REVIEWED: Kobo Glo illuminated e-reader

Six-inch touchscreen e-reader with W-Fi and a built-in light

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A polished alternative to the Kindle Paperwhite & Nook SimpleTouch with GlowLight, the Kobo Glo’s highly customisable display impresses just as much as its handy light. Its ComfortLight is perfectly illuminating – and you get to choose your own fonts! Unlike a Kindle the Glo can read the common EPUB ebook format. However, books and documents must be manually transferred, not emailed, while there’s only a Wi-Fi option for downloading books from the Kobo shop.

Bright idea

There are many reasons to choose one e-reader over another, but Kobo’s first effort at a built-in bedside light isn’t one of them. Kobo calls its illuminating idea ComfortLight, but while it’s impressive it’s something that’s already been aped by both of the brand’s main rivals – Amazon with its Kindle Paperwhite, and the Barnes & Noble’s Nook with GlowLight. Is integrated lighting now an expected feature on an e-reader? If not, it very soon will be.

LED lighting

That ComfortLight system, which does away with the need for either a bed-side light or a protective cover with built-in beam, is nevertheless as perfectly executed on the Kobo Glo as on any other. Five tiny LEDs line the bottom of the E Ink screen, seamlessly spraying light across it with no visible gaps or streaks. It’s activated by a tiny, almost hidden control on the device’s top. ComfortLight comes with a touchscreen slider (used in a virtual blackout, it’s best left on a low setting) and doesn’t appear to affect battery life at all – Kobo insists on a one month battery, whether ComfortLight is engaged or not.

Polished design

That the Kobo Glo’s major feature is nicely thought-through is no surprise since this is one polished-looking device on the inside and out. Just 10mm-slim, the Glo’s screen is super-sensitive, with touches to the left or right sectors quickly moving forward or back a page, while a tap of the middle wakes the core user interface, though subtly so. During our test we had no problems with reflections or glare, though it’s imperative to tweak the intensity of that ComfortLight; out of the box it’s pretty,err, dynamic. Luckily, this can be done easily by tapping the centre of the screen, then finding the sun icon in the bottom-left corner.

E-Ink Pearl screen

The Glo’s other major achievement isn’t its 1024×768 pixel E Ink Pearl screen per se, but rather the way it prepares text for display. This is TypeGenius, an expansive way to customise exactly what you’re reading – and we love it. Dip into the Advanced menu for a choice (and even an on-page comparison) between 24 text sizes from seven different fonts, as well as sliders for line spacing, margins and text justification preferences. The viewing angle is wide and while the screen can occasionally retain some imaging from recently turned pages, it’s possible to address this by setting how often the Glo performs a complete screen refresh (between one and six pages), which cleans-up the image still further.

Friendly GUI

If all that makes the Glo a standout e-reader for customising, it’s user interface has some less useful oddities. There’s nothing particularly complicated or unexpected on a home page dominated by the covers of whatever books you’re reading, of which 1,000 can fit onto its 1.3GB of available storage (from a total of 2GB). A Reading tab is home to books, magazines, downloaded preview chapters, and new feature ‘shelves’ (simply a system of self-created folders, while Discover links to Kobo’s online bookshop. A Find Books area contains links to free ebooks, which is a nice option, though it’s a lengthy process since only a few titles can be displayed on the screen simultaneously. Incidentally, Kobo records your literal activity and preferences to fuel a Recommended for You section, though that will take time to come alive; we found the Reading Lists and Categories section of the shop more immediately useful.

Reading Life

However, Reading Life – which is also a product of your own habits – might be worth roundly ignoring; it records and stores all of your reading activity, alerting you, and even awarding ‘badges’, when you ‘achieve’ milestones, such as reading 10 books, completing a very long book, or tweeting about a book (sigh). Still, overall it’s a nicely executed user interface that works quickly and smoothly.

Wi-Fi only

Where the Kobo Glo might not fare too well against (albeit more pricey) competitors is in its strictly Wi-Fi-fuelled environment, with no 3G upgrade option (yet) available. It’s also a gadget that demands a computer, at least occasionally, if you’re to take advantage of its versatility. Unlike on the Kindle, where PDFs, text files, and MOBI files hived from ebook archives can be emailed to a dedicated address for instant downloading to a Kindle later on, the Glo lacks such cloud-based niceties. Instead, files and books bought from shops other than Kobo’s must be transferred manually from a computer via a PC or a microSD card (the requisite slot sits on the Glo’s undercarriage). Still, the Glo’s compatibility with EUB, PDF, JPEG, GIF, PNG, TIFF, TXT, HTML, RFT CBZ and CBR files is welcome; one of the advantages of the device is that you can shop around and side-load books bought from almost anywhere. Anything locked with Adobe Digital Editions can be displayed, too.

Precise & customisable

The smooth and adjustable integrated lighting aside, the six-inch Kobo Glo is a particularly precise and customisable e-reader, both in terms of how it displays text, and what kind of ebook formats it can process. Using it for anything other than downloading books from Kobo’s shop over Wi-Fi does involve a computer and a USB cable, but overall this is an impressive and good value device that serves as a great alternative to the Kindle Paperwhite and Nook SimpleTouch with GlowLight. Its book cover-dominated user interface is sensibly arranged and has plenty of options for categorising books and other downloads for quick retrieval, and it should get more dynamic and personal with use.

A tad (by which we mean the odd millimetre or two) slimmer than the Kindle Paperwhite and sporting an excellent build quality and a clean, uncluttered design, the Kobo Glo comes in either black or white – but with either silver, blue, or pink fixed backs. It’s a colourful addition to the pantheon of e-readers.

Price as reviewed: £99.99

Buy the Kobo Glo

This review is based on one that originally appeared on MSN Tech UK. Copyright Jamie Carter 2014.