Kobo and Kindle’s Android e-readers get kicked up a notch

Just over a week ago, I started complaining about trying toread books on an Android tablet. At the time, I was unaware that there were newe-readers coming from both Kobo and Amazon, oddly enough; not that I suspectany complaints from this end would have changed anything either way, but withthese new offerings, there’s something new for both the tablet fans and thee-ink fans.

Canada’s homegrown Kobo has a new Android-based tablet, theKobo Arc, which will be available for sale in mid-November. It’s an update onthe Kobo Vox, increasing the horsepower of the processor to 1.5 GHz dual-core,and the seven-inch screen is bumped up to 1280×800, making it possible to playfull-on 720p videos. While the Arc has both 8GB and 16GB models available ($199and $249 respectively), this time out there’s no expansion slot for microSDstorage – instead, you’ll have to rely on the cloud for additional storagespace.

The Kobo Arc has also made the move to Ice Cream Sandwich,which – while not exactly the newest and best operating system – is still morecurrent than many of the other tablets out there. Of course, Google’s new Nexus7 tablet, which is matched pretty closely in hardware specs and pricing, isrunning the new Jelly Bean OS, which means the Kobo Arc is at a slight disadvantagehere.

On the other hand, the Arc has introduced the Tapestriesinterface, which gives you a slightly different way of organizing your contenton the device. Tapestries allows you to pin your content together in differentways (including books, music and movies), so you can organize it on the tabletthe 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 andinstalling the Kobo app.

Not to be outdone, Amazon announced a few new models on theexact same day as Kobo.

The Kindle Fire has now been updated to the Kindle Fire HD, andwill be available starting September 14. Like the Arc, it’s powered by IceCream Sandwich. The Fire HD’s seven-inch screen sports a 1280×800-resolution,but unlike the Kobo Arc, it’s powered by a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor ratherthan a 1.5 GHz model.

However, the Kindle Fire HD comes with Dolby-certified soundonboard (the Kobo Arc comes with SRS TruSound), and an updated dual-antenna Wi-Ficonfiguration for better wireless performance. Plus the Fire HD gives you morestorage for your money: it’s available in 16GB and 32GB models, for $199 and$249 respectively.

Amazon has also upped the ante a bit by releasing twoversions of the Fire HD with an 8.9-inch screen. The Kindle Fire HD 8.9” model bumpsthe screen resolution up to 1920×1080, and the processor up to 1.5 GHzdual-core. It runs $299 for the 16GB model, and $369 for the 32GB model. Andthere’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 a32GB model for $499, and a 64GB model for $599.

While that price seems a bit high after looking at the moreaffordable versions of the Kindle Fire HD, it’s really worth comparing that toits true competitor: the iPad. Right now, the Wi-Fi only version of the iPadstarts at $519 in Canada; the 4G LTE version is $649, and that’s only the 16GBmodel. As it stands, the new versions of the Kindle Fire HD 8.9” areundercutting the iPad’s price by about $250, which is a pretty substantial sum.

When Amazon launched the original version of the Kindle Fireinto the marketplace, it pretty quickly became the number one Android-basedtablet. If Apple doesn’t have any tricks up its sleeve during Wednesday’slaunch event, it’s likely that these new Fire HD tablets will shift more of theoverall 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 fansout there.

The first of Kobo’s two new e-ink readers is the $129.99Kobo Glo, which comes with LED front-lit illumination, so you can read in thedark (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 Koboe-ink models such as the Kobo Touch.

The second new Kobo reader is the $79.99 Kobo Mini, whichsports a five-inch touchscreen, and an overall design that makes it easy to fitinto a jacket pocket – the key here is extreme portability. While this new formfactor may be a bit too small forpeople with large hands, it may be the perfect stuffing stuffer for those withsmaller 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 KindlePaperwhite, which also comes with a built-in light for reading in the dark. Butthis awkwardly-named reader’s real selling point is the increased resolution,and the higher contrast between the ink and screen, both of which are designedto make the device look more like a sheet of paper. There’s also a version withbuilt-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 thebacklit tablets a bit eye-gouging, it’s nice to know that our favourite e-book purveyorsstill have our backs…and eyes.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Sean Carruthers
Sean Carruthers
Sean Carruthers is a freelance writer, video producer and host based in Toronto, Canada. Most recently, he was a Senior Producer at, where he was responsible for the conception, writing, production and editing of a number of web video shows, including Lab Rats, How Do I?, Status Update, The Noob, and more.

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