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WHSmith Kobo Touch wireless e-book reader

Has the Kindle met its match?

WHSmith Kobo Touch e-book reader

Review The joys of the e-book reader are considerable. You can carry a thousand books in your pocket and download more in a matter of seconds while you’re sitting in the garden – assuming the Wi-Fi stretches or you have a 3G model. If there are words you don’t recognise, you can look them up with one touch too. And in the case of dedicated readers like the Amazon Kindle and the Kobo, E Ink is as readable in bright sunlight as the printed page. Wonderful.

WHSmith Kobo Touch e-book reader

Pocketable and wireless too: WHSmith's Kobo Touch e-book reader

On the other hand, these devices lack the physical relationship a book offers: I can feel I’m three quarters through a novel by what my hands tell me – I don’t even have to look. This physical feedback is much better than a progress bar at the bottom of the screen. And for me, it’s easier to remember where I saw something in a book. At the bottom of a left-hand page near the beginning, wasn’t it? Ah yes, there it is.

There’s one other thing: when I turn a page in a book, it doesn’t flash from black to white in that ghastly way E Ink does. Although some ebook readers, including this one, make that flashing less frequent. I'll come to that in a moment. The Kobo Touch is almost identical in size to the newly released Amazon Kindle 4 Reg Hardware reviewed recently.

It’s a fraction thicker, by a mere 1.3mm, and a hair shorter but they both sport the same 6in E Ink pearl screen. However, despite looking identical in use, only the Kobo has a touchscreen. So there are no buttons on the Kobo apart from a power slider on the top edge and a home button on the front. As well as feeling thicker in the hand, the quilted back is different, and its matt finish means it feels pleasingly non-slip as you hold it.

The quilted back comes in a range of colours with a white front or just all black. It looks good, and the white version appears fresher than the latest Kindle, especially as there’s only the home button on the front. Also, the Kobo’s slider power switch is less susceptible to accidental activation than the Kindle’s bottom-edge power button.

WHSmith Kobo Touch e-book reader

The quilted effect on the back looks like a bit like a mattress

The Kindle has a direction pad to activate the virtual keyboard. On the Kobo you tap on the screen. The on-screen keyboard is efficient, but, boy, is it slow. If you’re putting in your credit card details to buy a book, it’s worth entering this on your PC or Mac first to save some time. Buying books is straightforward. If you do this on the Kobo website, it’s automatically downloaded to the device as quickly as on a Kindle, that is under a minute. Incidentally, buying e-books from the WHSmith website, will redirect you to the KoboBooks store.

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