Kobo eReader: Is It the Real Kindle Killer?


What a difference an eReader launch can make? The Kobo eReader is available today in Canada, and the lack of attention on this side of the border is almost deafening. It seems that gadgets need bells and whistles to attract much hoopla, and the Kobo eReader is almost old school in the world of ebooks.

Michael Tamblyn, vice president of sales and merchandising at Kobo, recently presented at BookNet Canada’s Technology Forum 2010. There, he called it a device “for people who love books more than they love technology.” He goes on to highlight the company’s philosophy of letting the reader choose the right device for them “not just from month to month or year to year, but even within the course of a day.”

And at $149, the Kobo eReader is cheap enough to back such claims.

Kobo also hosts an ebook downloads store that currently features 2 million titles. Perhaps the best feature about this startup is its approach to ebook format. The Kobo eReader supports standard ePub, PDF, and Adobe DRM formats. If down the road you want to move your ebooks to another device, even one not made by Kobo, you can do this relatively easily. The iPad and Kindle are designed for lock in. Anything bought in the iBooks and Kindle Stores can only be accessed on future devices made by Apple or Amazon. The Nook supports more open formats, but like the Kindle it costs $110 more. Unlike all these other devices, the Kobo eReader can’t directly download new books. You need to either connect it to a computer or use Bluetooth to sync it wirelessly with a phone. Though the Kobo eReader does comes preloaded with 100 books.

Other features include the same size (6-inch) screen as Kindle 2 and similar e-ink technology. This is one of the deal breakers for me with the iPad. I don’t want screen glare for those few, though hugely enjoyable, all-day reading stints. The iPad does look like a snazzy games gadget, but I don’t need any more incentive to waste time playing stupid games.

Kobo is definitely a company to watch in this space. They’re small now, less than a year and a half old and very much in startup mode. Their approach is firmly grounded in giving customers what they want first, empire building second. The titans with whom they compete seem to be far more concerned with empire building. The Kobo eReader won’t be available in the US until summer. They’ve partnered with Borders, so US consumers will be able to check the device out before buying it. And at $149, it just may get me to take the plunge. At the very least it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Kindle and Nook pricing as the competition heats up.

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