The Kobo was first launched in Australia back in May last year at an unprecedented low price of AU$199. It was shortly after pipped by the Kindle 3 with a comparable price and a raft of features; but now, barely six months later, Kobo is once again undercutting the market with the Kobo Wireless eReader at AU$179 — a lower price even than the Kogan.
The great thing is, the new Kobo is a vast and very noticeable improvement on its predecessor. Cosmetically, it doesn't look much different, with only minor tweaks to its image; the big blue button is now a more subdued grey or black, and it's available with a lilac back as well as the white/grey and black/black colour options. The size, shape, weight and button placements are all the same, and it still has that tactually enticing quilted back. If you look carefully, though, you'll notice the "DISPLAY" button on the left-hand side has been replaced with "SHOP".
This is because the Kobo now has Wi-Fi, with a direct link to an online store, from which you buy books using your Borders log-in. But while an integrated bookstore removes your computer from the middleman position by allowing you to purchase and download books directly to your device, the experience with the Kobo is a little on the arduous side.
Because the only input option is navigating a keyboard on-screen, entering search terms is laborious; you have to wait for the screen to refresh each time you move the cursor. Unlike browsing online, where you can scroll relatively quickly through pages of books at a time, and search for your favourite genres and authors without even thinking, with the Kobo you have to enter the app, enter your search term — slowly — and then wait while the page loads. It's not so much that it's poorly implemented as the fact that an e-reader just isn't that great at online applications in general, but it's still irritating. You'll probably find you do a large chunk of your ebook shopping via computer just to save yourself the hassle.
On the other hand, even if you do this, it's a good idea to switch on the Wi-Fi from time to time for direct download software updates. Just remember to switch it off again when you're not using it — it'll chew through your Kobo's battery life like a very hungry caterpillar through a very small leaf.
While the shopping feature is a bit of a labour, though, you can't say that it's because of the processor. In order to compete in the e-reader marketplace, the Kobo needed a significant speed upgrade — and it got it. It still takes a little while to power on and load books (although less time than the previous Kobo), but the page turns are much faster — on a par with the Kindle 3 and the Sony Readers. You can even put the device to sleep with a quick tap on the power button. This can be a bit sensitive, though, and you may find yourself powering your Kobo off when you only want to put it down for a nap.
We also like that — finally — the Kobo includes a dictionary. Like everything else the Kobo does, it's easy to find, easy to use and easy to put away when you're done. Unfortunately, one feature the Kobo could really have used is still absent: a Search/Go To function. We found that sometimes, if the battery died or we put the Kobo Wireless on the charger, it would forget the last page of the book being read, returning the reader to an earlier point in the book — more than 50 pages. This happened more than once, as it did on the first model Kobo, and the only way to return to your page is to click forward through the pages. Compared to other e-readers on the market, the Kobo provides a much more simple and user-friendly experience, but if the device can't always remember what page you were on, a function needs to be provided that will allow you to flick through a book quickly and easily. Even a bookmarking function could potentially solve this issue.
That said, the Kobo Wireless eReader is a noticeable improvement on its predecessor. The first Kobo made accessibility and user-friendliness its hallmarks. This new model takes those ideals and combines them with a couple of nifty upgrades designed to further streamline your ebook experience. It's simple, slick and, at only AU$179, fantastic value for money.