The Kobo Arc 10 HD could be a tablet worthy of replacing your bookshelf, if the damn thing didn't weigh as much as a bookshelf itself. The 10-inch tablet includes useful ebook-centric software that will appease avid readers seeking an Android experience, but its brute force design misses the mark with an uncomfortable build.
It houses a fast Tegra 4 processor, super-sharp screen, and despite its corpulent build, the matte faceted back is actually pleasing to the touch. Its inclusion of a nearly pure version of Android 4.2.2 is only enhanced by Kobo's useful and unique user-friendly interface.
However, today's top tablets boast thin and light designs that put the Arc 10 HD's 636g weight to shame and with thinner, lighter, and cheaper options like the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 around, the Arc 10 HD fails to make a strong enough case for your tablet dollar.
The Arc 10 HD is sleek in design, but not in build. The first thing you notice when you pick up the tablet is its aforementioned 636g heft. It's almost as heavy as the thick hardcover books some readers are trying to ditch. Needless to say, the tablet does more than a hardcover book can, but still, it's heavier than I'd like to carry around.
The Kobo Arc HD 10 rocks a simple and slim design, reminiscent of the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 and Sony Xperia Tablet Z. It looks like an average tablet from the front, with its all-black body, (almost) edge-to-edge glass screen, and moderately thin profile.
The volume rocker is located on the top right edge, and the Micro-HDMI and Micro-USB ports are on the top left edge. The red power slider on the top right corner feels cheap and, like the volume rocker, it's too flush to the tablet's edge to be easily found.
The 10-inch tablet's faceted back is a comfortable landscape for resting your hands; fingertips easily float across the soft matte finish as palms reposition and conform comfortably on the angled sides. I really like the faceted back and the feeling that I was holding onto something with more dimension, like a book, instead of a flat slate.
Unfortunately, any pleasantries provided by its innovative rear are trumped by the Arc 10 HD's heaviness and uncomfortably sharp corners. The hefty tablet's pointed corners dig into your palms and, after holding it for a long time, your wrists and hands feel strained. While reading, I found myself putting the tablet down often because it became too tiring to hold.
(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)
Kobo adds its personal touch to Android with its reader-geared software, but still offers the functionality of Jelly Bean without much compromise. The Arc 10 HD's three main screens include a traditional Android home screen, the Reading Life dashboard, and the Collections menu. Each offers unique features that, when combined, are some of the tablet's best assets.
The traditional Android home screen is a familiar space for adding app shortcuts and widgets, but since there's only one, there's limited space for customization. However, I didn't find the limitation detrimental to my needs, since there's still an app drawer easily accessible on the bottom Android navigation bar. Unlike the Kindle Fire line-up, the Kobo Arc 10 HD includes full access to Google's Play Store.
There's a customizable app bar — located on both the Android home page and Reading Life dashboard — that offers easy and quick access to your most used or favourite apps.
Kobo's Reading Life dashboard features a graphics-heavy Pinterest look. The dashboard displays an overview of your reading activities, like recently read books — with completion time estimates — and personalised recommendations. Visually, I think it compels you to continuously scroll through it, however, the layout is a little sloppy and the content isn't organised in any particular order.
From the Reading Life dashboard, swiping from right to left reveals the Collections menu. Collections are like folders where you can save books, magazines, videos, websites, and other content. Your books and magazines are automatically sorted into their respective categories, but making a new Collection is easy and adding new items to one is as simple as highlighting what you want to add and selecting the share button.
There is a customizable reading mode geared toward providing a distraction-free reading experience. In addition to turning off notifications for apps like Facebook and Skype, it switches into power-saving mode to extend battery life. It's easily accessible from the Android pull-down menu, where you can turn it on, off, or auto — so it will turn on whenever you are reading a book or magazine.
Beyond the Book is a feature that makes it easy to dive deeper into some of the key terms or concepts inside of a book you're reading. If a word is underlined, you can tap on it to learn more. It's a fun addition for the consistently curious, but I didn't find it incredibly useful.
The Kobo Arc HD 10 houses a 1.8GHz Nvidia Tegra 4 quad-core CPU, Nvidia AP 72-core GPU, and 2GB RAM.
The Kobo Arc HD 10 performs consistently smoothly for most tasks, even when many apps are running in the background. The 2GB of RAM is evident when trying to multitask or switching between apps quickly. I rarely experienced any lag or slow loading times.
On two occasions the tablet acted as if it were possessed; without any help from me, it opened and closed various apps and erratically navigated to the different home pages. A quick restart ended the problem and I couldn't replicate it, so it's probably just standard Android bugginess... or a ghost.
The Arc 10 HD responds slowly to the power slider. There is a permanent lag when waking up the tablet and it usually takes a few seconds for the lock screen to appear after sliding and holding the power switch briefly. This was frustrating to consistently encounter, especially if I was just trying to quickly check the time or my notifications.
Touchscreen response is fast and accurate, but I occasionally had to repeat some gestures, like highlighting text, because they weren't recognised. Recognition also suffers dramatically if the screen is dirty or full of smudges. While reading, taps and swipes for flipping through pages in a book are impressively seamless, even when many apps are open.
One of the Kobo Arc 10 HD's most impressive features is its sharp and bright 2560 x 1600 resolution screen. It boasts a Google Nexus 10-matching 300ppi, but falls short of the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9's super-sharp 323ppi display.
No matter what's on the screen, the display looks bright and vibrantly saturated, comparable to the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 edition), and the impressive range of colours begs to be used for something more than the simple black text of a book.
(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)
Mobile games run without a hitch and larger games load impressively fast. Graphics looked great on the screen and they didn't lag or stutter while playing.
The tablet's speakers are tinny and weak, no matter what type of audio is playing. The volume level is too low, but they suffice for watching movies and playing games. Since the speakers are located on the rear, if you lay the tablet flat on its back audio gets muffled and hard to hear. Considering how harsh some of the audio sounds, this might be a good thing.
Comfort is integral to a pleasant reading experience and the Kobo Arc 10 HD's soft, faceted back can't save it from the discomfort caused by the heaviness and pointed corners. With top tablets boasting thin and lightweight designs for the same price or less, the Kobo Arc 10 HD's flawed build is an inadmissible offence.
Passionate readers who want a tablet worthy of ditching their library card for may find the Kobo Arc 10 HD an attractive compromise between an e-reader and tablet, but the AU$429 Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 is better value, offering useful reading resources and fast performance inside of an impressively light tablet.
The Kobo Arc 10 HD provides a visually immersive tablet experience that puts reading at the forefront without ditching the perks of full Android capabilities. However, its objectionable design flaws sabotage its chances at being as good as its competition.