Not to be left out of the edge-lit?ebook reader party, Kobo brings us the Glo ($129.99 direct), a midrange reader with the chops to go up against the competition from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It offers a slightly smaller design and better lighting than the Nook Simple Touch With GlowLight , but keeps the Nook's memory card slot and ePub compatibility.
In a market with two very good top options, does a third have a chance at breaking through? It turns out that while the Kobo Glo isn't enough to make Amazon Kindle Paperwhite owners switch, it's just about as good, and therefore a solid option for anyone who chafes at Amazon's lack of ePub compatibility or expandable storage.
Design and Reading
The Kobo Glo measures 6.2 by 4.5 by 0.39 inches (HWD) and weighs 6.5 ounces, and is covered in a tough-feeling, rubberized coating. It's not as sleek as the Sony Reader PRS-T2 , but it's sufficiently compact and light, and easy to hold for long periods. It's also a little smaller than the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite, particularly in height, and it's also an ounce lighter. The back panel features a large diamond pattern, with the Kobo logo in the center. Up top, there's a sliding power switch and a button for ComfortLight, the built-in edge lighting that lets you read the Kobo Glo in the dark. An icon near the top of the screen lets you adjust brightness.
The 6-inch E Ink Pearl screen sports a higher-than-typical 1,024-by-768-pixel resolution, with 16 shades of gray. It looks sharp and has sufficient contrast. ComfortLight is much brighter and more even than the Nook Simple Touch With GlowLight; it's even brighter than the the edge lighting on the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite. You get a continual, graded adjustment from barely lit to all the way up. Five LEDs along the bottom edge provide the lighting; you can definitely see where they are, although the screen is illuminated evenly enough that it doesn't matter.
To turn pages, you either tap or swipe the sides of the screen. Tapping the center of the screen brings up the Options menu. The screen isn't that responsive, though; the Kobo Glo missed most of my light touches, though it registered firm ones pretty consistently. It's an older infrared-style screen, instead of the capacitive one the Kindle Paperwhite employs.
Page refreshes were fast, at just under half a second each, and the Glo uses a similar caching system as the Kindle and Nook to reduce the frequency of dark, full-page flashes. On the Glo, you see them once every six page turns. Sometimes I saw them more often, such as in Excel 2010 for Dummies, which had lots of large fonts and pictures at the beginning of each chapter. Either way, the 1GHz processor keeps things moving at a steady clip.
Customizations, Other Features, and Store
You get plenty of other adjustments to suit your reading preferences. There are 11 built-in fonts. You can adjust line spacing, font size, and margins with smooth sliders, meaning that there are dozens of possible positions for each one?24 for font size alone. You can also align text to the left or center, or turn on justification. For images, you can zoom in and pan around while reading, although it's a little slow.
The Home screen lets you sort books alphabetically, by title, or by author. It also displays large cover images, which the Kindle finally does in its latest generation (it didn't before). You can also make custom lists of books. A Reading Life app keeps track of your reading speed and favorite reading times, and delivers awards based on your accomplishments; neat, but not something I'd see myself using much. More importantly, you can highlight or add notes to a passage by pressing, holding, and dragging it. A built-in dictionary lets you press and hold words to bring up definitions, and you can also share passages you're reading on Facebook.
The Kobo Store contains more than 2.5 million books, including one million free titles. Barnes & Noble claims the same number, while Amazon claims "millions," plus 185,000 exclusive Kindle titles, though I suspect most of those are short Kindle Singles and self-published works that could eventually appear in other stores. In a random spot comparison, prices appeared roughly equivalent to what you'd pay on Amazon or Barnes & Noble's websites. The Glo connects to 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi networks; there's no cellular-equipped option.
Apps, Other Features, and Conclusions
Kobo's ecosystem is surprisingly robust. There are apps available for the iPhone and iPod touch, iPad, Android, Blackberry, Windows PC, and Mac. The Kobo Instant Reader, meanwhile, works as a plug-in inside your browser; it's not a pure HTML5 site like Amazon Kindle Cloud Reader, but install the plug-in and it's effectively the same thing. As long as you sync each one manually with the icon, the system will always put you at the right page number on each of your books no matter how you access them.
You get 2GB of internal storage, plus a microSD card slot on the lower left edge that works with up to 32GB cards. The Nook Simple Touch With GlowLight also has a microSD card slot, but the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite doesn't. There's no headphone jack or audiobook support, though demand for these features seems to be receding, given the advanced cell phones that more and more people are carrying these days; still, it's worth a mention. Kobo says the Glo lasts for about a month on a single charge, assuming 30 minutes of reading per day with the light on or off. The company also quotes a figure of 70 hours of continuous usage with the light set to 15-20 percent brightness. Kobo only bundles a USB cable for charging, like Amazon; Barnes & Noble includes a full AC adapter with the GlowLight.
At $129, the Kobo Glo sits right in the thick of the high-end E Ink-based ebook reader market. It's $10 less than the Nook Simple Touch With GlowLight, and either $10 more or $10 less than the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite, depending on how much Amazon's on-screen "Special Offer" ads bother you. It's also the same price as the Sony Reader PRS-T2, which comes with a stylus and weighs even less, although it lacks a backlit option, which effectively puts it out of the running except for Sony loyalists.
If you haven't made a decision yet, and the idea of walking into a Wal-Mart or a Best Buy and walking out with one a Kobo appeals to you, go for it. You won't be disappointed. If you've already got a Kindle or Nook, though, there's little reason to switch.
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