Head to head, what is the best device for reading eBooks, the Kobo or the Kindle? Looking at comfort, support, ease of use and overall, what device is the victor? I have been reading eBooks since the late 90's and using the old Microsoft reader .lit format and various Palms and Sony Clie as designated eReaders. But the last of my Clie's died a few years back and I was in the market for a designated eReader. So I have put both the Kobo and Kindle through the paces and will share with you the good, the bad and the ugly of both devices and as they go toe to toe round after round, we will see who comes out champ.
In order to write this article I have now read over 30 books on the Kobo and have read 6 on the Kindle. I used two different Kindles - 3 books each on a Kindle 2 and Kindle 3, but have limited comments to the Kindle 3 unless specifically mentioning the Kindle DX. I get Digital review copies from NetGalley and synced the same books with both Kindles and with the Kobo to do some direct side-by-side comparison.
The first thing I looked at was comfort. How was it to hold the device? Weight, feel, and other factors were considered. The Kobo is 26gs lighter than the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi 3G model. Now that might not seem like a lot of weight, but it is more than a tenth of the weight of the Kobo and reading continuously it does make a difference. Second is comfort to hold and use. The Kobo can be held with one hand and pages turned very easily. This cannot be said for the Kindle. Also the Kobo has a quilted, padded rubber back, which is very comfortable to hold and use. The Kindle on the other hand has an aluminum front and a plastic back with a wide gap around the seam. I found this often caught the skin, especially while trying to read one-handed. The Kindle 3 uses the new micro USB jack and it is not noticeable at all. The Kobo still uses a mini USB and it is a little knobby and needs to be avoided when holding the device. Less important to some, but the Kindle only comes in white or graphite; the Kobo comes in porcelain, onyx, metallic silver and pearlized lilac. But overall comfort goes to Kobo.
Next let's examine ease of eBook Library management. Both devices can sync wirelessly with their proprietary book stores. Both can sync with Adobe digital editions. You can use third party software to connect to both and convert and sync DRM free eBooks in an appropriate format, such as Calibre eBook Management software. But the biggest advantage goes to Kobo for its use with local libraries. I have checked numerous local libraries, specifically the Kitchener Public Library and the Kingston Public Library, and both will allow borrowing eBooks to your Kobo but not to your Kindle. Both of those libraries and many more in Canada use Overdrive for its eLending, and they support almost any device except the Kindle. Both support Magazine and Newspaper subscriptions to an equal extent. Capacity is another concern. The Kobo comes with 1GB internal memory and about 900mb available for content, and the Kindle comes with 4GB internal memory and about 3GB available for content. But the Kobo has an SD Card reader and can support up to a 32GB expanded memory. I currently have 179 books on my Kobo and still have almost 800MB free space. I also tested with an 8GB micro SD card and moved the library to it with no discernable performance issues. For management of eBooks and device syncing, the round goes to the Kobo again.
Finally, let's look directly at use of the device. The Kindle OS is much more responsive and page turns or menu selection is much faster. Also, on the Kindle you have the option of rotating the text and having a wider screen to read on. The Kobo OS is a little more user friendly - the menu selection, sorting options and navigation are more intuitive and straight forward. I have a feeling the Kobo response time will improve with OS updates or the next generation or hardware. Both devices have a wide range of font selection and repaginates books in response to your selection. What I like about the Kobo is that it tells you what page out of total pages. The Kindle tells you page in section out of total sections. So that round would be a tie.
As life becomes more and more digital, the need to know what devices to use becomes paramount, as otherwise we spend time and money on something only to switch and learn a new system in a short time. As the proliferation of eBooks is continually expanding and many first-run books now simultaneously release as physical books and eBooks, and the eBook is often cheaper, the decision to use an eReader as a primary form of literary entertainment becomes more important. But in reality there are numerous devices that can be used for reading eBooks - the iPad, a BlackBerry and even the BlackBerry Playbook comes preloaded with the Kobo app, the Nook, the Sony reader and more. At my last count there were over 20 eBook formats and over 50 different eReaders and various models released since 2007 alone.
Shortly after Kobo entered the market, Amazon dropped the price of the Kindle. And Amazon dropped its price again after Barnes and Noble dropped the price of the Nook Book Reader. Recently Kobo announced a price drop to $129CDN.
Also to be considered, Amazon does have a Kindle DX which is a larger screen, thinner body. It is used at some schools now as a sole textbook. If you were going to be annotating texts, making notes or using it as a technical manual, the Kindle DX of Kindle would most likely be the way to go. If you are using the device primarily for leisure reading, or fiction, then I would state go with the Kobo. Kobo is also owned in majority by Canadian shareholders, and just dropped the prince to $129. Yet with all that being said, best bang for your buck and comfort to read, the Kobo wins with a KO over the Kindle.
(Top graphic from PD Gillismith, bottom graphic by Ian Renato Cutajar.)
(First published in Imprint 2011-05-06 as 'Kobo versus Kindle: an e-reader rumble'.)
Note: Last year I wrote a review of the Kobo just before it hit the Market, you can read it here.