Review: Kobo Glo e-reader is light and bright
The Kobo Glo e-reader is the third model in the past year to offer a built-in light. First came Barnes and Noble’s Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight in the spring, followed by Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite in the fall.
The Kobo Glo costs $129, which is $10 more expensive than its competitors–the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight and the Kindle Paperwhite, each priced at $119. Kobo's approach to illumination is similar to the other two, with LED lights embedded in the edges of the display. Kobo gains an aesthetic edge, though, with its slim profile and a lightweight design that is arguably a more attractive e-reader than either the Nook or the Kindle.
The Glo measures 4.5 inches wide by 6.2 inches long, and is 0.39 inch thick—significantly thinner than the Simple Touch with GlowLight, which is 0.47 inch thick, and just a hair thicker than the Paperwhite, which is 0.36 inch thick. The Glo is also the lightest of the three e-readers, weighing just 0.41 pound. The Simple Touch with GlowLight weighs 0.43 pound, while the Paperwhite weighs 0.47 pound.Though it may not seem like much, that can make a huge difference when you’re holding a device in one hand for an extended period of time.
Like its competitors, the Glo has a simple design. A thin black bezel made of soft-touch, rubbery material surrounds the Glo’s 6-inch, high resolution (1024 by 768 pixels) touchscreen, and extends to the back of the device, where it’s scored in Kobo's distinctive diamond-quilt pattern.
The Glo has two buttons, both of which are along the top of the machine. There’s a small sliding switch for powering the device, and, to the left of that, a little button for turning on the Glo’s light.
On the left side of the Glo, there’s a MicroSDHC card slot for adding up to 32GB of additional storage. The Glo has 2GB of storage built-in, which is enough for approximately 1500 ebooks, and can hold up to 1000 ebooks for each additional gigabyte of storage. The Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight also has expandable memory; the Kindle Paperwhite does not.
On the bottom of the device sits a Micro-USB port for charging. Kobo rates the Glo for up to 70 hours with the light turned on, and up to 1 month with the light turned off.
The Kobo glows
Like the Barnes & Noble Simple Touch With Glowlight, the Kobo Glo has a physical button for turning its light on. Having a button is convenient: You can turn the light on without having to disrupt your reading experience or fiddle with the touchscreen. The light’s brightness still needs to be adjusted using the touchscreen, however. The company calls its particular illumination technology “ComfortLight” technology, and boasts that its E Ink screen features a thin coating for “durability and even light distribution.”
In my tests, the Glo’s ComfortLight technology looks very good, with some minor issues. The light illuminates the screen evenly, though there is some shadowing near the upper and lower edges of the screen. I also detected a little light bleed at the top of the screen, but this only seems to be visible if you tilt the device and attempt to look directly into the light source. The screen is textured, which Kobo says helps with the light distribution, and you can see this texturing if you tilt the screen at severe angles while the ComfortLight is turned on.
Compared with the Kindle Paperwhite, the Glo has a slightly yellowish tint that is more noticeable when the ComfortLight is at a dimmer setting. The Glo also has a contrast issue--while the Paperwhite’s light brightens the background and improves the overall contrast, the Glo’s light glows brighter, and tends to wash out the text. So, while the Glo’s ComfortLight is obviously useful in very dark rooms, it’s not as useful as its competition in rooms with moderate light.
Usability: The reading experience
Kobo hasn’t updated its software too much since it launched its Kobo Touch reader in 2011. The home screen features covers of recently-read books arranged artfully in a cluster of five. If you’ve done something other than read books on the Glo–such as use the Kobo’s sketchbook–then you may see your saved drawings on the home screen, rather than book covers.
At the top of the home screen there are two tabs, “Reading” and “Discover.” The Reading tab shows you the main home screen, while the Discover tab takes you to a cover flow of books you may be interested in reading, based on what you’ve read and searched for so far.
The bottom of the home screen features three links: Library, Find Books, and Reading Life. In your Library, you can find all the books, previews, magazines, and newspapers you’ve downloaded, arranged by title, author, file type, and recent reads. You can also create “shelves,” which are essentially customizable categories of books.
If you tap the Find Books link, you’ll be able to search for books a number of ways. You can search for books by category, and you can also find books similar to the books you already own, look at books that are recommended for you based on your library, and search for free e-books. You can also check out reading lists (such a the NYT fiction and non-fiction bestsellers), or you can search for a specific book or author.
Finding and downloading books on Kobo is still a little clunky. The bookstore has over 2.3 million titles, but browsing these titles takes quite awhile, as each page takes a couple of seconds to load. Perhaps this would be a better experience if there were more ways to refine a search, but at the moment you can only search by sub-categories of main categories, which are exceedingly broad (such as “Fiction”). You can sort your list of browse-able titles by bestsellers, price, rating, and alphabetically.
Kobo’s reading experience is a comfortable one. To access the settings, all you have to do is tap the middle-bottom of the screen. A bar will pop up on the bottom, with a brightness button (if the ComfortLight is turned on), a Home link, and four small icons.
The book icon lets you access reading tools, such as the book’s table of contents, annotations, search in book, a dictionary, and a translator. You can add notes and look up words (for definitions or for translation) by tapping and holding any word on the screen.
The dual-arrow icon lets you scroll through the book using a slider. Tapping this icon brings up the page number, a slider bar, and arrows for skipping through the book chapter by chapter.
The font icon brings up reading settings. Here you can adjust font style (11 styles, up from 7 in the Kobo touch e-reader), font size (25 different sizes), line spacing, margins, and justification.
The wrench icon accesses a miscellaneous menu from which you can sync your book activity across multiple devices, post to your Facebook wall, mark the book as finished, and adjust the touchscreen settings and page refresh rate. The Glo’s default page refresh rate is every six pages.
All about social
Kobo’s social networking integration, also called Reading Life, is one of the features that makes it stand out from the e-reader crowd. The thing is, I’m not sure if this is a good thing (or a useful thing). Reading Life lets you connect to your Facebook account and share various reading milestones with your online friends. The feature tracks all sorts of mundane statistics, such as how many hours, pages, and books you’ve read, and how many cute little Kobo awards you’ve won – such as “Word Up!” for using the dictionary a certain number of times.
While Kobo does do social networking better than its competitors, I’m not sure that the ability to share your reading stats with friends is a major selling point. After all, reading is essentially a personal, private activity. When you share reading activity on Facebook, Kobo does give you the option of entering in a personal comment. However, if you relish sharing such info, and doing so with ease, then Kobo is the e-reader for you.
The Kobo Glo is a handy little e-reader that offers both lightweight portability—even compared to its competitors—and a built-in light for reading in the dark. Unfortunately, it’s no longer the “cheaper” e-reader: The Kobo Glo costs about $10 more than both the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight and the Kindle Paperwhite. While it is lighter, other aspects of the experience make it difficult to justify those extra $10.
At the same time, it is only $10. If you’re particularly into social networking integration, the Kobo Glo is a winner, and if you enjoy color options (the Glo comes in black, pink, blue, and silver), you may want to take a look at this e-reader. The Kobo Glo does the front-lit ComfortLight thing very well, with bright, even lighting; but contrast does suffer slightly.