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-sharp.
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.
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.