Kobo, an e-book retailer whose devices have long tried to compete with the e-readers from Amazon, Barnes& Noble, and Sony, has redefined what entry-level e-readers look like. Today, the company introduced its $130 Kobo eReader Touch Edition, and it has announced that its current model, the Kobo Wireless eReader, drops from $140 to $100. With its list price of $99.99, the Wireless eReader is actually the first e-reader whose everyday price bridges the mythical $100 barrier, even if only by a penny.
On top of that, Kobo's trying to entice new users with an extra $10 gift card to get you started on your e-book collection. Considering the third-generation Amazon Kindle, which comes up on its one-year anniversary this summer, costs $139 still (or $114 if you buy the advertising-supplemented Kindle With Special Offers), Kobo's pricing leads the pack once more. The company's lead is even more pronounced if you look at the pricing of Sony's comparably sized Sony Reader Touch Edition PRS-650, the only other touch screen e-reader available today: Sony sells its Touch Edition for $230.
The Kobo eReader Touch Edition integrates Neonode's zForce infrared touch technology a 6-inch E-Ink Pearl display (same as found on Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader). Inside, the Kobo has an updated processor-the Freescale i.MX508-which the company says boosts the speed of page turns, and it has 1GB of internal storage and a microSD card slot of up to 32GB of removable storage. It supports 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, and has an onscreen keyboard.
As compared with its predecessor, the many navigation buttons are entirely gone. Now, you have a single button situated centered beneath the display; all other navigation occurs via the touch interface. The bezel is a bit smaller, but the back panel remains the same: A quilted, textured style, in four colors-black, lilac, blue, and silver. (Only the black model has a black front bezel, too, though.)
You get two fonts and 12 font sizes, an included Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, and desktop syncing software plus the ability to sync your library, highlights, and bookmarks across platforms using the Kobo eReader (available for BlackBerry, Apple, and Android phones and tablets, both). The Kobo supports ePub, PDF, and Adobe DRM.
One other major hook of Kobo's new eReader: The Touch Edition builds in Kobo's Reading life social networking features launched earlier this year in its mobile apps. Facebook and Twitter hooks, the ability to earn badges and awards based on what you read and how quickly you read it...it's all here.
The Kobo eReader Touch Edition is on pre-sale now at Borders and Walmart, and will ship in early June (for in-store purchases), and worldwide in July.
Speaking of financially troubled brick-and-mortar bookseller Borders, that company still owns a minority stake in Kobo. Kobo confirmed to me that yes, the company remains Borders' e-book service, and that they're continuing in that role, in addition to pursuing their own e-book sales. And yes, if Borders were to go away entirely, "certainly that would have some impact." But the spokesman indicated that Kobo's long-term health is not contingent on Borders' health.