Kobo looked to take some of Amazon's thunder by announcing a couple of new e-readers and a 7-inch Android tablet just before Jeff Bezos took the stage a couple of weeks ago, and now we've had a chance to try out the new devices for ourselves. The Canadian company has a tall task in convincing consumers to consider their products in the face of Amazon and Barnes & Noble — let's see if this hardware is up to the task.
The new headline device is the Kobo Arc, the company's second try at the ever-more crowded 7-inch Android tablet market. The company says it "started from the ground up" with the Arc, leaving the widely-criticized Kobo Vox behind it, and it features a 7-inch, 1280 x 800 touchscreen, a current, 1.5GHz TI OMAP 4470 processor, and 1GB of RAM. That screen matches the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD 7 on paper, though in person it isn't quite as brillant as the other two, and glare will likely prevent you from trying to read in bright sunlight.
Kobo has seen fit to skin Android 4.0 a bit with a user interface it's calling "Tapestries." The changes are almost completely limited to the homescreens, which are now more customizable. You can pin videos, pictures, webpages, books, and other content to the homescreen (as well as apps and widgets), and you can make tapestries within tapestries (folders that open a new homescreen) to organize your content. Below each tapestry is a row of recommended content from around the web, which can include web pages, pictures, books, and other content. Performance while scrolling around Tapestries wasn't quite what we were hoping for, with a bit of slow down during the animations that occur when moving around the screens. The Kobo Arc will be available in November for $199.99 (16GB), $249.99 (32GB), and $299.99 (64GB). From our brief time with the tablet it looks like the Arc is a major improvement over the Vox, but it isn't enough to beat out the fantastic Nexus 7 and Kindle HD, with which it is at price-parity.
E-readers are Kobo's specialty, and its new flagship is the Kobo Glo. As the name not so subtly suggests, this is another front-lit E Ink device, and it goes directly up against Amazon's new Kindle Paperwhite and the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight. The Glo has a 6-inch, 212 ppi (1024 x 768) E Ink Pearl display, which is the same resolution of the Paperwhite. The display looks great in person — it's excellent to see E Ink screens with higher resolutions, which makes a significant difference when it comes to smooth, print-like text. To help improve text even more, there's a wide array of customization options that allow you to fine-tune spacing, weight, and more if you so desire. Beyond the screen, the hardware is simple but elegant, with a soft-touch finish and Kobo's signature tiling on the back plate. There are no control buttons aside from a power switch atop the device; everything is controlled on-screen in what is one of the better touch e-reader UIs we've seen. The e-reader only has 1GB of user-accessible memory, but there's an exposed microSD card slot on the edge of the device if you need more space. It will be available on October 1st for $129.99.
Following up on the Glo is the Kobo Mini, a diminutive e-reader that has a first-generation, 5-inch E Ink Vizplex display without any front-lighting. The touchscreen has a 800 x 600 resolution that is sufficient thanks to the smaller size of this e-reader, and compared to the Glo its processor is clocked a bit lower at 800MHz instead of 1GHz. That all results in slower page turns, but it's still a thoroughly modern device that has the added benefit of being quite portable. Feature-wise, the Kobo Mini runs the same OS as the Glo, and has all the same options, including text customization. The Mini features (extremely hard to pry off) swappable rear covers to add some flair to the device, and will be available on October 1st for $79.99 — $10 more than the non-touch Kindle, but it isn't laden with "special offers."