MEGATech Reviews – Kobo Glo eReader with ComfortLight

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We’re moving toward digital delivery of just about everything. You download your games from Steam and your music from iTunes. And we do the same with our books too. Even though we have a plethora of smartphones and tablet devices, there is still very much a market for the dedicated e-book reader, especially for people who don’t want their eyes to tire from staring at a backlit display.

And that’s where products like the Kobo Glo come into the equation. Announced at the same time as the Kobo Arc, the Kobo Glo is an affordable eReader with features that address some of the expanding needs of the reading public. Is it the e-reader for you? Let’s find out.

Highlights and Features

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Standing up against the likes of the Kindle Paperwhite and the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight, the Kobo Glo eReader is certainly entering a market that already has some heavy contenders, not to mention having to compete against e-reading on non e-ink devices. That said, the technical specs here are up to snuff relative to the competition.

The 6-inch e-ink XGA Pearl display has a resolution of 1024×768 and it boasts a 16-level grey scale. This is not a color display, which could be a deal breaker for comic book readers (more on that later). This is a touchscreen display with no glass panel on top, meaning that it is completely glare-free and it is also fingerprint-resistant. It is accompanied by the ComfortLight front lighting system, which will help you read your e-books under dim conditions.

Rounding out the specs are 2GB of storage, microSD expansion for up to 32GB more, a one-month battery (up to 70 hours with ComfortLight), 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, and microUSB. The Kobo Glo is available in Black Night, Pink Sunset, Blue Moon and Silver Star, all of which have that soft quilted back. And all this retails for about $129 each.

Setup and Configuration

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Getting acquainted with the Kobo Glo couldn’t be simpler. There is a power switch and a ComfortLight button at the top, a microUSB connection on the bottom, the microSD slot on the side, and the touchscreen display. When you turn on your Kobo for the first time, it will ask if you want to do a wireless setup or a setup via the computer. I opted for the wireless setup, since I figured it would be easier.

This gets you to go through the process on the Kobo itself rather than connecting it to a computer. You set your time zone through the touchscreen by entering the nearest major city and establish a connection to a Wi-Fi hotspot. The Kobo runs through to see if there are any software updates available, potentially restarting itself several times. You then log into your existing Kobo account or create a new one. The library syncs and you’re ready to read.

Desktop Software

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There is accompanying desktop software that you can install on your computer. This makes it easier for you to manage your library and browse through the store to discover more books. That said, it is perfectly possible for you to use your Kobo without this software, since the store and library can be fully accessed from the eReader itself. However, since you’ll be dealing with the slower response of an e-ink display on the Kobo itself, using the desktop software is just easier.

One thing that confused me, at least at first, was that I couldn’t find anywhere in the Kobo Desktop software where I could side-load my own PDFs, EPUBs and other reading material. I figured there would be a utility for that in case I wanted to read something that I already had in my digital library, especially since I knew that the Kobo Glo could support compatible outside content. The short answer is that the Kobo Desktop software doesn’t do that. Not at all. Instead, all you do is open up your connected Kobo as an external drive, dragging and dropping the files in there. When you disconnect, the Kobo will refresh its library and detect the new files.

User Experience

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As with all other e-book readers that use an e-ink display, the Kobo Glo really doesn’t consume much or any power unless you are actively changing what is on the display. That’s how you’re able to get month-long battery life. The tradeoff is that the refresh on an e-ink display is nowhere near what you get on a conventional LCD. That said, the Kobo Glo was reasonably fast enough for a casual reading experience.

You can turn the pages by tapping either side of the touchscreen. Alternatively, you can do the swiping motion across the non-glare display like how you would on a tablet. Tapping in the middle of the screen brings up a menu for different options, like adjusting the font or zoom, as well as quickly advancing to a certain page via a slider at the bottom of the page. It’s all reasonably straightforward, albeit much slower than what you’d get on a real Android tablet.

Since the display is indented about a millimeter from the outer bezel, I did find that “edge” to be a little bit annoying. To be fair, that’s how they’re able to implement the front lighting system known as ComfortLight.

ComfortLight Front Lighting

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One of the knocks that people had against earlier e-book readers is that you couldn’t read the e-ink display in the dark, just as much as you couldn’t read an actual printed book in the dark. There were these weird clip-on lights to address this, but that’s just not convenient. At the same time, the eReader companies didn’t want to do backlighting, as that would take away from the eye-friendly experience of e-ink.

And that’s why Kobo decided to go with a front lighting system for what it calls ComfortLight. The light comes in from beneath the bezel to blanket the display in a very even white light. It’s really quite remarkable how even it is, considering that this isn’t a backlight. You can adjust the brightness through the on-screen menu; the brightest setting is really bright. The text doesn’t appear quite as crisp when the light is on, especially at higher settings, but it’s still perfectly readable.

It wouldn’t really be accurate to call it a “light bleed,” but you do notice that there is a strip of brighter light along the bezel edges. It’s not a deal breaker, but it is noticeable.

What About Comic Books?

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Tapping through e-books with straight text is a joy on the Kobo Glo. The text is crisp, the interface is simple yet robust, and the ComfortLight lets you read in the dark too. The same cannot be said about comic books and graphic novels where the details can be much finer. If you’re loading a PDF or similar document, you’ll likely need to zoom in and out to really read anything, since you can’t adjust the font size.

And the net result isn’t all that pleasant at all. Remember, as mentioned, that e-ink displays take time to refresh and that’s just not good enough when you’re trying to pan around a comic book page to get from panel to panel. Trying to read a comic book at full page results in fuzzy text that’s way too tiny, especially on this smaller 6-inch display. If your plan is to read anything remotely graphical, I don’t think the Kobo Glo is a good fit.

MEGATechie Essential Reader or MEGATechie Run-On Sentence?

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At $129, the Kobo Glo is priced competitively with other e-book readers that also have some sort of lighting system. It may not have quite as extensive a store or library as the Kindle, but the Kobo storefront easily holds its own in terms of variety of content. You can always load your own e-books to read too by simply dragging and dropping the files onto the 2GB of on-board storage. There’s also that microSD slot for more storage.

Kobo has attempted to expand on the functionality by adding some social networking features through what it calls Reading Life, but I feel these are all secondary to the main purpose of this device: to let you read good content regardless of lighting and void of any glare. And in this regard, the Kobo Glo gets the job done. If you liked the other Kobo devices (without ComfortLight) before, you’ll be very pleased with the Kobo Glo. If you don’t need the light, the cheaper $79 Kobo Mini or $99 Kobo Touch may be better options.

About

Michael Kwan is a freelance writer who also happens to be a professional gadget geek. From smartphones to digital cameras, he's gotta get 'em all. Follow him on Twitter: @michaelkwan.

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