The Kobo Arc is a 7” tablet computer running Google’s Android (4.0 / Ice Cream Sandwich) operating system designed by Canadian-based ebook retailer Kobo and sold in the UK by WHSmith.
Because it’s a full tablet you can install apps, play games, watch films, browse the web and check your email, as well as read books on it.
This gives it a major edge over a dedicated eink reader and saves carrying multiple devices around with you.
The full colour touchscreen is ideal for reading picture books, newspapers and magazines and the Arc offers plenty of reading opportunities via Kobo’s own store and reading app and Zinio’s digital magazine store which both come pre-installed.
If you have an existing Kobo account you can simply sign in to the app for instant access to your books but if you want to buy from Zinio you’ll need a separate login for their app.
Because the Arc runs a full version of Android it also offers access to Google Play, Android’s app and content marketplace. However to access the store you’ll need yet another login. On the plus side this means you can access your apps and purchases on any Android tablet or phone making it easy to switch devices in the future.
Some fans of ‘traditional’ ereaders dislike the glossier screens of tablets which they say make it harder to read in bright light. I read all my digital books and magazines on an iPad 2 without problem and found the Arc’s screen offered an equally good experience.
However, the review unit I was loaned did have one annoying screen flaw – down the right hand side it was possible to see the backlight bleeding though in about half a dozen places. This was especially noticeable when viewing a solid black or white background – two of the three colours the reading app uses for pages.
This is a flaw I’ve seen before on iPads and various high-end smartphones but I consider it an unacceptable flaw on any device. Had mine been a retail product, I’d have taken it back to the store for an acceptable replacement or refund.
The reading experience isn’t just about the screen, how comfortable a reader or tablet feels and how much it weighs is just as important.
While the corners of the Arc fulfil the almost mandatory (unless you’re Apple’s lawyers) requirement of being rounded, the angle where the screen joins with the device’s side elevation is surprisingly hard.
Depending on how you hold the device, this is likely to be where your thumbs or palm will rest when holding the Arc vertically. I found it uncomfortable and wish Kobo had gone for a softer, rubberised, finish.
On the weight front, Kobo quotes a weight of 364 grammes which makes the Arc 24 grammes heaver than the Nexus 7 and 58 grammes heavier than an iPad Mini. It is however 31 grams lighter than a Kindle Fire HD.
The Arc certainly doesn’t come close to being too heavy to hold, but is noticeably heavier than the iPad mini I was also using during my time with the Arc. That may be because the iPad mini is wider and so spreads its lighter weight over a bigger surface or because the chunky-feel of the Arc highlights the extra weight.
Techie types might be excited by the news that the Arc houses a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor compared to the 1.2 GHz offered by the Fire HD and the Nexus 7’s 1.3 GHz. Less techie types can take comfort from the knowledge that this means it’s going to fast enough for all probable uses.
The Arc sells in the UK for £159, the same as the Kindle Fire and the NOOK HD.
For that price you get a serviceable, if not exciting, tablet which will allow you to consume media on the move but without the ‘designed to within an inch of its life’ feel of the iPad or closely integrated, single login nature of iTunes.
Personally I’d always pick an iPad over any of the cheap-end Android tablets, but if Apple’s very closed ecosystem really isn’t for you, or you’re unwilling to shell out at least £100 more for the cheapest iPad mini, the Kobo Arc is a perfectly respectable alternative.
Clear, bright screen
Pre-loaded reading apps
Speedy and reliable performance
Feels heavy and chunky