Guess what the new $150 Kobo eReader is being called

A Kindle Killer. An eReader that knows its place.

Since it’s a ‘skimps on features, bottom of the barrel priced’ device it fits in perfectly with the Press’ preconceived notions of what an eReader should be. It’s quite amusing to see the Press talk about how the $150 price and the addition of Borders (yup, they aren’t yet bankrupt) makes the Kobo the future of the eReader.

The Press’ take on Kobo the Magnificent

Business Week focuses on the lower price and goes so far as to suggest that Kindle and Nook prices will be cut -

… an e-reader more than 40 percent less expensive than devices from Amazon.com Inc. and Barnes & Noble Inc.

The less-expensive e-reader may force Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble to cut prices, narrowing already small margins on their devices, Souers said.

“It’s a necessary move by Borders, but it could also end up backfiring for the whole industry,” …

San Francisco Chronicle brings up the whole ‘eReaders must be cheap to survive’ theme -

A newspaper that suffered a 22.7 percent decline in its weekday sales (in the last 6 months of 2009) shouldn’t really be professing business advice.

The Street lets us know that Kobo preorders will arrive on June 17th and Borders will begin selling the device in stores in August. Also, that shares of Borders went up 7.3% to $2.22 ($2.22 is the stock price, not the gain).

You also get the usual posts claiming eReaders are tablet computers and other strange miscategorizations.

Kobo Features the Press can’t get over

It begins and ends with price. The $150 price meets the Press’ expectations of what reading is worth so they’re happy to talk about the Kobo.

The second most often mentioned Kobo advantage – 100 classic books. How is that an advantage? The Internet Archive and Google are each giving away a million of these for free.

To be fair to Kobo the Press are missing out on a few good Kobo features -

  1. It’s a platform and it works on a lot of devices – Blackberry, iPad, iPhone, Palm Pre, PC, and Mac.
  2. It supports ePub. 
  3. Up to 6 devices can share the same ebook.

Also, while we are on the subject of being fair to Kobo, there are quite a few comments from people who think the $149 price is right – with the occasional ‘it should be $99′ interlude.

My Take on the $150 Plain Jane of eReaders

It’s all relative.

If instead of fixating on the dollar amount we look at value for money there’s no comparison – the Kobo offers much less value for money than Kindle or Nook.

Kindle tears apart Kobo on value for money

Here are some of the features you get for just $110 more if you pick the Kindle -

  1. Free wireless store browsing and 60 second ebook downloads.
  2. Cheaper eBook prices (except for Agency Model Publishers).
  3. Free Internet. Note that the free Internet and wireless browsing are across 100+ countries (Internet is free only if your home country is USA).  
  4. WhisperSync – synchronized reading across all devices. A feature Kobo can never deliver because the Kobo doesn’t have wireless.
  5. Text to Speech – for books where it hasn’t been disabled (your mileage may vary).  
  6. Folders. So far it seems Kobo doesn’t have Folders.
  7. Screen rotation and lots of fonts and line spacing options.
  8. Sometime this year (or perhaps next) a Kindle App Store. 

There are lots more advantages. For example, Kindle gets 20 or so free book offers on new books each month – other stores don’t get as many (let’s leave out self-published books).

Nook does too

Here’s some of what you get for $110 more if you pick the Nook -

  1. Free store browsing and 60 second downloads over 3G or WiFi.
  2. WiFi connectivity and a good, solid browser.
  3. The little color touch screen for navigation.
  4. Free Chess and Sudoku.
  5. A choice of three fonts.
  6. Usually better prices on eBooks (except on Agency Model Publishers).
  7. The LendMe feature – when enabled by Publishers. 
  8. Great screen contrast.

Fundamentally, you get a good eInk reader with 3G, WiFi and a color touchscreen and some good features on top – with a Kobo you get an untested eInk reader with a big, blue button.

You have to factor in Total Cost of Ownership

Nook and Kindle have gone through a lot of testing and improvements (well, a little for the Nook and a lot for the Kindle). You won’t be the unofficial beta testers and you will get devices that work pretty well. Kobo is Version 1 – a complete unknown.

Then there’s ebook prices. eBook prices alone might eat up that $110 you saved over the course of a year or two (depending on how much you read).

My grandfather used to say -

When you choose the higher priced, high quality option you cry once.

Pick the cheap, low quality option and you cry again and again.

Often when you buy a non-Agency Model Kobo ebook you’ll have to fork out $2 extra (perhaps just $1 extra, perhaps $3 extra) and you’ll wish you’d thought about it more. It won’t be all the time – just often enough to eat up that $110 savings and make the total cost of ownership the same as the Kindle and Nook. All without getting the bonuses that come with those two eReaders.

Years of rationalizing that wireless doesn’t make a difference were wiped out for me in a few short hours when my international Kindle DX arrived. It does make a difference and it’s just one of many advantages the $259 eReaders have over the Kobo.

Recommendation – Only buy Kobo if you must

That $110 you’re saving now isn’t worth what you’re losing out on. You’re going to end up spending most/all of it on higher priced ebooks anyways.

With the Kindle and the Nook you get a much better overall reading experience and they’re well worth the price. Don’t let the Press fool you into buying a device that isn’t going to make a huge positive impact on your reading experience (like the Kindle and the Nook will).

23 Responses

  1. While I agree that I prefer my K2 over the Kobo, I don’t think it’s quite such a slam dunk, or that the Kobo would be the wrong choice for all readers. The Kobo looks like a solid contender at that lower price point, and it may provide some people with all they need and they can save some money.

    Also, while you and I understand that the 100 free e-books are a bit of a gimmick (anyone can download thousands for free if they want), I think it’s a very GOOD gimmick. To those who don’t research e-books and e-readers as much as we do, 100 free books — that come pre-installed so you can start reading immediately without having to figure out how to get material on there — is a great step that Amazon and others should emulate. First, it makes it almost as simple as a paper book: take it out of the box and start reading. Second, people might consider that they’re getting 100 books for $150, which is only $1.50 each, a great deal. I think it may be a selling point in many people’s minds, even if it’s not 100% logical.

    Remember, for e-book sales to continue accelerating at the rapid pace they have been, e-books need to be embraced beyond the “tech savvy,” and keeping things simple and making it easy for people who aren’t great with computers is an important step forward for the industry. (True, leaving out wireless may be a step backwards, but still.) In many ways, I think the Kobo’s simplicity and lack of “features” might help it. Just like I don’t need an iPad for Internet and chess and blah blah, what’s wrong with just reading?

    • It’s a valid point. However, it’s hardly a very well done eReader for $150.
      The platform is decent – however the ebook prices and the device itself are not very impressive.

      Agree totally with you though – anything that leads to more reading is good – Kobo, iBooks, anything.

      • People seem to forget that the Kobo uses the ePub format. Which means that I can get my eBooks at many, often cheaper, online stores. I have already built up quite a collection of titles without spending very much at all.

        Of course, this doesn’t account for agency pricing which screws everyone equally.

      • Good point. My understanding was that Kindle was 1st and Nook’s password protected ePub DRM was second. Aren’t those two ruled out – those have the 1st and 2nd best prices.

  2. I’m all for the Kobo for some people due to its Adobe DRM feature that allows you to use the public library with it. That’s large. Unless your local library’s ‘Overdrive’ has few worthwhile e-books, which some are finding.

    However, if you love to read, you may also want the very basic features of the Kindle and Sony and in part the Nook, for those who love to read and learn::

    1. Inline-Dictionary Summary definition on status line
    2. Text-search (of book or magazine or entire device)
    3. Highlighting
    4. Note-taking

    The unneeded other features for me on the Kindle, but I enjoy them sometimes, are the

    1. mp3 listening in the background
    2. text-to-speech
    3. bookmarking
    4. sync’g between devices on book you’re reading

    All the above does not even include the extremely valuable always-available-for-free Wikipedia from the book you’re reading. That’s available anywhere in the world that the Kindle is owned and where there’s wireless used for downloading of books.

    By the way, Japan, Hong Kong, Mexico also get the Internet or Web, mainly in text-mode of course but it’s useful when you’re outside and there’s no WiFi around.

    But none of the above could certainly ever be worth $110 more, eh? Definitely not the free Whispernet for just downloading books.

    Much of the press is just ignorant on all this — they’re just trying to survive and have no time to even learn what a Kindle or Nook or Sony does — though some of them seem happily unaware, one of them saying his column said all you’d ever need to know about how worthless the Kindle is.
    Now, that’s just Dim.

    Is it any wonder that some newspapers are failing?

  3. 1. The black version of the Kobo looks nicer (what were they thinking with that blue button on the white one?).

    2. The Kobo is compatible with any non-Digital Rights Management ePub ebook, and any ePub in Adobe DRM. In other words, that’s a lot of places to buy ebooks! You can also use it with library ebooks (proven to work in Ottawa, Toronto and Calgary).

  4. I think it’s extremely unlikely that the Kobo will kill the Kindle or Nook, any more than countless budget-priced low-end MP3 players have done in the iPod. But it’s quite welcome as far as I’m concerned. A more entry-level eReader just means more people getting to read eBooks.

  5. I am still on the sideline for an eReader but one thing I noticed is that once you buy a book on the Kobo its yours and it stores it like an external drive so the publisher cannot come and reclaim it. Is this a correct assumption? I have read that Amazon can cancel a book if the publisher wants and you will no longer have access to it.

    • It’s the same with Kindle. You store the book on your Kindle and if you like on your PC.

      Amazon made a mistake because someone was selling books illegally from their store and I guess worried about legal consequences they acted hastily.
      They’ve now promised (Jeff Bezos has) that it won’t happen again.

  6. […] Guess what the new $150 Kobo eReader is being called (ireaderreview.com) […]

  7. The Sony reader is now being sold at the same price point as the Kobo. I’ve had mine for two months and have reacquainted myself with at least 30 classics I hadn’t read in 50 years.

    Those who feel downloading directly from the web is worth and extra hundred bucks should consider that if you can download a book, it can be un-downloaded (ask Kindle owners). I’ll take the extra couple of minutes to drag and drop, thank you.

    • It happened once. Jeff Bezos said it’ll never happen again. This dead horse has been beaten so much it might rise from the dead just to run away. Please have mercy.

      • It’s not the first or last time I’ve had digital content I’d paid for snatched away. I’d rather drag and drop than deal with the irritation of Amazon’s mistakes. I don’t think it was done in malice, but not even Jeff Bezos can assure me human error will never occur again.

  8. I own both the kindle and the nook. I think it is great to be able to order a book and before you even click on buy (well almost) you have your book. For what i’m reading (I could be wrong) you download the book to your computer and then have to transfer it to the Kobo. I would rather pay the extra and have the book immediately.

  9. I haven’t used it yet but there’s an ebook converter software platform (Calibre) that converts the Amazon/B&N etc ebooks into ePub and other formats. Wouldn’t it negate the book price issue if you could buy the ebook from Amazon but use it on the Kobo? The website is http://calibre-ebook.com/.

    • Think the Kindle conversion is illegal since it would require circumventing the DRM. On the practical front – Would readers really want to convert each file they buy? It’s just too much work plus it’s work that only the tech savvy will be able to do.

  10. All interesting comments. Personally, I tested the Kindle, the Nook, several Sony eReaders and the Kobo and chose the Kobo mainly because it felt the best in my hand when reading. Now, this is subjective and may be different for each user, but then again, so is the usefulness of the various features. I like reading with one hand and the Kobo is a perfect fit for that. The Kobo also fits quite nicely in my back pocket. Certainly, if one needs to use the text search features and the wikipedia access, the Kindle is a great choice. As I only bought the Kobo to read, I am quite happy with doing just that. Since I will rarely, if ever, spend retail prices for electronic books, I don’t really care about the book pricing, but that is a valid issue for those who will buy a lot of new electronic books. In summary I will say that if you just want a light device for reading eBooks on the fly, the Kobo is a great device. if you want your eReader with internet access , text search functionality and immediate book\periodical purchase downloads, go with the Kindle.

  11. The Kobo has an 8 bit display and the only adjustments are font size and serif/sans serif font. Even when the font is large it blends into the gray background. And large fonts mean more page turning at the Kobo’s slow pace.

    I am trying to return it but the company is asking for the receipt. There was no receipt in the cardboard mailing box (I bought it from Borders.com) If anyone else had a Kobo shipped to them from Borders.com I like to know if there was a receipt in the box with the ereader. Anyway, I purchased it with my credit card so there is a record that I indeed bought the Kobo and I have all the original packing.

  12. This may have been asked and answered already but I’m gonna ask any way. So I buy Kobo and I build up a nice little library. Then horror of horrors, Border’s goes under. What happens then?

    The only real draw for me is being able to get books from the library. But if there’s an app that allows the Palm Pre to do the same, likely it will work with the Palm Pixi (which I have).

    As for the “100 free classic books”, don’t we pretty much get that with our Kindles? A good portion of my Kindle library is made up of classics that were free on Amazon.

    I’d like to have one of each just for the sake of having one from each major player (excluding the iPad..still ticked at their hand in raising ebook prices…grrrr). For now, I am happy to tinker with my Kindle, buy it pretty bags and keep it dressed in fancy skins so people stop and go “ooohhh! Aaaahh! Whatcha got?”

    • If Borders goes down then you can read your books using Adobe Digital Editions. At least it seems that way. However, Kobo is neither a good eReader nor from a company that looks like it’ll survive. Little point in getting one.

      • I downloaded Kobo for the PalmPre/Pixi. What a pain in the ass! Good thing the app was free or I would be one mad redhead right now. It’s a pain to navigate. I got so frustrated just trying to get around that I didn’t even get anything downloaded!

        I’m sticking to my tried and true Kindle! Kobo can bite me.

  13. Considering purchasing the Kobo e-Reader. My question is: If you are traveling in Europe, will it function?

    • Marie, the Kindle or Nook or the rumored new Sony Readers are much better options. Why not wait till 1st week September when Nook 2 and Sony Reader 350 will probably be out.
      Kobo should work in Europe – Not sure though.

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