The Kobo Glo HD is an excellent e-reader at a very appealing price point, although as always there’s a bit of regrettable vendor lock-in at play.
e-readers as a category are in an interesting spot, because there’s so very many other devices you can use to read short or long books of any type. E-Reader vendors point to the lower eyestrain from e-ink devices, along with the long battery life of these devices as key selling points against tablets, smartphones or even laptop reading.
Kobo Glo HD: On the plus side
It’s against that framework that you’ve got to assess Kobo’s latest e-Reader, the high resolution Glo HD. It’s broadly similar to most other e-readers, were it not for the fact that there’s really only two major players left; Kobo and its much larger rival, Amazon with its Kindle line.
E-Reader users “Read Ten Times As Much”
The Kobo Glo HD measures in at 157 x 115 x 9.2 mm with a carrying weight of 180 grams. That gives it a reasonable heft in the hand without being overly heavy for lengthier reading sessions. It’s still rather resolutely a plastic device, with a light pattern on the rear that stops it from being too slippery.
There’s only a single button, which controls its on/off state and nothing else; everything else the Kobo Glo HD can do is done via its touchscreen. Kobo provides a desktop app for PCs and Macs, as well as distinct apps for Android and iOS, although that’s more a direct reading app than a particular inducement to purchase a Kobo Glo HD.
So what makes the Glo HD an “HD” device? It’s the 1448×1072 300ppi display screen, which is extremely sharp for an e-ink display. Don’t expect to be watching movies on this thing, not that you can, but for straight text and illustrations it’s a very pleasant reading device, with a choice of fonts and sizes to suit your reading taste. You can probably work out why it’s a “Glo” e-reader, with an inbuilt light that provides good illumination at an adjustable level. I found that full whack brightness was a bit too much for my eyes. Leaving it at around 25 per cent brightness worked well, and should ensure that the Kobo Glo HD’s battery lasts a decent length of time.
As with any e-ink device, the refresh from page to page involves an entire screen “wipe” style effect, which takes some getting used to. The Kobo Glo HD’s 1GHz processor does a fair job of keeping things nippy if you’re a particularly quick reader, but there’s little of the smooth animation you might find on a tablet-based e-reading app, and that’s always going to be a limitation of the use of e-ink technology.
Kobo’s primary interface is very easy to learn, with your own purchased or imported books front and centre, as well as a link to Kobo’s eBook store. The Kobo Glo HD supports 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi for connectivity, and like every other e-reader before it, that only kicks in as a connection when you actually need it for browsing the Kobo store or using the beta web browser. E-Ink browsing remains, as it always has, a distinctly weird experience; generally functional if only just so. It’s certainly not why you’d buy the Kobo Glo HD.
You’d buy one to read eBooks, and here the Kobo Glo HD works very well within the constraints of its 6 inch display. The reality here is that the e-reader market has matured very slowly, and while I can see the differences in page resolution and speed of page turning in the Glo HD, this is much more a device you’d buy as a replacement for a broken e-reader, or as a first e-reader, rather than as an upgrade per se.
One nice factor with the Kobo Glo HD in terms of books is that it’s got generally wide file type support (PUB, EPUB3, PDF, and MOBI for eBooks, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP and TIFF for images, TXT, HTML, XHTML, and RTF for straight text and CBZ and CBR for comics files, as well as Adobe Digital Editions for library borrowings) as well as direct microUSB based drive storage capabilities. That means that you could use the 4GB of onboard storage as a kind of ad-hoc USB flash drive, but more importantly it doesn’t tie you into having to use Kobo’s own software to shuffle your own DRM-free eBooks onto the Glo HD.
The only note of slight annoyance here is that previous Kobo eReaders have supported the excellent freeware Calibre utility, and the Glo HD does not appear to, at least on the Mac I tested with.
Kobo Glo HD: On the minus side
The Glo HD doesn’t feel like an absolute premium bit of technology. While it’s light, it also feels a little hollow, with a slightly rattly back. This doesn’t hugely affect its ability to serve you up books, but it’s a noticeable issue for what’s currently the “top” of Kobo’s e-reader offerings.
My primary complaint with the Kobo Glo HD isn’t really with the hardware, though.
The hardware only makes one half of the e-reading equation, the other being the books. I can’t fault Kobo’s general book availability or its pricing per se, because much of that is set by the publishers anyway. The issue is that like buying a Kindle and using Amazon’s store, you’re still tying yourself into a particular DRM ecosystem.
I do get why this is so, but it’s notably annoying that if you were a Kindle owner looking to switch over to a more affordable Kobo device, you’d have to repurchase all your eBooks all over again. This isn’t specifically Kobo’s fault; like Amazon, Apple or Google they’re just going with the desires of the major eBook publishers in this respect.
As is stands, Kobo eBook purchases, just like Amazon Kindle ones, are effectively high-priced rentals rather than books that you “own” in this respect, and it’d be nice for publishers to respect this by perhaps offering recognition of legitimate book purchasers by allowing them to transfer legitimate purchases from one DRM-controlled platform to another.
I can dream, can’t I?
Kobo Glo HD: Pricing
The Kobo Glo HD has an Australian RRP of $179.99. The US list price is $US129.99, which after conversion and GST means we’re getting a reasonable deal on the Kobo Glo HD. It’s worth noting that according to Kobo Australia, a Kobo purchased overseas is permanently tied to the shopfront of the country it’s registered in.
Kobo Glo HD: Fat Duck Verdict
The Kobo Glo HD is a good e-reader if an e-reader is the device that you want. That might seem like a rather obvious statement, as few people buy things they’re disinterested in, but in the case of e-readers, it’s an important one, because it’s not the case any more that you’re stuck between reading on a desktop computer screen or an e-reader with nothing in-between.
In a comparative sense, the Kindle equivalent of the Kobo Glo HD would be the Kindle Voyage, a 6″, 300ppi e-ink e-reader that sells in Australia for $299. If you’re not already heavily invested in Kindle e-Books, the Kobo Glo HD offers the same specs, same screen and essentially the same reading experience for $120 less — or around six books, depending on your taste. It’s a solid value proposition if you’re a heavy reader on that basis alone.