Convergence. It is at the heart of the tech sector and by and large many agree it is a good thing. Your smartphone may not last as long as a dedicated MP3 player or take photos to the level of a premium compact camera, but it means fewer gadgets in your pocket and potentially more money in your wallet. Folding eBook readers into the smartphone/tablet revolution therefore sounds like a great idea. Or is it?
The Kobo Vox is one of the first major brands to try and convince us it is. Forged under the same principle as the hyped Amazon Kindle Fire it dumps humble monochrome e-ink in favour of all singing, all dancing LCD, an Android core and basic tablet functionality. Like Amazon, Kobo has priced the Vox to heavily undercut fully fledged tablets as well and, unlike Amazon, it has released the Vox outside of the US which gives the hybrid a relatively easy ride in the run up to Christmas. As such Kobo is likely to sell units by the lorry load, which is a great shame because the Vox is an utter mess.
The cardinal rule in creating a good eBook reader is to have an excellent screen. Through its generations E-ink (and its derivatives) have fulfilled their role admirably with paper-like clarity that is easy on the eyes, a pleasure to read in sunlight and easy on battery life. By contrast LCD offers colour reproduction, greater speed and flexibility but is inherently more reflective, causes increased eye strain and has far greater power requirements. If you go down the LCD eBook reader route these are simple trade-offs you have to accept.
As such the onus is on manufacturers to fit high resolution, bright, sharp LCDs yet Kobo has fitted the Vox with a 7in plastic panel which not only displays lifeless, dull colours but has poor, pixelated text and extremely narrow viewing angles. The 1024 x 600 native resolution is not the flaw here, but rather the choice of a cheaper FFS panel ahead of the more widely used IPS. At least it's a step up from your bog standard TN panel as used on some even more ropey tablets.
Certainly it is possible to read from the Vox, but in less than an hour our eyes were longing for e-ink or even the iOS Kobo app which takes advantage of the Retina Displays on the iPhone 4/4S and latest gen iPod touch or even the excellent IPS panel on the iPad/iPad 2. Kobo compounds things further as well by opting for a gloss finish to the display and a thick piano black bezel which means even indoors room lighting reflects heavily and a reading position needs to be chosen carefully.
For anyone buying an eBook reader primarily for, well… reading this will be the end of the matter. That said is the dream alive for an occasional reader who wants a cheap Android tablet?