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Kobo Touch eReader - Screen and Reading Experience

Andrew Williams

By Andrew Williams



Our Score:


The Kobo Touch uses an E-ink Pearl screen capable of rendering 16 shades of grey. In a world of phones that can display 16.8 million colours it might not sound like much, but this spec holds plenty of weight in the ereader arena. The screen quality compares reasonably well with our current favourites, including the Kindle and Sony PRS-650, although contrast isn't quite as good. Text is nice and dark, but the background is slightly greyer than the best.

Naturally, it gives the paper-like, non-glare reading experience that makes E-ink readers so worthwhile, as opposed to LCD-screened counterparts. It makes no bold steps forward, though, and there are some elements that will improve in E-ink technology over the next six months or so, most important of all being screen resolution. All the big-name ereaders of the moment use 800x600 pixel screens - not quite enough to keep smaller text looking ultra-sharpKobo eReader 2.

Short of opting for the smaller Sony PRS-350, which has a 5in screen and 800x600 resolution - or waiting for iRiver's 1024x768 pixel Story HD, you can't do any better at present. The Story HD is likely to be the first high-resolution model to market, although other manufacturers may have goodies in store soon, Kobo included. The imperfect text rendering only becomes apparent if you approach the screen with real critical scrutiny, though. Thanks to the way E-ink technology works, its pixellation is nowhere near as offensive to the eye as LCD pixellation.

The touchscreen works very well during reading, for the most part. You can turn pages by either tapping or swiping on the left or right edges of the screen, and there are several customisation options for this, which we'll cover later. If you've used an ereader with physical buttons, you'll miss them for a while, but touchschreen operation works well. The one slight annoyance is that it ignores gestures if they use vertical movement - and in some of our late night reading sessions screen taps too easily become slight drags up or down the screen, and hence were ignored.

The Kobo Touch doesn’t use the common resistive or capacitive screen types, instead using the same technique as Sony’s touch Reader models. Particles are fired across the screen, and as your finger interrupts this flow, the screen can extrapolate where it is. No direct pressure is required – just the lightest of touches will suffice.

Where the Kobo Touch reading experience falls behind the top performers a bit is speed. It reportedly uses the same 800MHz Freescale 9.MX508 processor as the 2011 Kindle, but page turn speed is closer to that of the previous-gen Amazon model - not sluggish but not blazingly fast either. Kobo may address this in a firmware update.

Kobo eReader 7

You can get a bit more speed by changing how often the screen performs a full refresh. Unusually, Kobo gives you full control over the refresh cycle. You can make it refresh fully at every page turn, or just once every six turns - or any regular frequency between these points.

The bonuses of a partial refresh are that you don't get the unsightly black flash ereaders are famous for and that it's quicker than a full refresh. The drawback is the slight residue left by the previous page's text. It won't bother some, but can cause headaches in others. Having full control here wins the Kobo several brownie points and a smiley sticker.

A comprehensive array of features that come in handy during reading are here too. Hold a finger down on a word to select it and you can look it up in the built-in Merriam-Webster dictionary; mark it as a note; search for it throughout the book; translate it between English, Italian, Spanish, German and French languages; or even post it to Facebook. This may sound like a bewildering array of options, but it's all very intuitive in use, as - like the design - Kobo has aced the reader's interface.

In Kindle-esque fashion, the Kobo Touch's home screen's primary aim is to get you back into your book as quickly as possible. Cover images of the last five books or documents you have read appear in thumbnail form in the centre, while the menu shortcuts are relegated to the top and bottom of the screen. Tap on one of the thumbnails and you're taken directly to your last point of reading. The layout is highly intuitive and looks great too. It's classy, and geared towards the way people are likely to use it - which is a rarer occurrence than you might think in consumer electronics.


November 10, 2011, 2:48 am

"If you need a touchscreen reader now, the Kobo Touch, Sony PRS-350 and PRS-650 are the only models to consider."

Hmm? Why the last-generation PRS-350 and PRS-650, rather than the current-generation Sony Reader Wi-Fi (PRS-T1)?

Tony Walker

November 10, 2011, 10:45 am

CAn you read PDFs on it?


November 10, 2011, 11:45 pm

Add my voice to Tony's in wondering about PDF capabilities. TR team: it would be much appreciated if you could make PDF handling a standard part of your reviews of ebook readers, and there're quite a few of us who use ebook readers quite a bit with PDFs.


November 11, 2011, 4:21 pm


It can handle PDFs, but we'll fit some more about how ebook readers formats them in future reviews if that's what you'd like.

As for the T1, it doesn't seem to be widely available in the UK yet. We'll do our best to get a review up sharpish, though!


November 12, 2011, 4:02 pm

That would be useful, thanks.

On the T1, my local Sony Centre has it quite prominently displayed and in stock, but you're right that almost nobody else does. How odd. I wonder if this Sony's new marketing strategy, or if it reflects lack of interest!


November 16, 2011, 12:58 am

If you buy the Kindle from a retailer such as Curry's or John Lewis you get a full 12 month exchange warranty. WH Smiths only have enough confidence in the Kobo to offer 28 day exchange and thereafter it is sent for repair for an indeterminate period of time. I would love to buy the Kobo Touch especially as the Kindle touch is not yet available in the UK. However, if Smith's have such a low level of confidence in it then it doesn't exactly inspire confidence in me.


November 18, 2011, 4:16 am

Do not buy this - its rubbish

I bought one last week, it going back as soon as I can get back to Smiths. The on/off/sleep switch does not work reliably. The touch screen does not work properly. You can't change the time/date - because the touch screen does not respond. It only supports ePub and PDF, which is what the on line manual says, although the smiths web site says it supports ePub and MOBI, plus a lot of other things which I did not check.
I have a large collection of free e-books in multi formats so I want a reader that can at least read ePub and MOBI - this one can't.


February 26, 2012, 3:30 am

I have a kindle for a good while and now also a Kobo Touch which I purchased from Asda. As the main review above says the kindle probably has a slight edge, and unlike some reviewers I have had no problems with it. The one BIG advantage with the Kobo is that I can borrow books from my Local Library. Amazon will not allow that in the UK. Why should they, when you are closed in to buying from them. Now I have a choice.


March 7, 2012, 3:40 pm

The kobo touch is rubbish. It fails in its basic job. It is too slow to read actual books with. I've tried to use it for 2 months now and I'm just about to give up on it and buy a kindle. It can sometimes takes minutes to turn a single page. I even went to the trouble of creating a perfect book for it to read. I decompiled a fairly compact book (550kb) with only 10 small images in it. Edited it down to 460kb of perfect xhtml. (using html validator on firefox). Zipped it up to an epub book and validated that against an epub validator. Both validators giving perfect validation scores. Even this book was too slow to read, sometimes taking many seconds to navigate. The kindle is a much better device. The kobo doesn't even rate as 1 star. This kbo is the most depressing gadget I've ever bought.


March 26, 2012, 9:45 am

I have had the kobo touch for 3 months it has frozen numerous times. I have had to turn it of and on to get it to turn a page, I have had to plug it in to unfreeze it and last and most annoying I had to reset after it froze completley would not connect to computer or turn off waited for it to go flat. Looked on computer to find out if any one had the same problem. Paper clip in reset hole in the back and conect to computer and finally it is working again.

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