BY NICO VREELAND
The Kobo Mini is Chamber Four’s official first pick among E-Ink ereaders, but until yesterday, I’d never tried it (our budget is small enough to step on and crush). The Mini got to our top spot for two reasons. One: we gravitate toward basic models when picking E-Ink ereaders (if you’re thinking about getting a $180 Kindle Paperwhite with 3G, for example, we think you’d be better off with a $200 Nexus 7). Two: Kobo is the only major ereader whose default store sells universal ebooks. That means that if you want to switch to another ereader, you can take your Kobo books with you, which is emphatically not true of a Kindle or a Nook.
Anyway, I bought my mom a Mini for Christmas (hopefully she doesn’t read this blog very often), it arrived yesterday, and I couldn’t resist “setting it up” for her (i.e., trying it out). And so I figured I’d jot down a few quick thoughts. I’ve only played around with it for a bit, so feel free to tell me where I’m wrong, but this is stuff I would’ve liked to’ve known before I bought it (though I still would’ve bought it).
Size and Best Usage
This is probably the defining feature of the Mini, hardware-wise. It has a 5″ screen, a full inch smaller than either the base Kindle model or the base Nook. The Mini also has a pretty thin bezel around its screen (unlike the Nook) and no hardware buttons to take up space (unlike the Kindle). If you put those elements together, the Mini feels very small. From a glass-half-full standpoint, it’s the difference between sticking the Mini in your pants pocket and having to put it in your backpack. For me, that’s great. The only ereader I’ve used that came close to this was the Astak Pocket Pro, which was still bigger because of its hardware buttons (and anyway doesn’t appear to be available anymore).
These days I do most of my reading on an iPad or iPhone. I never take the iPad out of the house unless I’m going on a trip, primarily because of bulkiness. So out in the world, I read on my phone. That system has advantages (no second device to carry), but also big disadvantages (reading late at night will keep you up).
Most of all, I’m starting to believe the (somewhat anecdotal) evidence that says I read less when I have the option to hop over to the Internet with two taps. Of course, I get distracted most often when I’m reading a bad or mediocre book, but I’ve definitely noticed a problem, and I’m not alone.
That opens up a niche (despite doomsayers) for current and future ereaders: they can survive as a cheap second (or third) device that has one function, reading. For this function, the Kobo Mini is pretty great.
If you know what to expect with a resistive touchscreen and you have good vision (more on all that in a minute), it’s exactly what I expected: a no-frills single-function ereader.
The Mini does have one or two secondary functions (like a version of the Reading Life social network that I really liked in the iPhone app), but they all revolve around reading. There’s no Internet access that I can find (although there is wifi for the Kobo store and Reading Life), and so this is the exact kind of ereader that I think will withstand the encroachment of full-featured tablets.
Size of Type and Not-Best Usage
The main problem with the Kobo Mini is that I got it for my mom. At her preferred type size, you have to turn the page approximately every 9 seconds. That’s actually not a huge pain: the Mini doesn’t do a full refresh on every pageturn (in fact you can set how often you’d like it to fully refresh) so most turns are quick and unobtrusive.
But, there’s no way to change global settings to make everything bigger. The size of menu options and icons remains much smaller than the size of the type pictured, which also makes it hard to hit buttons accurately.
Additionally, the Mini’s touchscreen, like all E-Ink touchscreens I know of, is resistive, which means it responds to pressure, unlike the capacitive touchscreens of most smartphones and tablets. That has a tendency to make tapping or typing a bit of a crapshoot. (If you get frustrated, the back end of a pen makes a good stylus.)
This would all be fine for someone with good eyesight and decent familiarity with gadgets, like me. As for my mom… I’m afraid she’ll never actually use it. And I’m not sure there’s any ereader she will use, unless the Kindle Paperwhite or the Nook Glo has resizable menus, and even then they both have resistive touchscreens.
So that’s about it for this mini-review. The Kobo Mini is a great device if you’re looking for a small ereader. I found this little guy for $50 on Black Friday, and that should probably be the target price for a third device, and for a risky gift to an older relative. I can tell you this, though: I’m not buying my own Mini until I see if this one sticks with my mom.