It’s been about 14 years since the launch of the original Kindle, and in that time e-books have become an incredibly popular way to read. But very few challengers have emerged with decent competitors to Amazon’s huge library and solid devices.
Kobo, a Canadian firm now owned by Japanese ecommerce giant Rakuten, has a history almost as long and is popular with e-book fans that don’t want to be tied to Amazon’s ecosystem. And with its latest devices launched last month, Kobo is finally producing Kindle rivals that can stand on their own even without that qualification. With great hardware, a comprehensive store and a few tricks that Amazon doesn’t match, the new Kobos are worth considering alongside Kindles for anyone looking to get into e-books.
Until now, the main reason for getting a Kobo was the more open ecoystem, and that remains a big selling point. Kindle has the power of Amazon behind it, meaning it may tie into subscriptions and benefits you already have. It also means more frequent sales, and connectivity with Goodreads. But Kindles are locked to the Amazon store, making it tough to get books from anywhere else.
On the Kobo side, the built-in store is just as full-featured, but you have additional options too. If your local library (or any library you can sign up to) offers e-books via Overdrive, you can take out loans and place holds directly from a Kobo e-reader, which is a great source of free reads. You can also plug a Kobo into a PC (or use Dropbox) to transfer over e-books in any format, including rights-protected files using Adobe Digital Editions, which means books you buy from Google, Booktopia or virtually anywhere work great alongside Kobo’s own ePubs.
Kobo has recently launched subscriptions to match Amazon on that front too, although they’re obviously not quite as mature. The $14-per-month Kobo Plus, for example, includes hundreds of thousands of books, but nowhere near as many big names as the similarly priced Kindle Unlimited. Kobo Audiobooks gives you one audiobook per month for $13, and you can listen to them directly from your e-reader using Bluetooth headphones. Amazon’s slightly more expensive Audible offering again has a better range, but for whatever reason Australian Kindles can’t play audiobooks like the US models can.
Then there are the devices themselves. On the low end, both companies make entry-level e-readers at around the $140 mark — the Kindle and the Kobo Nia — which are extremely similar and both offer the basics; a six-inch relatively low-resolution screen, basic adjustable light and 8GB of storage. But the comparisons get more interesting with the fancier e-readers.
In years past, I would have said Kobos don’t look or feel as nice as Kindles, but that’s no longer the case. Looking at the new Kobo Libra 2 and Kobo Sage, which are rivals to the latest Kindle Paperwhite and Kindle Oasis, respectively, there’s no obvious less-good option.
All these devices have very sharp screens at 300 pixels per inch, waterproofing, great lights for reading in the dark and blue light filters that can increase as you get closer to bedtime. The Kindle Oasis has an ambient light sensor to adjust the brightness automatically, and a cool metal build which is unique, but the Kobos have larger screens.