Saturday, May 15, 2010

Kindle Killer ? Nook Killer ? Borders to sell its own - Kobo e-book reader

Amazon has its Kindle, and Barnes and Noble its Nook. Now Borders, too, has its own e-book reader, the Kobo. Now on sale in Canada, the device will be available in the U.S. on June 17, the bookseller announced this week.

The device will have a screen of the same size (6 inches) as the ones on the Kindle and Nook, and using the same energy-frugal, monochromatic e-ink technology. But the Kobo will offer several key pluses over those devices, plus one key drawback.

The pluses begin with the Kobo’s price. It will sell for $150, compared with $259 for the Nook and the Kindle. (The arrival of the Kobo may, I suspect, add to the reasons to cut the price of the Kindle and Nook—or further cut it in the case of the Kindle, formerly "the Kindle 2," which has already had two price drops since it launched.) The price includes 100 free e-books—presumably low-cost or free classics, rather than newer titles.

Also, in a category where weight matters, the Kobo is significantly lighter than those competitors, weighing in at 8 ounces, compared with about 10 ounces for the Kindle and 12 ounces for the Nook.

A key downside to the device is its connectivity. The main way to acquire content is via attaching the Kobo to your computer via USB cable. It lacks the 3G connection that comes packaged with the Kindle, Nook, and some other e-book readers. It also doesn’t have the wi-fi connection of the Nook.

The Kobo’s only wireless connection is via Bluetooth. But you’ll need to own a Bluetooth-enabled iPhone, Blackberry, or Palm phone (an Android app is promised). Once the phone’s loaded with Kobo’s (free) smart phone app, you can order books on it, sync the device to your Kobo, and transfer the content via Bluetooth.

That’s sure to require more time and work than buying a book via 3G on a Nook or Kindle, which involves only a few clicks or presses, followed by a minute or less for the book to download.

A Kobo e-book app is already on the new iPad, where it looks elegant; like Apple’s iBooks app, it uses a bookshelf icon for your e-book library, for example. And page turns seem fast.

But using Kobo on the iPad, with its color LCD touch screen, provides little insight into its performance on Kobo’s own reader. Page-turn speed and type quality will likely differ, for better or worse, on two devices. And the Kobo’s navigation is via what’s called a “4-way D pad,” which appears to offer something like the functionality of the Kindle’s multidirectional joystick on a rubber pad that measures an inch or so square.

We plan to acquire and test the Kobo as soon as possible, and eventually add it to our Ratings of e-book readers, available now to subscribers.

e-Reader in another Brand

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