Kobo has a new trick up its sleeve for the latest in its line of E Ink e-readers, and it's one we've been awaiting for a long time: built-in lighting.
It's the first e-reader in Australia to have the feature, although Sony has been selling cases with built-in reading lights for its e-readers and external clip-on lights can be found in gadgets stores all over the web. The inclusion of a light here, however, means that no additional cash outlay is required. However, the device itself isn't quite up to the standard we've grown to expect from Kobo, mainly due to some buggy software.
That's not to say that the e-reader is bad, just that you might want to think carefully about your options.
With each iteration, Kobo has pared its e-reader designs down further. With the Kobo Glo, the device has even done away with the home button, leaving the front face of the device smooth, and allowing it to shrink down its physical dimensions, shaving off a few millimetres to 157.4x113.9x10mm, compared to the Kobo Touch's 165x114x10.
All physical buttons, ports and slots have been relegated to the outside edge, with micro USB for charging and connection at the bottom, next to the reset hole, and a microSD slot on the left-hand side. Power buttons for the device and the light are at the top.
Kobo's signature quilted back is available this time round in a number of bold colours; we were sent a particularly retina-searing red unit that we actually really liked, but it's also available in black, silver and blue.
The biggest and best feature of the Kobo Glo is the built-in light. Unlike back-lit devices, this is placed around the front of the screen under the bezel, with a special coating to ensure even diffusion. It works really well; although, it does look a little like it is coming from underneath the screen, the light is not as harsh as what we've come to expect from capacitive LCD devices. When the light is on, a bar in the blank space at the bottom of the screen appears, with a button that lets you adjust the brightness — so if you want to read quietly in the middle of the night, you can do so without disturbing your partner or hurting your eyes. (You can also use it as a torch for finding your way to the bathroom at 3am. You're welcome.)
Traditionally, Kobo e-readers have been very bare-bones, although earlier versions did include a game hidden deep in the settings menu. The Kobo Glo is no exception to this, with most of its functions around reading; but if you navigate through the Settings menu to Extras, you can find some fun stuff — which might be good if, say, you have run out of books to read. Tucked away, you'll find a browser, a sketchpad, sudoku and chess.
Reading Life — Kobo's social reading platform — has made a return, too. This gives you a bunch of features to make reading more fun, including the ability to share books and highlighted passages from books to Facebook, as well as view your reading stats, which will tell you how many books you have read, the total number of hours you have spent reading and how much of your library you have finished reading.
You can also get awards for reading, which are kind of fun. You can pick up awards for collecting books, reading at certain times of the day, finishing books, highlighting passages and sharing to Facebook.
Kobo's interface is one of the things we love most about the e-reader: it's clean, easy to navigate (helped by a short tour of the device when you turn it on for the first time) and attractive, and we're glad to see that Kobo hasn't tried to really improve on it: the device has the same basic UI as the Kobo Touch.
We did find this time, however, that the Kobo isn't as quick to respond to our taps and swipes — which actually ended up being more vexing, due to a lack of buttons. Often, turning the page requires tapping twice; sometimes, this turns one page, sometimes two, and you can never tell which it is going to decide to do. It's not a massive problem, and it certainly didn't stop us from reading, but it can get a little irritating.
Slightly more irritating was its tendency to grind to a clunking halt. In three weeks, we had to use the reset button twice when it slowed right down: page turns took several minutes to register, and it had a bit of a freeze in the store. Your mileage may vary, but something isn't quite right with the firmware on our test unit, and there were similar — although less pronounced — issues on both the Kobo Touch that we tested and the Kobo Mini that we currently have.
That said, nothing the device has done has been permanent so far — these glitches are irritating, but if you want the built-in light, you may consider the irritation a worthy trade-off in the hope that Kobo will release a firmware fix.
Likewise, we found that other features could be a little obstreperous. The chess and sudoku would have been fabulous inclusions, but for some reason, the device takes a long time to register taps and moves, which makes the experience drawn-out and frustrating when you're used to the speeds of a smartphone or tablet for this sort of application.
On the other hand, the store is easy to navigate. We love the "Recommended reads" section, and the ability to pin books to a wish-list so that you can keep track of what catches your eye. We also really loved that Kobo has finally caught up with syncing: any books purchased from the Kobo store will sync across all your devices that have a Kobo app installed (that part isn't new); and when you read those books, it will sync the last page read across as well (that's the new part). This does only work for books purchased on the Kobo store, but it's a feature that the e-reader didn't have before, and it's a good update.
The Kobo Glo is still a decent piece of gadgetry, bringing some features to the table that other e-readers do not. However, the repeated bugginess of the firmware has us hesitant to make a solid recommendation. We'd add the caveats: if you don't mind a little bit of annoyance, and really want the built-in light and openness of Kobo's e-reading platform (or don't want to wait for the Kindle Paperwhite, which could be a while), grab the Kobo Glo.
Otherwise, make sure you shop around first.