Kobo is best known for its e-ink based readers, many of which are solid competitors to Amazon's local near-monopoly of the ereader space. The Kobo Arc is Kobo's Android tablet play, but does it make sense to shift up in price to get the Arc's extra features?
When Kobo first announced the Arc, there was some solid excitement around the product. Mot only did it heavily challenge the Nexus 7, but it promised some of the kinds of services that make the Kindle Fire attractive . . . but only in the US. I've been spending some time testing out the Kobo Arc. Kobo's bread and butter is still in ebooks, and I've been framing my thinking around whether the Arc is a worthwhile step up from the company's existing — and much cheaper — e-Ink readers, such as the Glo and Mini.
The Arc sells in three different capacities; $249.99 for 16GB, $299.99 for 32GB and $349.99 64GB. To put that in context, the Nexus 7 matches price for the 16GB and 32GB models, but instead of a 64GB model, you get 3G HSPA+ connectivity for $349.99. Meanwhile, in the Apple camp, a baseline 16GB iPad Mini will cost you $369, all the way up to $729 for a 64GB Wi-Fi+Cellular model.
On a costs basis, then, the Kobo Arc appears at least competitive. It is a step down from the Nexus 7 in processor terms, sporting only a dual-core processor to the Nexus 7's quad-core processor, but in benchmark results the difference isn't that great. I scored 1407 on Geekbench 2 with the Nexus 7, but the Arc was only minimally behind on 1381. Benchmarks aren't everything, though, and the fact that the Arc is still running Ice Cream Sandwich to the Nexus 7's Jelly Bean is noticeable; while the Arc isn't a sluggish machine full-time, there were transition points that notably stuttered on the Arc while the Nexus flowed by smoothly.
The Arc has Kobo's cross-hatch pattern on the back, and that's a plus, because it gives it a modicum of grip. It's the same pattern other Kobo e-Readers use, but they've got an advantage over the Arc; they're pretty light. The Arc weighs in at 364 grams, which doesn't sound like much over the Nexus 7's 340g or the iPad Mini's 308g — but it's enough to be noticeable, and, tied in with the squared off sides of the Arc, give it the impression in the hand of being rather bulky and heavy. You won't lose an arm or anything, but lighter alternatives are available.
The Arc is still an Android tablet, but Kobo has made some modifications to the core Ice Cream Sandwich experience. The key Arc modification is "Tapestries"; they're half a way of pinning content you love to the home screen, and half a way to use that information to deliver you other services — mostly books, naturally — that may interest you. It took a while for the Arc to pick up on my tastes in this regard. For a while it felt that I must read 50 Shades Of Grey, then switched that to an Archie comic — possibly the most bizarre segue in the history of the human race — before settling down to some content that was at least passably interesting.
The only annoying factor here is that it tells you what it's worked out via a large bar at the base of the screen, and there's no way to switch it off or alter it. If your tastes are esoteric and you don't want people to know about them every time you turn on your e-reader, this could be a big problem.
The Arc is a fair tablet, but there's little denying that it's outclassed by the Nexus 7 in most respects, and if you're after an Android experience, that's the tablet I'd buy. But what about at the ereader end? It's a pleasant ereader to use for the most part, and the fact that it's Android means that you can easily slip other suites on there, so you can have a Kobo Arc Kindle hybrid machine — but then the same is true of the Nexus 7. There's some interesting design ideas in the Kobo Arc, but you could do much the same with a cheaper e-ink reader — including Kobo's own excellent Glo or Mini.
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