Just over a week ago, I started complaining about trying to
read books on an Android tablet. At the time, I was unaware that there were new
e-readers coming from both Kobo and Amazon, oddly enough; not that I suspect
any complaints from this end would have changed anything either way, but with
these new offerings, there’s something new for both the tablet fans and the
Canada’s homegrown Kobo has a new Android-based tablet, the
Kobo Arc, which will be available for sale in mid-November. It’s an update on
the Kobo Vox, increasing the horsepower of the processor to 1.5 GHz dual-core,
and the seven-inch screen is bumped up to 1280x800, making it possible to play
full-on 720p videos. While the Arc has both 8GB and 16GB models available ($199
and $249 respectively), this time out there’s no expansion slot for microSD
storage – instead, you’ll have to rely on the cloud for additional storage
The Kobo Arc has also made the move to Ice Cream Sandwich,
which – while not exactly the newest and best operating system – is still more
current than many of the other tablets out there. Of course, Google’s new Nexus
7 tablet, which is matched pretty closely in hardware specs and pricing, is
running the new Jelly Bean OS, which means the Kobo Arc is at a slight disadvantage
On the other hand, the Arc has introduced the Tapestries
interface, which gives you a slightly different way of organizing your content
on the device. Tapestries allows you to pin your content together in different
ways (including books, music and movies), so you can organize it on the tablet
the way you see fit, rather than having it rigidly siloed, like on other tablets.
Time will tell if that’s enough to prevent people from buying a Nexus 7 and
installing the Kobo app.
Not to be outdone, Amazon announced a few new models on the
exact same day as Kobo.
The Kindle Fire has now been updated to the Kindle Fire HD, and
will be available starting September 14. Like the Arc, it’s powered by Ice
Cream Sandwich. The Fire HD’s seven-inch screen sports a 1280x800-resolution,
but unlike the Kobo Arc, it’s powered by a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor rather
than a 1.5 GHz model.
However, the Kindle Fire HD comes with Dolby-certified sound
onboard (the Kobo Arc comes with SRS TruSound), and an updated dual-antenna Wi-Fi
configuration for better wireless performance. Plus the Fire HD gives you more
storage for your money: it’s available in 16GB and 32GB models, for $199 and
Amazon has also upped the ante a bit by releasing two
versions of the Fire HD with an 8.9-inch screen. The Kindle Fire HD 8.9” model bumps
the screen resolution up to 1920x1080, and the processor up to 1.5 GHz
dual-core. It runs $299 for the 16GB model, and $369 for the 32GB model. And
there’s also a 4G LTE Wireless version coming, tied to AT&T in the US
(Canadian availability and carrier to be determined). This model comes in a
32GB model for $499, and a 64GB model for $599.
While that price seems a bit high after looking at the more
affordable versions of the Kindle Fire HD, it’s really worth comparing that to
its true competitor: the iPad. Right now, the Wi-Fi only version of the iPad
starts at $519 in Canada; the 4G LTE version is $649, and that’s only the 16GB
model. As it stands, the new versions of the Kindle Fire HD 8.9” are
undercutting the iPad’s price by about $250, which is a pretty substantial sum.
When Amazon launched the original version of the Kindle Fire
into the marketplace, it pretty quickly became the number one Android-based
tablet. If Apple doesn’t have any tricks up its sleeve during Wednesday’s
launch event, it’s likely that these new Fire HD tablets will shift more of the
overall tablet market share into the Android column.
Despite the launch of these new Android-based e-readers,
it’s worth noting that both Kobo and Amazon had something for the e-ink fans
The first of Kobo’s two new e-ink readers is the $129.99
Kobo Glo, which comes with LED front-lit illumination, so you can read in the
dark (the lighting is hidden at the bottom end of the bezel). During the day,
it’ll be the same touch-based e-ink display as you’re used to with the Kobo
e-ink models such as the Kobo Touch.
The second new Kobo reader is the $79.99 Kobo Mini, which
sports a five-inch touchscreen, and an overall design that makes it easy to fit
into a jacket pocket – the key here is extreme portability. While this new form
factor may be a bit too small for
people with large hands, it may be the perfect stuffing stuffer for those with
smaller hands, or for children. Both the Glo and the Mini will be available at retail at the beginning of October.
Over at Amazon, the new e-ink model is the $119 Kindle
Paperwhite, which also comes with a built-in light for reading in the dark. But
this awkwardly-named reader’s real selling point is the increased resolution,
and the higher contrast between the ink and screen, both of which are designed
to make the device look more like a sheet of paper. There’s also a version with
built-in 3G, for $179. Both will be available in October.
Of course, these new e-ink models are dedicated e-readers,
unlike the new Android-based models. But for people like me who find the
backlit tablets a bit eye-gouging, it’s nice to know that our favourite e-book purveyors
still have our backs…and eyes.