Beating Amazon to the punch, Kobo started selling the Vox Android tablet today for just $199. We were lucky enough to get some hands-on time with the eReader/tablet, and we're excited about what Kobo brings to the table. In particular, the one big jump over Amazon's upcoming tablet is the anti-reflective 7-inch FFS+ capacitive touchscreen, which the company claims will make reading in direct sunlight simple. From inside on a cloudy day, it looked like a normal color tablet screen, but it was definitely bright. Also, there is a light sensor above the screen that automatically dims your screen based on your environmental lighting.
This Android 2.3 slate features Wi-Fi and supports up to 32GB of microSD storage. Unlike the Fire, Vox looks like Android. While the Fire will offer all sorts of media exclusively through Amazon services, the device comes preloaded with third-party apps for media. Out of the box you'll find Rdio (music), Zinio (magazines), PressReader (newspapers), as well as the standard Android app fare of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Gmail. You do not get access to the Android Market, but you do get access to the 15,000 free apps in the Get Apps store. Plus, you can side-load Android apps you find on developer's websites.
For books, the Kobo Store offers up 2.2 million eBooks, 1 million of which are free. You can customize the book fonts, with up to 42 choices. But it's the 1,000 color books (including graphic novels) that we found intriguing. Plus, there is a selection of illustrated children's books that will read aloud with your child.
Last year Kobo started its social push by introducing the Reading Life app, which makes reading into a game by allowing book worms to earn badges for reading. Going one step further, the company calls Vox the first social eReader, meaning it includes the company's Pulse feature. Pulse appears as a half-circle at the bottom of the page as you read. It literally pulses light based on how many of the 5 million+ other Kobo users around the world have commented/liked/disliked the passage you're reading. Clicking the circle brings up what looks like a reviews/comments field on a blog where you can join the conversation.
The idea of reading a travel guide and finding updates/reviews from others who've been there sounds appealing. While Amazon does offer something resembling a social network, where you can follow others and what they've read, during our hands-on time Pulse was streamlined and easy to use. We think the Pulse feature could be a big boon for this particular reading platform as Facebook partners with Kobo for the new ticker/timeline design for the social network.
The Kobo Vox is available in pink, blue, green, and black, and the company assures us there will be a whole world of accessories to come. The company claims the battery will last for 7 hours of straight reading. We can't wait to put our model through its tablet paces to find out how well it fares, but for now it looks like an intriguing low-cost tablet option.