Kobo Glo illuminated e-reader review
Read between the covers - and under them
Kobo’s Glo is yet another of the current wave of e-readers with what amounts to a backlit screen.
Yes, the light isn’t situated behind the screen, but let’s not split hairs. The system works by shining LED light through the screen and bouncing it back off a reflective layer toward the reader, but the effect is much the same.
Moody blue: Kobo's Glo glows with a azure light
The screen in question is a 6in, 758 x 1024 E Ink Pearl so the Glo’s light-off text quality is as good as any rival e-reader based on the same technology. Kobo sent me a review sample with a white bezel which does the screen no favours. Its brightness in comparison with the display only serves emphasise the e-ink panel’s inherent greyness.
I’d recommend a darker bezel for that reason alone, but I also think the smooth, white plastic of the review unit gives it a rather cheap feel, as does its 0.5mm-thick, flat sides. The Glo isn’t uncomfortable to hold, and the rear panel has a pleasant matte touch, but overall it feels like a low-cost, no-name reader of the kind coming out of China a few years back. It doesn’t have the same quality feel as Amazon’s Kindle or Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-readers, let alone Sony’s Reader.
It works just as well with the 'backlight' off
The device seems solid enough, mind. And its software isn’t bad, though as I pointed out in my write up of the Kobo Mini, you’re forced to connect it to a computer onto which you’ve downloaded Kobo’s library software before you can use it. This despite the fact that the Glo has single-band 802.11n Wi-Fi on board and could easily verify its activation that way.
Unlike the Mini, the Glo’s 2GB of storage - only 1GB is reserved for books - can be expanded with Micro SD cards. Charging and sideloading content all take place through a micro USB port.
The Glo's flat-edge design makes room for a light trigger and a power slider
The Glo’s lighting system is triggered with a button on top of the device, next to the power slider. Like other such systems, it’s capable of pumping out a lot of light - you’ll almost certainly want to tap the screen’s light icon - always present when the light is on - to adjust the brightness downward.
Reading in the dark
Under ordinary lighting, the Glo’s screen takes on a pale blue cast rather than the usual grey, hence Amazon’s decision to call its version “Paperwhite”. I’m not convinced it makes for any improvement unless you’re using the light to compensate for too little lighting or too much. Upping the brightness can cut through some bright overhead lighting.
Worse, perhaps, the light makes the E Ink screen’s page turn ‘blackout’ much more intrusive than it usually is. Maybe that’s why the Kobo software limits full screen refreshes every six page turns. The downside: this leads to broken characters and ghosting. I turned it from the default to a refresh with every page turn but, as I say, this makes the refresh more in-your-face when the light is on.
With 'backlight' illumination (top) and without (bottom)
The Glo is touch-sensitive. There are no physical page turn buttons, and screen itself doesn’t detect taps - they’re spotted by sensors mounting in the thick bezel. So you can use the end of a pencil or any other stylus as well as fingertips.
Touch is said by e-reader makers with touch-enabled e-readers to be more “natural” than buttons, but I’m not convinced. Tap a screen or tap a button - what’s the difference? Touch does let you swipe, but that’s a poor mimic of turning a physical page. But it is unquestionably better than selecting an on-screen keyboard’s keys with a five-way nav button.
The Glo's illumination runs from just noticeable (top) to very bright (bottom) - but look at the ghosting
I shouldn’t harp on about touchscreen e-readers. They’re all as bad in this respect, and the Glo is no worse than the rest. Its light is as good as theirs too. The only reason I’d select, say, a Kindle Paperwhite or Nook SimpleTouch Glowlight over the Kobo is that their more curvaceous cases are more pleasant to hold.
Of course, the Amazon offering isn’t out yet, and won’t ship until 17 December. The Nook is available, for the same £109 as the Kindle. It would be my choice - it’s worth the extra tenner over the £100 Glo for the better quality casing. And it supports the same ePub and DRM formats as the Glo.
The Glo isn’t a bad e-reader, and Kobo has an impressively well-stocked e-book shop ready to fill it. Its UI is up to the job. But though e-readers are now as cheap as chips, they don’t have to feel like they cost almost nothing to make. Unfortunately, the Glo does. So does Kobo’s Mini, but its unique 5in size offers some compensation. Not so the Glo, which delivers the same features as a host of rival e-readers but in a less attractive outfit. ®
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