About Kobo Touch

Kobo Touch next to a standard US mass paperback

Kobo Touch next to a standard US mass paperback

Last week I wrote about my thought process that lead to me buying a Kobo Touch ereader. I have used it quite a bit since and think I should write about my experience now.

The Kobo Touch has good haptics. It is relatively light with about 185g and has a surface texture that makes it easy to hold in one hand. The E-Ink display is great; all current ereaders have one of those. Text quality depends on font and size; on the settings I read I can see almost no difference to printed books. Of course you have shadows of former pages because they completely refresh the display only every few page turns (for sake of turning speed). You can adjust the number of turns before that happens between one and six, though, so every taste should be catered.

I had my opinions about ereaderes with touch screens—basically I though they were useless—but I am very pleased with the experience. It reacts in a natural way and the system is responsive enough to avoid slowing me down too much. This is in particular true when using the on-screen keyboard which works great for the tasks you need it for. You can turn pages by swiping or tapping the display. You can adapt the regions where tapping has an effect in order to account for people holding the device with either hand, but you can not turn off tapping yet. Turning the last page prompts Kobo to leave the book which has annoyed me sometimes when I accidentally prompted a page turn while in a one-page document. There is only one key that takes you to the home screen. It can be a bit hard to press but you do not need it too often.

An EPUB on Kobo Touch

War of the Worlds as EPUB

EPUB reading is a real joy. You can control about every interesting display parameter, that is font, font size, line spacing, margin and justification. The shipped fonts are good but you can easily add your own, too. Images work ok-ish but are obviously not great if not edited for the display. SVG graphs and math looks very good1; Kobo Touch outperforms more than one browser there, I think.

PDF reading better than expected. Kobo Touch does not reflow so you have to zoom and pan. Thanks to touch screen and good implementation, panning is quite comfortable. On 200% zoom typical PDFs are very readable and fit on the screen horizontally if in landscape mode, so you have to scroll only in one direction. Document internal links and some features you have in EPUB books do not work; I think this is due to the touch screen being fully devoted to navigating the document so you can not actually select anything in PDFs.

Kobo works with several image formats but is very restricted as to what it can show properly, of course — you can only do so much with 16 different gray values. The device supports a bunch of other formats I have not tested yet, including Amazon’s MOBI, HTML and CBZ.

Kobo Touch has several features that help you out. For me, the most interesting feature is word definition and translation lookup. They are easily accessible in a book (in EPUBs you can select text), look up fast and have good quality. There are multiple languages included but there is apparently no way to add more as of now. Selected text passages can also be highlighted or annotated. A book’s highlights and annotations are easily accessible via an overview screen. On the gimmicky side, Kobo Touch has Sudoku and a sketchbook. And I am happy to say it has no ads when asleep but shows the cover of the currently read book.

Some SVG math on Kobo Touch

Some SVG math

When hooked up to the internet via Wi-Fi, Kobo Touch offers a couple of neat features. First of all, you can access the Kobo book store, their free previews and news paper service. You can also share passages on Facebook and earn achievements based on your reading stats. I don’t use any of that and have Wi-Fi turned off permanently. In fact, you don’t even have to use their software at all even if the device would like to convince you otherwise. All offline features work perfectly out of the box; in particular, you can add books by using the Kobo as a removable drive. You might want to hook your reader up once in a while for firmware updates, though.

Kobo support is not helpful2. Therefore, it is a good thing you can buy it at local stores and can just take it there if something is wrong. What I dislike most is that there is no way to structure Kobo’s library, you can not even filter by author, tag or series. Library search is very good, though, and helps out in this regard. You can also add books to a list of favorites which is always shown on the home screen. They change the user interface regularly, though. I bought my Kobo with firmware version 1.9.11; updating to 1.9.16 changed a lot, so definitely make sure to upgrade! For people who are interested in audio features it is noteworthy that Kobo Touch does not have any.

I like reading ebooks with the Kobo Touch more than I thought I would. It has certain advantages over real books, both logistically and technically. There are lots of DRM free and even free books around today; I have read classics, self-published books from indie writers and books hard to get in Germany. I hope that there will be DRM free mainstream books in the future to fully exploit my ereader.

  1. Have a look at those.
  2. I asked them whether they supported EPUB 3. The answer: “We have updated our firmware via updates just one month ago.”

Comments are closed.