Kobo eReader - unboxed & Linuxified

I’ve recently acquired myself a Kobo eReader. Read on to learn of my initial experiences, thoughts and reactions..

For those who remain unaware of what an ereader is…

They are little device designed to replace physical books. The key to success of the major ereaders (of which the ipad is NOT included) is the use of a completely distinct display technology called E-Ink. The important detail about that is that things displayed on E-Ink look just as though they were printed on paper. Compare this to viewing a typical LCD screen (like that of your phone) in the bright sun. The LCD has to overcome the ambient light, which is really tough in the day. The sharp contrast in brightness is similarly tiring for eyes in good lighting. E-Ink is free of that burden.

Deciding against the Kindle and Nook

In the moments since I got my Kobo the eReader world has changed. When I ordered it, it was about $100 less than the Nook or the Kindle. However, as the battle heats up, both of those competitors have been re-priced and thus I likely would have ordered a Nook if I could go back. HOWEVER.. I’m finding the insanely minimal approach of the Kobo to actually appear to be it’s winning feature. It’s damned thin and very light. The Sony ereader is the only other that sort of rivals it in this regard – I looked at that one in a store and noticed its screen was quite reflective and I kind of don’t enjoy burning my eyes out via glare.

So I suspect even with the new pricing, the Kobo is still worthy of MAJOR consideration. This is for those people who are interested in getting a device that does one thing especially well. The Kindle comes pretty close in this regard though, but it has more parts and complexity. Still, if you’re completely afraid of operating a computer to a basic level, you should probably just go with one of the others. I, like many of my generation, don’t even consider operation of a computer effort.. So whatever to that point for me.

Acquiring the Kobo

Right now the Kobo is an ultra-hot item in my area.. They’re hard to come by in the many stores the try to stalk them. So, I ordered directly online and it arrived in 7 days, far sooner than the order form told me to expect!

Go here for some unboxing photos.

Regarding Linux

As a keen Linux user I really do prefer never to have to boot my machines in to a inferior Operating Environment. To this end, I invested some time getting the Kobo software to function in Linux. Kobo delightfully provides both a Windows and an OSX version of their software. There’s some mention of them having a Debian package and I applied to get access to that. But being inpatient, I decided to just try running the Windows build on top of Linux via Wine. The process required some trial and error and resulted in a mostly stable setup that’s totally working under Ubuntu 10.04.

Here’s the steps I followed:

    1. Added the Wine PPA thing to apt (http://www.winehq.org/download/deb)

    2. Installed “wine” and “winetricks”. “sudo apt-get install wine winetricks” should do it for ya.

    3. Ran “winetricks” and added some stuff that the software seemed to need (read error messages from wine when trying to run it to try to figure out what was missing). I believe Dot Net 2.0 was required. I think the Visual C++ 2008 redistributable also helped. I think I have IE8 installed too, though I of course never use it, but that may be helping in the background (I hope not).

    4. Run the Kobo software installer thingy: “wine Setup.exe” (I don’t call the file name, may have been an MSI, I dunno, I used wine to install it though).

    5. In my case, a short cut was dumped on my desktop to launch the Kobo software, you can use that to get the necessary command-line call to run it, then open a terminal, paste that in and review error messages for hints for if you need other stuff installed via winetricks.

    6. Plug in your Kobo to your computer if it’s not already (make sure your computer mounts it too, verify you can see the Kobo under Nautilus or some other file browser thingy).

    7. Run “winecfg”. I manually added my Kobo binary and then edited settings just for that, but you can just edit your global settings (by default) if you don’t use wine for other things like I do.

    8. Click the “Drives” tab, if you don’t have a letter mapped to your Kobo, add one. Mine’s under something like “/media/KoboReader” (which automatically set itself up — on Ubuntu 10.04)

    9. Select the entry for your Kobo ‘drive’ and then click on “Show Advanced”. Change the type from “Autoscrewup” (more or less) to “Floppy Disk”. You might also want to set your Windows version to XP under the “Applications” tab, though that probably doesn’t matter, it’s what I did.

    10. Launch the Kobo software via the link that was created on your desktop. Alternatively, my wine build also has a wine menu under “Applications” on my desktop that I could use to launch the Kobo software instead. If you have no such icons, it’s probably visible in the terminal via ~/.wine/drive_c/Program\ Files/Kobo/Kobo.exe (give or take).

    11. Attempt to sync things up, if it hangs a lot of returns with a sync error, either try again or restart the application. I’ve had to semi-frequently do both, it’s a small price to pay next to having to actually run a blasphemous OS.

    12. Smile, cause you’re like.. Happy.. or somethin’ now.

Overall Feelings on the Kobo

With the new pricing of the Kindle and the Nook, I’m less certain about my Kobo. I am however REALLY LOVING using it. It’s ultra thin and straight forward to use. I’ve caught myself on many occasions noticing only after much use that I’m not reading from a classical book – to me that’s exactly what one is going for. I love the ability to have an SD card with books on it. The relatively tiny 1GB of on board memory is still FAR FAR more space than I’m ever going to want for books on the go as having even that many books available on the device would be gruesome to navigate. More space could be handy for music or video – but as an ereader, this thing’s display isn’t capable of supporting video and there’s no sound output device (so more space may make better sense on a Nook for example – if you’re going to listen to music on that – for that, I have an MP3 player like anyone else who lives through the 2000s).

The Kobo still remains worthy of much consideration aside from the Nook and the Kindle, in that it does precisely what you’re buying it for very well. It doesn’t take a pragmatic approach and try to give you a universe of computing options (for that, use your phone or your laptop) on a platform that’s main function conflicts with that. Instead, it focuses on what you justified buying it for in the first place and to me, is how things should be designed.

Afterthoughts

As much as I love the Kobo’s philosophy as a consumer device, as a user, I like to hack stuff up. So I’m also hoping that the company will consider providing a little bit of help on getting users started towards writing their own applications (feel encouraged to add a comment to that post to0). The Nook’s use of Google Android (which I completely adore) puts it in sweet spot for that option and the Kindle already has some neat hacks for it. As for the Kobo, the first step towards hacking out some fun times can be enjoyed through this tear-down article.

As for devices like the ipad, the lack of e-ink disqualifies them for actual book reading in my view. ALSO, the iPad is hilariously heavy. You may be new to these kinds of devices and still have to waste money as I had to, in order to learn that holding a remotely heavy device in the same position for as long as I like to read in a sitting is a fast-track to joint problems. When more hardware vendors can get their hands on decent colour E-Ink with fast enough refresh rates to run video, such as that made by Pixel QI, then I think having multimedia pads like the ipad will become a prospect worthy of intense attention. For now, if you want an ereader, doing that job well is mutually exclusive to other functions.

What do you think?

Other people have other devices, what are your thoughts??