We have to hand it to Kobo; it came out of nowhere just under two years ago, and has clawed itself to a significant place in the market — 36 per cent in its mother country, Canada (although less everywhere else) — by releasing comparatively affordable, user-friendly devices.
As a result, we've come to expect a certain standard from its e-readers, and we'll say right off the bat: the Vox falls quite short of that mark.
In keeping with its minimalist design principle, the Vox is very simple and sleek. The black-bezelled face is pretty pared down, with what have come to be pretty standard touch buttons for Android just below the screen for Back, Menu and Home.
The device also sports Kobo's trademark quilted back, in black for those who like to keep things toned down, or a choice of several vivid colours: blue, lime green or bright pink. On the left edge, you'll find an SD-card slot and volume control; on the top, a power button and a speaker; and on the bottom, the microSD charging and connection port and a 3.5mm audio jack.
It's pretty heavy, coming in at just over 400g — more than twice the weight of the 185g Kobo eReader Touch — and, rather than glass, the 7-inch touchscreen is heavy-duty plastic, which gives the entire thing a cheap sort of feel compared to the glass-fronted devices we're used to. Plastic looks cloudier and gets smudgier than glass, too, and we were dismayed on a closer look to realise that we could actually see the LEDs through the Android navigation buttons.
The colour screen is the big draw here, and Kobo has thrown in a few features to make the Vox feel slightly more like a multimedia device than a dedicated e-reader.
Straight out of the box, it comes with Zinio (an app for subscribing to and reading magazines), the Merriam-Webster dictionary app, Press Reader for newspapers, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Gmail and a web browser. If you don't need any of these apps, tough bikkies; they're on there to stay. You also get an app store — Get Apps — so you can download games and other selected apps from the Android Market. You don't get the Android Market itself, because the device doesn't meet the hardware requirements for official certification.
Because it's a Kobo device, there's also a library for your Kobo ebooks, a link to the Kobo store and Reading Life. We stated in our review of the Kobo eReader Touch that we quite liked Reading Life, and it seems to be integrated well here; we particularly like the feature that allows you to select a block of text or a quote that you particularly admire, and share it on Facebook.
It also has the Reading Life stats and awards, which syncs across your Kobo devices and apps.
It was rather interesting what Kobo left out, so we're just going to go through it point by point.
- Support for CBR and CBZ comic-book files is a curious omission for a colour e-reader; of course, they aren't the only colour content that we want to read, but why was it included on the Touch and left out here? We downloaded Droid Comic Viewer to solve the problem.
- Likewise, there is no native support for PDFs. Given that a capacitive colour screen is great for marking up PDFs, and the Touch also had PDF support, it again seemed odd.
- Want to open up your Vox as an external drive and install third-party content? Oops. The Kobo e-reader on the device doesn't support them. And Adobe Digital Editions is also out.
- Never mind — you can install an external e-reader app, such as Aldiko, and read your books that way, surely. Uh, yeah. About that: there's no file manager included on the device. Note that this also means that you can't really view any content you may have preloaded onto your SD card. We downloaded the APK for Astro File Manager directly via the Vox's browser and managed to get into our files that way.
We also found the device slow to execute apps and really buggy, with programs crashing. All of this with the latest firmware, too. We can only hope that Kobo is at least aware of these issues and will fix them in time, but it makes for a pretty frustrating experience all the same.
So, is there anything that the Vox does well? Actually, it does make a pretty good e-reader, and allows you to view books in colour, which is handy for things like children's titles and magazines. We also like some of the Reading Life features that aren't available on the Touch, such as the Social Reading that allows you to see likes and comments from other readers.
Honestly, though, we can't say that these features are good enough to warrant dropping 250 smackaroons. If you want an e-reader, you're better off at this point with an E Ink device. If you want a tablet, you should probably bite the bullet and buy a tablet. If you want a colour e-reader, we suggest you wait, because although this is on the right track, it's a long, long way from being there.
In the Vox, Kobo has attempted to get a relevant place on the tablet/e-reader market. We can understand why — Amazon's keeping the entire e-reader market on its toes — but the end product seems more than a little rushed, and fails to meet the expectations we have from both Android devices and the Kobo E Ink readers. It's a poor job, and lamentable that in Australia, we have to settle for an unfinished product.