Kobo EBook reader
Well, I have a new toy. Whitcoulls are selling what I suspect is probably the first dedicated EBook reader to arrive in New Zealand (there are rumours that Borders were selling some piece of junk, but I never saw any sign of it).
Overall I am quite pleased with the Kobo (if you are wondering about the name, it's an anagram of the word "book"), but it does have some frustrating limitations.
Let's begin at the beginning. The quick start instruction leaflet, which is the only printed documentation supplied with the device, is a very badly written document which explains nothing. However it does tell you to plug your new Kobo into your PC and strongly implies that when you do so for the first time a registration program will start to run. So I plugged it in and waited for the program but nothing happened. The Kobo did show up as an extra disk device and when I browsed around the files on it I eventually found the registration program and ran it.
The program logs me on to the Whitcoulls web site where I can spend lots of money on EBooks, something I have no intention of doing (more on this later). It also records information about me on the Kobo itself and, presumably, on a database at Whitcoulls. This information is used to generate the key that allows me to read DRM protected books on my device. Giving the book to other people won't work because their keys are different from mine and so they won't be able to decode and read the book. There are ways around this, but frankly it's a hassle.
The Kobo comes with 100 free books pre-installed. That means that they chose 100 "classics" from Project Gutenberg. The list contains all the usual culprits plus one or two surprises -- how did Jack London get on there? Annoyingly, the books cannot be deleted from the Kobo, so if there are things on the list that you have absolutely no intention of reading, tough luck!
The only formats the Kobo supports are PDF and EPUB. There is no support for plain text or RTF files which, I gather, other readers such as the Kindle do support. On the other hand, it's quite easy to convert text files and RTF files into EPUB format; but it's an annoying extra step.
Books that you are reading are put into the Kobo's "I'm Reading" list. This list quickly fills up (and so becomes slow to navigate) as you glance through some book or other to see if you want to read it. Once a book appears on the list there is absolutely no way to remove it again without reading the whole book (or, more accurately, going to the last chapter and slowly paging through to the end). This is a pain.
The User Guide says that you can cull the list by using the desktop software that you originally registered the device with, but that's a bare faced lie; you can't. If the book is one you loaded onto the Kobo youself, you can remove it from the list by deleting the book completely, but that strikes me as a bit draconian.
The reading software on the Kobo is quite primitive -- the only way to jump around in a book is to choose a chapter from the table of contents. It would be nice to be able to jump to a given page number, but you can't. And if you happen to have an EBook that doesn't have a table of contents (yes, they do exist) you are screwed.
Support for PDF files is pathetic. You can't adjust the font other than by choosing to magnify the whole document and when you do that, it no longer fits on the screen properly. So if you happen to have a PDF with an unreadably small font, you are screwed again. Furthermore you cannot jump around a PDF document at all. The only choice is to go page by slow page. Software does exist to convert PDF files into EPUB files, but the results are variable. So mostly you are just screwed again.
The Kobo has a hidden reset switch that you press with the traditional paperclip. This is supposed to set the Kobo back to its virgin state (all your books are deleted and only the 100 classics remain). Unfortunately that doesn't work either; it simply acts as a power switch.
I spent the first few days after I got the Kobo learning everything I could about the EPUB format. Then I converted the two volumes of Trimmings From The Triffid's Beard
into EPUB and loaded them on to the Kobo. Oddly, I couldn't read them -- the Kobo claimed that the content was locked and it refused to display the books. A lot of googling later, I discovered that the Kobo assumes that any book with an apostrophe in the title is locked. All I had to do was remove the apostrophe and I could read the book in all its glory! That is just plain dumb.
So what will I use the Kobo for? I certainly won't be buying EBooks -- they are far too expensive and I have philosophical objections to the DRM that they come encumbered with. So the only books on my Kobo will be EPUB documents I have made myself from my own computer files and free books that I have found on the internet. There are heaps of those available. I've already got a lot of Henry Rider Haggard novels from Project Gutenberg, for example. So the Kobo will get a lot of use, but I'll still be reading a lot of proper books as well. The Kobo is strictly for public domain / creative commons material.