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from the L.A. Times

Category: Kobo

Kobo Vox tablet review [Video]

The Kobo Vox tablet feels like a missed opportunity.

Over the last year, the scrappy Canadian e-reading company has released the impressive Kobo Touch eInk eReader and polished its Kobo Reading Life apps into worthy rivals to Amazon's Kindle apps and Barnes & Noble's Nook apps on tablets and smart phones.

The company is in the process of being purchased by Japan's equivalent to Amazon, the massive online retailer Rakuten. Despite Kobo's largest U.S. retail partner, Borders, closing its doors, it seemed that Kobo was akin to a promising, aspiring prizefighter on the brink of being ready to challenge the heavyweight champs of e-reading, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

The Kobo Vox, on top of a Amazon Kindle Fire and a Barnes & Noble Nook TabletAnd then I used the Vox -- Kobo's answer to Amazon's Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble's one-two punch of the Nook Color and Nook Tablet.

With the Vox, Kobo has taken a step back, delivering a product that doesn't come close to its rivals and one that doesn't match up to the quality I expected given how much I like the Kobo Touch and Kobo reading apps on Google's Android and Apple's iOS devices.

On paper, the Vox looked like a smart move, selling for $199.99 and featuring a seven-inch touch-screen with eight gigabytes of built-in storage -- that's the same included storage and price as the Fire and the same as the Nook Color (the Nook Tablet sells for $249). Just as the Nook Color and Nook Tablet do, the Vox features with a MicroSD card slot, which can accommodate a card of up to 32-gigabytes in size, if you don't mind buying one.

Like the Fire and the Nook, the Vox runs a modified version of the Android Gingerbread operating system, designed by Google with phones, not tablets in mind.

But unlike those two others, Kobo has only made minimal changes to Gingerbread, most noticeably pinning reading-related functions to the bottom of the Vox's Android home screens.

I was hopeful Kobo would deliver a competitive product, but instead I found myself disappointed at just about every turn in using the Vox.

The hardware, from the outside, isn't bad looking. The back of the Vox is great to hold on to, with Kobo's signature quilted pattern rendered in a soft and grippy plastic. On the review unit I tested, a light-blue rim of plastic sat between the back of the Kobo and its 1020 x 600 pixel resolution display.

It's nice to see a company take a bit of risk design-wise, especially when compared with the boring looks of the Kindle Fire. The Vox is also offered with lime-green, pink and black rims.

But once I turned on the device, it was mostly downhill.

The Vox starts up slow, and I failed to ever reach the seven-hour battery life Kobo claims for the Vox. I usually got about four or five hours of battery life, but there were about four times in my week of testing that the device would shut itself off when falling below an 80% charge (a couple of those delays struck when we were shooting the above video).

When the Vox was up and running, it did so sluggishly. Loading apps, menus, Web pages; checking email; opening e-books; turning pages in e-books -- everything took place slowly. It felt as though the Vox was always a step, or a second or two, behind my touch input. The display also fails to match the clarity, brightness, color range or viewing angles of the Fire and the Nook Tablet.

Snappy, speedy, responsive -- these are not words I would use to describe the Vox. Too often I found myself staring at a rotating gray circle waiting for something to load. This complaint can partly be attributed to lower-end internal specs, such as an 800-megahertz processor and 512-megabytes of RAM, but if tuned enough with the right software, such hardware shouldn't be so slow.

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Japan's Rakuten to buy e-reader maker Kobo for $315 million

Kobo Vox tablets

Canadian e-reader maker Kobo is being taken over by Rakuten, a Japanese online retailer, for $315 million.

The two companies announced the deal late Tuesday, with Rakuten (Japan's equivalent to buying Kobo, which is now owned by Indigo Books & Music (Canada's equivalent to Barnes & Noble) and to a much lesser extent by Borders, the bankrupt chain of U.S. bookstores. 

Kobo said that Rakuten is "one of the world's top 3 e-commerce companies by revenue" and that the purchase deal will help the two companies grow both their e-reader and digital retail businesses by creating an ecosystem of downloadable media and devices for consumers.

"Kobo provides one of the world’s most communal eBook reading experiences with its innovative integration of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter; while Rakuten offers Kobo unparalleled opportunities to extend its reach through some of the world’s largest regional e-commerce companies, including in the U.S., Tradoria in Germany, Rakuten Brazil, Rakuten Taiwan, Lekutian in China, TARAD in Thailand, and Rakuten Belanja Online in Indonesia, and of course, Rakuten Ichiba in Japan," Hiroshi Mikitani, Rakuten's CEO and chairman, said in a statement.

Kobo said it expected the sale to close in early 2012. The Toronto company said its new owner plans to keep the same management team and employees in place.

"From a business and cultural perspective this is a perfect match," Kobo CEO Michael Serbinis said in a statement. "We share a common vision of creating a content experience that is both global and social. Rakuten is already one of the world's largest e-commerce platforms, while Kobo is the most social eBook service on the market and one of the world's largest eBook stores with over 2.5 million titles."

The deal will also enable Kobo to "diversify quickly into other countries and e-commerce categories," Serbinis said.

Kobo's diversifying could help it compete more aggressively with Barnes & Noble's Nook line of e-readers and tablets and Amazon's Kindle devices. Amazon, unlike Barnes & Noble and Kobo, sells moves, music and apps and not just e-books.

This month, Kobo will release its Vox tablet, a gadget with a 7-inch display that runs Google's Android Gingerbread operating system and is being positioned as an alternative to the Nook Tablet and Kindle Fire.


Kobo Vox tablet, $200, to take on Kindle Fire, Nook Color

Amazon Kindle Fire tablet: $199, 7-inch screen, ships Nov. 15

Barnes & Noble unveils Nook Tablet at $249 as Kindle Fire rival

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Image: Kobo Vox tablets. Credit: Kobo

Is Barnes & Noble launching a new Nook on Monday?

Nook Color

Is Barnes & Noble Inc. set to launch a new Nook?

In a few weeks, Amazon's Kindle Fire and Kobo's Vox tablets will go on sale, entering the low-end tablet space that Barnes & Noble's Nook Color has occupied for about a year.

Nook event inviteSo far, Barnes & Noble hasn't announced any new Nook tablet plans, but the Web is buzzing with speculation that it's all heading that direction after the bookstore chain and e-reader maker invited the media to a Nook-related event in New York on Monday.

The invitation for the event reads simply, "Please join us for a very special announcement" under a shining green Nook "n" logo.

Could we see a new Nook? It's likely. If we were to see a new Nook device, it probably would be an update to the Nook Color.

Barnes & Noble replaced its old eInk e-reader in May with the market's second touch-screen e-reader (just a day behind the launch of the Kobo Touch) -- so that's unlikely to see a replacement anytime soon.

The current Nook Color and the upcoming Kindle Fire and Kobo Vox each run versions of Google's Android operating system and feature 7-inch touch screens.

Another possibility is changes to Barnes & Noble's Nook Friends social network, which allows users to see what their friends are reading, read reviews of books, lend books to one another, share quotes from a book, list their progress in a book and recommend titles to a buddy.

Whatever the Nook news is Monday, we'll have it covered here on the Technology blog. Stay tuned.


Report: More U.S. adults own e-readers than tablets

Amazon Kindle Fire tablet: $199, 7-inch screen, ships Nov. 15

Kobo Vox tablet, $200, to take on Kindle Fire, Nook Color

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Images: (Top) Angry Birds running on a Barnes & Noble Nook Color tablet and (bottom) an invitation to a Nook event in New York on Nov. 7. Credit: Barnes & Noble

Kobo Vox tablet, $200, to take on Kindle Fire, Nook Color

Kobo Vox tablet

E-reader maker Kobo is following in Barnes & Noble's and Amazon's footsteps and releasing its own low-priced Android tablet.

The Canadian firm announced the Kobo Vox tablet on Wednesday, coming in at a Amazon Kindle Fire-matching price of $199.99. Barnes & Noble's hit Nook Color tablet sells for $249.

Kobo began taking pre-orders for the Vox on Wednesday as well, and the specs are similar to what Nook Color or Kindle Fire users might find in their tablets.

The Vox has a 7-inch screen with a resolution of 1024 x 600 that is covered in an anti-glare coating that Kobo said will make the tablet better suited for outdoor reading.

It also has 8 gigabytes of built-in storage memory and a microSD card slot that can handle up to 32-gigabyte cards, as well as an 800-megahertz processor and 512 megabytes of RAM.

Kobo Vox tabletLike the Kindle Fire and Nook Color, the Vox is Wi-Fi only.

The multi-touch display on the front is offset by a colored plastic band around the side of the Vox, and Kobo's quilted plastic back design style remains in place. The Vox is available in colors of "hot pink," "lime green," "ice blue" and "jet black."

Unlike the Nook Color and the Kindle Fire, the Kobo Vox is running a less-modified version of Google's Android operating system. Kobo is using "full open access Android 2.3," also known as Gingerbread, an operating system widely used on tablets but also an OS that was designed by Google with phones in mind.

Kobo's Reading Life application, of course, is included on the Vox, allowing users to track their reading by way of stats -- what, how much and how long a user reads -- with digital awards offered up based on that progress (number of pages or books read, for example) and integration with Facebook and Twitter for easy sharing.

The Vox will start shipping on Oct. 28, a couple of weeks ahead of the Kindle Fire.

Kobo's Vox keeps it in step with Amazon and Barnes & Noble, with all three companies now offering touch-screen eInk eReaders and 7-inch touch-screen Android tablets.

And that's a point Kobo has made before -- it will match its rivals and won't be left behind as it competes to be the third-place eReader with sights set on growing in stature and sales.

"We're gunning for Amazon," Kobo Chief Executive Michael Serbinis said in a May interview with the Times' Technology blog.


Report: More U.S. adults own e-readers than tablets

Amazon Kindle Fire tablet: $199, 7-inch screen, ships Nov. 15

Kobo announces Touch Edition eReader that's "easier to use than ever"

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Images: The Kobo Vox tablet. Credit: Kobo

Kobo announces Touch Edition eReader that's 'easier to use than ever'

Kobo on Monday announced its new eReader Touch Edition on Monday -- a paperback-sized device that features an e-ink touch screen.

"We just want to make eReaders easier to use than ever," Kobo Chief Executive Michael Serbinis said. "You can tap the edge of a page on the screen to turn the page, or you can swipe it with your finger, and it rolls back just like a real page would."

Front_Black_PnP_cover The device doesn't offer the multitouch and multicolor experience of a smart phone or tablet computer, but it does allow for an easier entry into eReading than previous devices from both Kobo and its competitors, Serbinis said.

Search functions, text highlighting, note taking and bookmarking -- all the standard eReader features are in place, along with an on-screen virtual keyboard, he said. 

The Kobo Touch Edition is small enough to fit into the back pocket of a pair of jeans, with just a small bezel around a 6-inch screen, Serbinis said.

The display uses an infared touch technology that allows the screen to react to the touch of any object, not just a human finger.

"You can touch, tap or swipe with a pen, pencil, hand, hand in gloves, whatever you want to touch it with and it will work," Serbinis said.

A sliver strip under the screen is the device's one actual button -- a home button, to exit out of any book or application quickly. The Touch Edition is offered in black or white, with the lighter models being made available with blue, silver or lilac backs.

Kobo, which Serbinis said was "neck and neck" for third place in the U.S. eReader market dominated by Amazon's Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook eReaders, is looking to gain market share on being the most affordable digital reading device available.

The Kobo Touch Edition went on preorder on Monday at Best Buy, Borders and Wal-Mart stores for $129.99. The previous Kobo Wireless eReader, which uses a directional pad for navigation and debuted about a year ago, dropped to $99.99 from about $130.

"We're gunning for Amazon," Serbinis said. "We now have just under 4 million users in over 100 countries. We're No. 1 in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. And we've essentially pioneered the affordable eReader. That brings us to touch technology. We think this is a compelling experience -- not really matched on the market right now." 

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