Kobo is not a name that's synonymous with e-readers in the U.S., but the company has seen some success with products such as the super-high-resolution Kobo Aura HD. Unlike its slightly larger cousin, the Kobo Glo is meant to go page-to-page with the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite and the Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight. All three have identical-size, backlit E Ink displays and come in pocket-friendly sizes, but Kobo claims that its backlight technology trumps the field. Plus, Kobo gamifies reading with its unique Reading Life features. However, the Glo costs an extra $10, for a total of $129. Is it worth the extra cash?
The Kobo Glo is a basic white square with an E Ink screen in the middle. The only real color comes from the back, which features a soft quilted pattern. Our review unit came in Pink Sunset, but shoppers can choose from Black Night, Blue Moon or Silver Star as well. Flipping the slider along the top edge powers the device on or off, and it can set to sleep or wake. A small battery LED light and a button for the ComfortLight backlight sit to the left.
The 6.2 x 4.5 x 0.4-inch Glo is slightly smaller than the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (6.7 x 4.6 x 0.4 inches) and the Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight (6.5 x 5 x 0.5 inches). Weighing 6.5 ounces, the Glo is also lighter than its competition; the Kindle Paperwhite weighs 7.8 ounces and the Nook Simple Touch is 7 ounces.
The bottom edge of the Glo houses the microUSB port, and a microSD Card slot sits along the left edge. In addition to 2GB of built-in storage, the device can support up to 32GB via a microSD card. This amount of onboard storage is on a par with Amazon and Barnes & Noble devices.
Kobo's Pearl E Ink touch screen offers up 16 levels of greyscale on its 6-inch XGA display. Its resolution of 1024 x 758 pixels equates to 212 dpi, on a par with the Kindle Paperwhite (1024 x 768, 212 dpi) and higher than the Nook Simple Touch, whose 800 x 600 pixel display has a dpi of 167. In our side-by-side comparisons with Nook, Kindle and Kobo, Amazon's e-reader offered the clearest, crispest reading experience.
With the backlight on all three devices turned to 100 percent, the Kobo Glo averaged an impressively bright 487 lux, more than double its competition. The Kindle Paperwhite came in at 208 lux, while the Nook was 102 lux. In fact, the Glo's full light was so bright we found it overpowering. However, at half brightness, we found text easier to read. We did appreciate that the lighting on the Glo was more even than the backlights on the Kindle and the Nook, which suffer from bright spots around their edges.
Like the Nook Simple Touch, the Kobo Glo's touch screen is controlled by infrared, not capacitive or resistive technologies. While the screen was accurate, we did note a second or two of flickering.
Overall, we found the Glo's interface easy to navigate. From the graphically appealing home screen you can see recently read content and get book recommendations. But unlike the Glo's larger cousin, the Aura HD, you cannot see your reading stats and any other recently opened apps on the home screen. Nor can you immediately see the percentage of a book you've read and how many hours you have to go. Using the text bar at the top of the page, you can search the bookstore or recently accessed books.
Along the top left edge of the Glo's interface is the Home button, which can be accessed from any other screen by tapping the bottom/middle of the display. On the top right is the battery icon and the menu button. Tapping the menu button shows the wireless status, battery percentage, last date content was synced with the cloud, a help icon and a settings menu. Tapping Settings opens a new screen for all sorts of apps and presets. We wish this menu held the brightness controls, as you find on the Kobo Aura HD.
From Settings, you can sign in to your Kobo and Facebook accounts. However, to update your profile, billing address or credit card details you must go to www.kobo.com. On the site you can tweak your date, time and language; change default power settings; as well as manage your wireless connections. Lefties will appreciate the ability to customize what part of the screen you touch to turn back or forward in a book. The Extras section is a catch-all of sorts for non-reading stuff, including chess, sudoku, a Web browser and the Sketch Pad app.
On the bottom of the Home screen you can access your full Kobo library, separated by content type. Here you'll also find links to the Kobo Bookstore and Reading Life, which shows you more detailed reading stats, as well as the gamified badges you've earned so far.
If you touch the middle bottom of the Glo's screen while reading a book, the bottom left corner shows the percentage you've read, with a pop-up available for more reading stats. On the right side, you can access font size and a slider to fast-forward through a book. There are two menu buttons here, too. One button resembles an open book and allows you to jump to a table of contents, open the dictionary or search the book. The other button, a wrench, can sync your place, share a book on Facebook, mark a book as finished and open other reading settings.
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The 1024 x 758-pixel display of the Kobo Glo is very close to the Kindle Paperwhite in terms of quality, but we have to give the edge here to Amazon. The words of Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl" were slightly more defined and crisp than the same book on the Nook Simple Touch or Kobo Glo. We also found Kindle and Nook made better use of the available screen to fit text.
When comparing page turns in side-by-side comparisons, the Kindle Paperwhite was a hair faster than the Nook and Glo.
By default, the Glo only resets the full screen every six page turns, and that's when you notice a full second or so of inverted text flashing on the screen. That is the longest interval available, and it matches the refresh rates of the competition.
We appreciated the preloaded Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. To get definitions, simply tap and hold a word to get a pop-up definition.
The Kobo Glo offers eight font styles in 24 sizes. Plus, you can tweak font sharpness and weight, so you can find the settings that are easiest on your eyes. When the backlight is on, a starburst appears at the bottom of the screen, which will open a helpful slider for adjusting the brightness.
Just as with Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook, you can sync your Kobo content with apps for Mac, Windows, iOS and Android smartphones and tablets.
For the rare moments when you need to type, a gray keyboard appears with small square keys. We found this keyboard to be quite laggy.
Wireless & Web Surfing
While it lacks a 3G/4G broadband option, the 802.11b/g/n radio inside the Glo lets you connect to a Wi-Fi network. Downloading Gore Vidal's "Burr" took about 20 seconds over our office Wi-Fi, and downloading "Deadlocked" by Charlaine Harris took about the same time.
To access the Experimental Web browser, you must first tap on the top left of the screen and go to the Settings Menu. From there, tap Extras and you'll find the browser at the bottom of the screen. Google.com is the default home page, and at the bottom sits a slider for zooming in on the page.
Using the browser, we loaded NYTimes.com in 7 seconds, Laptopmag.com in 14 seconds and ESPN.com in 7 seconds over our office Wi-Fi network. All of these times are respectable.
Kobo boasts a library of more than 3 million e-books, comics, newspapers and magazines. By comparison, Amazon's e-book store offers 1.5 million books while Barnes & Noble's book store boasts 2.5 million. Kobo's store is mostly made of e-books, as we counted only 55 newspapers and 17 magazines in the store.
As of this review, Kobo's store offered all 10 of the current e-book fiction best-sellers. The prices ranged from 99 cents to $15.99. However, while half of those prices are identical across Kobo, Amazon and Barnes & Noble, the Kobo versions cost more for the other five books. For example, "Don't Go" by Lisa Scottoline cost $12.99 on Kobo, versus $11.04 on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Weirdly, you can't buy periodicals from the Glo itself. You must go to www.kobo.com/newsstand from your desktop. Also, Kobo doesn't let you buy a single issue of any periodical, such as Inc magazine or the Wall Street Journal; you can only get a free two-week subscription followed by a regular subscription. Prices range from $1.65 per month for The American Scholar to $19.99 for the New York Times.
We were wholly unimpressed with the comics and graphic novel selection for the Kobo Glo. The company has a relationship with Dark Horse Comics and Top Cow but they are not available on the Glo; instead, these titles are optimized for viewing on the Kobo Arc tablet.
Sadly, Kobo doesn't offer an option to share e-books from your library with friends, as you can with Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Nor does the Glo have anything like Amazon's Prime Lending Library, which allows you to read books for free on your Kindle Paperwhite if you're a Prime member.
Kobo includes chess and sudoku on the Glo. Sudoku worked well, as did chess. But with only the device to play against, the fun there is limited.
The Glo supports EPUB and Adobe DRM so you can borrow books from your public library and load books you've downloaded from sites such as Gutenberg.org. This e-reader also supports TXT, HTML, XHTML and RTF files so you can add your work documents to read on the go. You can also load and view image files, including JPEG, GIF, PNG and TIFF types.
Sharing and Notes
Unique to Kobo is the Reading Life feature, which tracks your reading habits using a wide range of data. The Glo knows how long you've read in a sitting, how far you are into all the books you own, the number of times you've turned pages, the average time you spend on a page and how long you will need to read at that pace to finish the book.
You can also earn Foursquare-style badges in Reading Life. We earned one badge for connecting our Kobo account to Facebook account, and another after reading for two hours straight. The Glo also lets you share your awards via your Facebook timeline, as well as share the name of the book you're reading with your friends, with a link to its Kobo page. However, you can't share passages from that book. We were initially excited by earning badges, but it did little to motivate us to read more.
The Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight connects to more accounts, including Twitter and Google+. And you can share passages from within the text, or you can share just the book. The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite also connects to Twitter, in addition to Facebook, and allows you to share actual passages from books. But neither e-reader offers the bragging rights of telling the world that you've earned a badge for reading five times during the cocktail hours of 6 to 8 p.m., if that sort of thing appeals to you.
The Glo enables users to highlight text, take notes, share notes via Facebook, or even draw free-form notes using the Sketchpad and save them as PNG files. We had to be especially deliberate and slow while trying to highlight passages to make notes; otherwise, the device thought we were turning a page.
Kobo Glo's battery lasts up to one month with the light on or off, which matches the claim Barnes & Noble makes about the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight. Kobo's rating is based on approximately 30 minutes of reading per day and one page turn per minute. By comparison, the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite claims two months with Wi-Fi off and the light on. During a full day of use with the light on and off, we noted a 7 percent decrease in battery life.
The Kobo Glo offers a good reading experience with an extraordinarily bright backlight and a large selection of content. However, the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite offers less expensive books, more social options and the ability to lend your e-books to friends and family; plus it costs $10 less and fits more text on the screen. With a price tag of $129, the Kobo Glo backlight and gamified reading experience help this e-reader stand out, but it doesn't unseat the champ.