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.
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.