Kobo, 8 months later

Since my Kobo review continues to attract interest, I might as well post an update on how the device has been working for me.

Based on the Google searches used to find my review, everyone and their dog wants to know whether they can read PDF on a Kobo. Some of you would even like to put math and other research papers on it. Well, I tried, reported on it in the earlier post, and gave up. I did transfer a few PDF novels to the device but have not yet tried to read them. As for keeping my math library on it, there are just too many obstacles. The screen is too small for comfortable reading of normal TEX output. Navigation within files is cumbersome, as is switching between files (you can only have one file open at a time). There is no organizing system, so that even if I managed to transfer my entire math library to the Kobo – one file at a time, probably – all of it would end up together in one big folder and it would take me forever to scroll through that to find what I want. And then it would be a pain to update the papers when they get replaced on the arXiv. Various partial fixes have been suggested, but overall, reading math papers on a Kobo would be like making scrambled eggs on the hot plate on my coffeemaker. Could be done, I suppose, but I can darn well afford to buy a frying pan.

That said, I did not buy the Kobo to read math papers on it. It was intended to replace the ever growing piles of paperbacks on my shelves, and it does that well enough. I miss the ability to move around the book, go back a few pages, then skip forward, then check something quickly several chapters back. On the Kobo, it’s slow and awkward. The portability is a huge advantage, though. I can keep it in a purse and read whenever I have a spare moment, or I can take it with me on vacation instead of an extra bag of books. Kobo is smaller and lighter than most paperbacks, never mind hardcovers. The charge lasts a long time and I’ve made the hopefully not warranty-voiding discovery that the USB charger for my Blackberry will also recharge the Kobo.

Very importantly, the screen is easy on my eyes. I can read on the Kobo all day (as I did on vacation), much longer than on any computer I know of. On the other hand, the blue button used to turn the pages requires more pressure that I’m comfortable with for prolonged reading (more than 3-4 hours). A more ergonomic design would be helpful. One last complaint concerns the Kobo desktop software. Some time ago I logged out of my Kobo account, then logged back in, whereupon the desktop app started downloading all of my purchased files from the Kobo store all over again. Say what? I can sort of see what logic might have been behind it – if you have multiple computers, you might want to download your books to all of them, or something like that. But really, would it be too much trouble to check if I might have those files already? This needs to be fixed in some software update, sometime.

But the biggest advantage of Kobo and e-readers in general is something I had not anticipated, although in hindsight I should have. I get most of my reading recommendations from the internet. Before Kobo, I’d have to take notes, remember to stop by the bookstore, remember to have my notes with me, find the book, buy it. Didn’t always happen. Or I could fill out an order form, submit it, and wait for my books to arrive a couple of weeks later. Didn’t always happen, either. After Kobo? If a review looks interesting enough, I can look up the book right then and there, download it, and start reading it minutes later. This is how I found for example the book pictured above, Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor, possibly the best new novel I read last year.

It’s somehow less of a commitment to download a bunch of pixels to a Kobo then to actually buy a dead tree book. Electronic books don’t require shelf space or add to the clutter. They’re easy to take with you when you move. You don’t have to worry, either, about house guests checking out your bookshelf and wondering about your literary taste and its match or mismatch to your place in the society. So, you’re willing to experiment a little bit more, buy a book that you might like in some ways but dislike in others, try something completely different on a whim. I’ve found that I’m more likely to read new or previously unknown to me authors if I can just download the file without getting up from the computer. It’s easier to do so on an impulse and there will be no physical reminders of the less fortunate choices.

Overall, it was one of my best purchases last year. Even if I won’t be throwing out my paper books any time soon.

Author: Izabella Laba

Mathematics professor at UBC. My opinions are, obviously, my own.

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