of read.kobo.com.
“Coming soon” can mean anything.
It also, not surprisingly, runs the Kobo ereader software quite well, in addition to Overdrive for public library books and media files. Bookmarking between Kobo Touch and Kobo Vox appears to work well with the latest update; and the other basics like Gmail, Facebook, surfing (Opera Mobile or Dolphin HD in addtion to the native browser) are more than credible experience for 7″ $180 ereader tablet. The Google Play update makes this device (for new and existing owners) a very pleasant upgrade.
An update: I downloaded two widgets which have improved my Kobo Vox experience significantly. One is an orientation lock button which keeps the Vox in portrait mode. The other is a wifi killer for one-tap on and off of the wifi. The wifi uses up a lot of battery energy so if you are not using it and you kill it, you can save some juice.
Two annoyances: Globe2Go and Rdio, neither of which I use, keep running in the background. I wish they would give you a way to uninstall (or at least stop using!) bloatware which doesn’t interest you.
You should be able to send your books directly to the VOX by registering the device and assigning an email; address to it (email@example.com).
From Amazon’s WEB site:
“You can send your personal documents to your registered Kindle devices, supported Kindle reading applications, and your Kindle Library through the Send to Kindle application or your Send-to-Kindle e-mail address.”
Yes, Masseven, that is what I have been doing. Alas, you can’t from within Dropbox…
Kobo has never said why they bake in some apps. My assumption has been that Rdio and the others pay for the privilege, which makes it possible to lower the price of the device.
I am sure that a root solution will be found for the updated Vox, which will then let you remove the preloaded apps. Folks were able to achieve root on earlier versions.
From my perspective, it has to be really difficult for companies like Kobo, which make their money only by selling books and devices, to make any money and be competitive at the same time. They don’t make money from an extensive eco system or through things like adwords. Over time, Rakutan might provide that eco-system, even in North America, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Building out an ebook platform and great devices is expensive. One need only look to the losses Nook is still facing, despite huge growth, for proof of that.
Tx for the review and the tip about Go Launcher, I kill the other apps in the vox All Apps function, which yes takes time. Overall I bought the Vox as a reader which allowed me to surf the net and check email etc. which it does fine. With Google Play, there are a lot of apps which work just fine with the low powered processor. Games and videos don’t work as good though as with a real tablet (vox is really a reader)
For 200 bucks, I would suggest folks buy the Google Nexus 7″ or other new 7″, they are faster than the vox and let’s face it, we all want faster, more animation and we all really want tablet functionality. Interestingly, these other new ones don’t offer SD cared expansion like the vox but instead offer a camera and mic which I would never use. Hmm, when oh when will consumer wants and needs really be addressed.