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With Amazon (s AMZN) widely expected to announce new Kindle devices at a press event in Los Angeles Thursday, Kobo is getting its news out a little early: The Toronto-based company, which is owned by Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten, is launching two new e-readers – one front-lit, one five-inch — and a tablet called the Kobo Arc.
The Arc is Kobo’s second attempt at a 7-inch Android (s GOOG) tablet. The company released the $199.99 Vox last November, and while it got some decent reviews, there was little reason to buy it over competitors like Amazon’s Kindle Fire or Barnes & Noble (s BKS)’s Nook Tablet. Hence the revamp, name change and price drop.
Specs: The Arc, which is $199.99 for the 8 GB model or $249.99 for the 16 GB version, runs on Android 4.0 and has a 1280×800 resolution 7-inch display, a front-facing camera, WiFi and 1 GB of RAM. No 3G, no GPS. . The Arc’s battery life is “up to 10 hours of continuous reading/video with WiFi off” and two weeks on standby.
Content: Kobo doesn’t have its own app store; it gives users access to apps and games through Google Play. The Arc’s main selling point appears to be an “exclusive interface” called “Tapestries,” which users “build” based on their interests and favorite content. The Kobo Arc “intelligently recommends new ebooks, videos, music and more based on the content you ‘pin’ to your Tapestry.” I haven’t seen a demo of how this works.
The Arc is preloaded with apps including Facebook (s FB), Twitter, Skype, Rdio, Zinio and PressReader, as well as Google apps. Users can download the Netflix Android app through the Google Play store.
Availability: The Arc will be available in the U.S. in November.
Bottom line: The Arc is a little pricier than the Nook Tablets (which are $179 for 8 GB version or $199 for 16 GB). We don’t know yet how the price compares to the Kindle Fire’s, since Amazon is launching a new version Thursday morning. I haven’t tested a Kobo Arc, but the specs alone don’t suggest a compelling reason to buy one. It’s not clear how the “Tapestries” feature will work but it seems unlikely that this alone is a reason to purchase the Arc – which lacks a native content store – over other seven-inch budget tablets like Google’s Nexus 7, a new version of the Kindle Fire, or the iPad Mini that Apple is rumored to release this fall.
The front-lit Kobo Glo ComfortLight (at right) is Kobo’s answer to the Barnes & Noble Nook with GlowLight and the front-lit Kindle that Amazon is expected to release Thursday. The Kobo Mini, which has a 5-inch e-ink touchscreen, is a budget, lightweight e-reader.
Specs, Glo: The Glo has a 6-inch e-ink XGA touchscreen – which, unlike a standard Pearl e-ink screen, offers high resolution and brightness controls. It has WiFi and 1 GB of usable storage space, enough to store about 1,000 ebooks, with the option to expand to 32GB with a micro SD card. Battery life is “over one month with WiFi and light turned off” and “over 55 hours of continuous use with light on,” although that’s all “pending testing.”
Specs, Mini: The Mini has a 5-inch e-ink touchscreen and weighs 4.7 ounces, which Kobo says makes it the “smallest, lightest ultra-thin e-reader on the market.” It has WiFi and 1 GB of storage of non-expandable, usable storage space, enough to store about 1,000 ebooks. Battery life is “over two weeks with WiFi off.”
Content: Kobo says its digital bookstore contains nearly three million books,newspapers and magazines. Unlike Kindle, Kobo supports EPUB and Adobe DRM. Users can share notes and quotes to Facebook and Twitter and track and share what they’re reading with Kobo’s social reading service Reading Life.
Availability: The e-readers will be available in the U.S. in October.
Bottom line: A front-lit screen is quickly becoming a must-have on e-readers, with Amazon expected to release a front-lit Kindle on Thursday. Putting aside leaks about that Kindle, we can compare the Kobo Glo to Barnes & Noble’s Nook GlowLight: The Glo is $10 cheaper and has a better screen.
The Mini’s screen is an inch smaller than that of competing e-readers, but it’s unclear whether customers will actually think that’s a plus since e-readers aren’t that bulky in the first place. At $79.99, the Mini’s price is in line with the cheapest, ad-supported Kindle (unless Amazon announces price drops) and $20 cheaper than the basic Nook – and unlike the basic Kindle, it has a touchscreen.