Kobo eReaderOne of the cool things about working in an agency with a consumer practice is some of the fun stuff that shows up in the office – often ahead of it being available in stores.

Kobo eReader is one of those items – it’s the new eBook reader being launched into the Canadian marketplace by Chapters • Indigo next month, just in time for Mother’s Day. When I saw a Kobo eReader box in the office, I asked if I could borrow one for a review because I really wanted to try one.

Until now, the only experience I’ve had with eReaders has been with a variety of different iPhone apps including Kobo, on my iPod Touch and iPhone. (Blackberry, Palm Pre and Android smartphone users can also download the Kobo app for free and you can read eBooks on your desktop too.)

I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t take the Kobo out of the box until I got it home. What a surprise, it was this very small, lightweight device that I can toss into even a small purse like my Coach swingpack. Perfect for reading on the TTC to and from work and traveling. My 11-year-old said he “needed to have one” for camp and vacations so he wouldn’t have to load his knapsack up with heavy books anymore. I also figured out a tip for recharging.

Although the instructions say to plug it into your computer with the included USB cable, you can also get an adapter for the cable and plug it right into an electrical outlet – a handy tip when you don’t want to schlep your laptop along. I used the one that came with my iPhone but you can probably buy an inexpensive one at many places (like Tiger Direct) and you can probably get an adapter that works outside of North America too.

There’s more to Kobo than size and portability. Out of the box, it comes pre-loaded with 100 classic novels (the same as you’d get with the iPhone app). You can order additional titles online (most sell for $9.99 and some sell for promo prices too – as I’m writing this there are some for $0.79 and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – one on my to-read list – is $7.42). There is also a free book of the week and currently 220 titles offered for free. You can get pretty much anything in eBook format you can find traditional book format and load it onto your Kobo similar to downloading music onto an iPod.

As for usability, well, besides being lightweight and easy to hold, the display feature allows you to choose a serif or sans serif font in five different sizes (I really like that feature because I can adjust the type size depending on whether or not I’m wearing my contact lenses). The “liquid ink” gives the feel of reading a paper book.
There are two features I’d like to see that would make this device a must-have for me:
• a backlight (so I can read in bed or other dark spaces without needing additional lighting); and,
• a touchscreen; maybe it’s because I’m used to eReaders on other touchscreen devices and I like the bigger size of the Kobo reader but I really miss the ability to “turn” pages and adjust the type display by a tap or a pinch – it’s much more intuitive that way. (All four members of my family tried to use it that way even though they aren’t avid users of touchscreen devices.) The push buttons are a bit awkward but the pages do “turn” almost instantly. Regardless, I prefer reading books with the larger Kobo eReader than on the small screen of my iPhone.

For $149 though compared to other eReaders on the market that are more expensive (I’m curious to see how the Kindle, Sony Reader, Barnes & Noble’s Nook and the iPad compare – Kobo’s website has a table where you can compare features for the first three), Kobo’s eReader is a pretty nifty device and makes for a nice gift especially for frequent travelers and students. As for me, I’ll test-drive some other eReaders before making a decision.

Have you tried any eReaders? Do you own one? Will you buy one? Share your thoughts.

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