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Home Amazon,walmart.etc The Kobo Libra Colour and Clara Colour are great colour e-readers, but they are limited by lock-in.

The Kobo Libra Colour and Clara Colour are great colour e-readers, but they are limited by lock-in.

by xyonent
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247104 Kobo Color E Readers Akrales 0067.jpg

The problem with most e-readers is that they’re not for reading books. They’re for selling books. Amazon, which has the largest market share in the US, is especially notorious for this, but Barnes & Noble is guilty of the same. Kobo is probably the least culpable in this regard, with its Pocket and Overdrive integration. But just when you’re completely enthralled with Kobo’s beautiful new color e-reader, you’re suddenly reminded that this device is for selling books.

This is a shame. Kobo’s new Libra Colors and Clara Color The $219.99 Libra Colour and $149.99 Clara Colour are the closest we’ve come to a perfect e-reader in a while. Both the $219.99 Libra Colour and the $149.99 Clara Colour are incredibly lightweight, yet sturdy and comfortable to use, without feeling flimsy. Both have Kaleido 3 displays that show book covers in their true colours. And both are a lot quicker to turn pages and move around a store on than the $249.99 Libra Colour. Books Page (Palma’s bigger, slower sibling) — which is impressive considering the fact that the Kaleido 3 display is a bit slower than the more traditional monochrome E Ink display found on the Page.

Color! The colors aren’t particularly vibrant.
Photo: Amelia Holowaty-Klares/The Verge

I preferred the more expensive Libra because I prefer an asymmetrical e-reader with dedicated buttons over one that functions like a traditional tablet. Stylus pen support for note-taking is also a plus. But both are attractive and fun e-readers to use, and I’ve reached for the Libra more than once over the Boox in recent months. The Boox has been my primary e-reader until now, because I prefer the feel of reading on the Libra. Of course, the Boox has all the reading apps available (it’s an E Ink Android tablet), but the Libra doesn’t have the weird little problems that E Ink Androids often have.

$220

The Libra Colour is one of Kobo’s newest e-readers and one of the first to come in colour. It supports both Overdrive and Pocket, giving readers significantly more options than e-readers from big brands like Amazon.

Both Kobo e-readers can highlight text in color, and the touchscreen feels much faster and more responsive than the Boox Page, though the highlighting colors aren’t particularly vibrant. Both devices have a Kaleido 3 display that’s color, but the color resembles the color of a newspaper left in the sun for a few days. And the color display comes at the cost of a slightly less vivid black-and-white reading experience. Still, it’s much better than previous color E Ink technologies. The entire display would often turn green..

My real issue with these devices isn’t the color display, it’s the lock-in.

Kobo’s e-readers feel like they’re made for buying books, not for reading. They’re tied to the Kobo bookstore, which is run by Rakuten, a Japanese retailer often referred to as the “Japanese Amazon” or the “Japanese Barnes & Noble,” to give you a quick rundown of the company. Rakuten is very good at selling books, and so is the bookstore that’s built into Kobo. Kobo doesn’t have the library that Amazon has, which has more self-published books and more niche content from boutique publishers. Still, Kobo’s bookstore is pretty well stocked. If it’s at all popular, you can find it on Kobo.

The menus are easy to navigate if you want to buy a book, but difficult to use if you just want to browse your local library.
Photo: Amelia Holowaty-Klares/The Verge

Unlike other non-Android e-readers, Kobo e-readers also come with a more traditional library built in via Overdrive. If you have a card for a library that’s partnered with Overdrive, you can borrow e-books. Unfortunately, this is where Kobo’s bookselling and e-reader businesses start to collide. To borrow a book, you can either use your phone to find it in an app like Libby, or[見つける]Use tabs and then[Overdrive]You have to select a tab and hope you can browse to the book you want, or search for the book in the Kobo store and once you find it, you’ll be taken to a much larger page.[今すぐ購入]Button and[ウィッシュリスト]Next to the button[その他のオプション]Tap the button, then[Overdrive から借りる]You have to tap a button to see if the book is available to borrow from the library, which is disastrous so much so that when I asked a normally very smart friend to try borrowing the book, she couldn’t even figure out how.

Kobo also doesn’t allow you to have more than one library card active at a time. Instead, when you finish a book and want to read another book associated with a different library card, you have to log out and log in with the other card. I had to switch between my New York Public Library and Jersey City Public Library cards multiple times, which was extremely frustrating. If you use the Page or Libby app on your iPad, you don’t have to do this.

I run into the same problem with Kobo’s built-in “experimental” web browser. Navigating to websites is fine, and if you want to read a book on the web, you could theoretically do it. No app needed; just the browser is woefully underdeveloped. It would be nice if you could use the built-in buttons in Libra to scroll and move pages like you can in Google Chrome. EinkBro Browser On an Android e-reader.

The Libra Colour (left) feels absolutely amazing in the hand, while the Clara Colour (right) is less expensive.
Photo: Amelia Holowaty-Klares/The Verge

Getting e-books onto the device from other stores is also a pain; you have to plug the e-reader into your computer and drag and drop files (though the e-book management app Calibre makes this pretty easy). But the problem isn’t unique to Kobo; Amazon and Barnes & Noble also require you to sideload books. But after years of the Boox ecosystem (and the iPad), it feels odd that all of these systems would require you to be so closely tied to their own bookstores. It’s a degree of lock-in that seems unreasonable, and it feels even more unreasonable because in so many other ways in Kobo’s ecosystem, the company seems to be trying to get e-readers right.

The Kobo Libra Colour and Koko Clara Colour are fast and near perfect for getting out of the way when you just want to read a book. The colour display isn’t as vibrant as the iPad Mini’s LED display or the monochrome E Ink display, but colour brings a compelling experience that black and white just doesn’t. The fact that they also offer a web browser and Overdrive and Pocket support is a real plus compared to what Amazon is doing. But lock-in is a problem. Lock-in may be the norm in the e-reader world, but it shouldn’t be.

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