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Summary:

I may be the biggest fan of e-books around, and when I use a new mobile device the first thing I do is look for reader apps. That’s why I jumped on the Kobo reader app when it was released. It’s OK, but it lacks features.

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I may be the biggest fan of e-books around, and when I use a new mobile device the first thing I do is look for reader apps. Android is lagging behind other platforms in this area, at least as far as the major retailer apps are concerned. I have been anxiously awaiting the release of the Kindle app for Android, but it hasn’t appeared yet. That’s why I jumped on the Kobo reader app for my HTC EVO 4G as soon as it was released. It’s a good reader, but it lacks features that make it a pain to use the way I prefer.

Kobo is the online bookseller that runs the Borders online store, along with its own shop. It is similar in offerings to both the Kindle bookstore at Amazon and the Barnes & Noble store. I have used all three stores to buy content, and find them comparable. I have also used reader apps from all three on different devices, and all yield a decent e-book reading experience. The difference lies in the extra features that separate the good apps from the basic ones. The Kobo app for Android falls squarely in the latter category, due to missing features its own help files indicate should be there.

I use the iPad as my primary e-book reading device, and I am quite happy with that situation. I do like to use my smartphone as an auxiliary reader on occasion, and this led me to pick up the Kobo app for Android. The release of the Android version of this app makes Kobo the only one of the three big guys that has reader versions on both the iPad and Android, so anxiously I started using it.

Reading experience

Kobo for Android is a decent reader app, with all of the standard features you expect. There is a font size setting to tailor the page to the best reading comfort level, and limited control over font style. There is a day/night toggle that switches from black text on a white page (default) to white text on a black page. Unfortunately, these are the only two page styles so you have to make do with them. I am OK with that, although I normally prefer black text on a beige page for comfort.

Like the competition, Kobo for Android interacts with the user’s online Kobo account to get books onto the device. It links up automatically once the account credentials are entered, and purchased books appear in the Kobo bookshelf. Reading a book is as simple as tapping the book on the shelf.

Page turning is accomplished with simple tapping on the left and right of the page, to go backward and forward respectively one page at a time. Page turning animations are not available to create a real book experience, as there are on the iPad version.

I find the Kobo app to be a good reader, and I like reading e-books on the big EVO screen. I can whip through books quite rapidly, as the app stays out of the way and lets the content take over. The app remembers the current reading position in the given book when it is first opened.

 

Shortcomings are big

Unfortunately, the one area where Kobo should shine is instead its glaring shortcoming. Amazon’s Kindle devices and apps introduced automatic syncing of bookmarks and furthest reading position in any book. This makes it possible to read a book on one device, and start where you left off on any other device. This makes the entire experience delightful.

The Kobo is supposed to do this syncing, but it doesn’t work on the Android app. It will sync book purchases to the Android app just fine, but not reading position nor bookmarks. There’s not even a way to set a bookmark on the Android app, even though Kobo’s online help says it should do that. The option has apparently not made it into the app yet, and that makes the Android Kobo app fall short of other readers. The help page indicates there should be a Bookmark button in the Settings menu to manually set a bookmark, but it is glaringly missing. The app currently doesn’t support rotation into landscape orientation, so portrait is the only option.

The only thing going for Kobo at this point is it is the only major reader with versions available for both the iPad and Android. This is the only reason I am continuing to use it due to the bookmarking omission. Once Amazon releases the Kindle app for Android, Kobo will be coming off my EVO. That is supposed to happen “this summer” according to Amazon.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub. req’d): Irrational Exuberance Over E-Books?

  1. The other downside is that it requires Android 1.6 or later. Those of us still on 1.5 are out of luck.

    I use Kobo on my iPod Touch and like it. I agree it’s fairly comparable to Kindle, iBooks (has no night mode), and B&N Reader (probably the most configurable.)

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  2. I assume a Kindle Android app will drop this summer. At which point, I might find myself as an EVO owner given that huge screen. We’ll see… :)

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  3. Great review. Good info. Thanks.

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  4. James,

    I just saw an update for Kobo in the Android Market and applied it. Nothing visibly seemed to change, but when I left the app to go elsewhere I saw “Saving bookmarks” appear on my display so it looks like they now autosave when you leave the app. I need to check it across my iPad, but don’t have it with me so maybe you can verify that this issue has been fixed already.

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    1. I just checked it and the iPad still doesn’t see the Android bookmark that it says it’s saving when you leave the app. There’s no bookmarks accessible in the Android app so I can’t tell if it’s really doing anything.

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