Kobo Mini £59.99
7th Nov 2012 | 16:26
A small e-ink e-reader with Wi-Fi, customised type and EPUB side-loading
If you'd rather not travel with a high-end tablet and think that even a Kindle is too big to carry on the daily commute, the touchscreen Kobo Mini could be the e-reader for you.
At a mere five inches across the diagonal, it's the tiniest e-reader we've seen since the Sony Reader Digital Book PRS-300, though it's not the slimmest.
At just a centimetre (0.4 inches) in depth, the Kobo Mini is relatively bulky, though we can't argue that it's too heavy for long-term travel; at 130g (4.73oz) it's a mere slip of a gadget.
10 best tablet PCs in the world today
And slip it we did, into a variety of bags, pockets and briefcases, though this is one e-reader that you should keep close to your body; we managed to house it in jeans, as well as some shirt pockets, though the advisable addition of a protective case could seriously interrupt that.
Perhaps just as important as size for anyone after an e-reader to take on a business trip, commute or picnic is battery life.
The Kobo Mini uses an e-ink screen - though a rather low resolution version, at just 800 x 600 pixels - that negates the need to pack a charger, with battery life rated at about two weeks.
That's with its built-in Wi-Fi de-activated, which you'll probably forget to do.
But priced at £59.99/AU$99.99/US$79.99, it's considerably cheaper than its bigger specced brothers, as well as rivals such as the Kindle Fire, the Nook Simple Touch and even the cheapest Amazon e-reader, the Kindle.
Kobo's online e-book shop is accessible from the Kobo Mini, while other new features of the refreshed operating system include both Reading Life (which monitors your progress), Shelf (folders that can be created to house specific books and documents), and a book wish list on the Kobo store.
Frequent travellers without the time to stock up on books before setting off to the airport might mourn the lack of 3G connectivity on the Kobo Mini, but it's a pointless spec too far for most.
Who really needs to be able to download a book anywhere, anytime? Not anyone with more than two books on their device, that's for sure. Besides, the Kobo Mini can store about 1,000 e-books.
Fashionistas with low horizons should know that 'SnapBacks' in red, purple and teal can be bought from Kobo and swapped-out for the default grey cover.
Design-wise the Kobo Mini is nothing special; it comes in either black or white, each sporting a silicone outer layer that's easy to grip in one hand.
Specifications and performance
Although the Kobo Mini has 2GB of storage onboard, barely over 1GB is freed up for storing e-books, documents and photos. The latter are displayed only in black and white from JPEG, GIF and PNG files.
And although there is a double-tap to zoom function for reading PDFs, it magnifies preset portions of the page, and proved very hit-and-miss during our test.
PDFs rarely work on e-readers, but other handled formats are hardly extensive (just TXT, HTML, RFT, CBZ and CBR).
However, it's the Kobo Mini's source-neutral approach to EPUB format e-books - by far the easiest to find and buy on the web - that arguably pushes its versatility past that of the Kindle. It also works with Adobe Digital Editions.
As well as downloading books from Kobo's own collections (including a list of free books that proved difficult to scan through quickly enough), it's possible to side-load EPUB files from a PC or Mac using a Micro USB cable without a care for compatibility or for any converting software.
This is where the Kobo Mini doesn't compare well to a Kindle, since it's not possible to send documents and e-books downloaded from the web straight to a Kobo email address, as it is on Amazon's e-reader.
We're left greatly missing the computer-less, wireless experience, despite the Kindle's other limitations.
As well as manual side-loading that requires a computer, the Kobo Mini's 800MHz processor is fairly underpowered in the wider e-reader market, and it does create the odd problem.
Using the touchscreen is easy; pages turn back and forth quickly enough when the screen is touched on the corresponding side. Highlighting sections and calling-up dictionary definition can be a tad long-winded.
But it's the Kobo Mini's online dimensions that proved slowest to load.
Reading Life is a bit strange. Inspecting our reading record - number of books read, total hours read, pages turned and so on - is a touch narcissistic, but it goes further, with Twitter and Facebook options to boast of your achievements.
It even dishes out awards (virtual badges only, sorry) as you pass reading milestones or try out specific features.
Ahead of all of this is the chance to fully calibrate the Kobo Mini's screen. An advanced option enabled us to choose our favourite font face, then adjust sliders for sharpness, weight and font size - this is one e-ink screen that we have no complaints about staring at.
Some will think the Kobo Mini too small, and hence even pointless given that it's only slightly bigger than many smartphones, but in practice it has a substantially larger screen, and one that's eminently more natural and more comfortable to read.
Hands on gallery
If you're after an e-reader primarily for using at home, steer clear of the Kobo Mini, though a reduced size doesn't mean a lesser experience. That said, this is an ideal one-handed gadget for the packed bus or train.
10 best tablet PCs in the world today
Easy to pack, to hold and to use, the Kobo Mini is ideal as an occasional, or back-up e-reader for commuting and general travel.
We used two Kobo e-readers during this review, and both synced up nicely, always presenting the latest page number reached by either device.
The Kobo Mini's battery life should cope with most journeys bar the Trans Siberian Express, while the e-ink screen is highly customisable, and enjoyable to read. Unlike a Kindle, any old EPUB e-book is totally readable on the Kobo Mini.
Although highly portable, the Kobo Mini will require a protective case, which could instantly undermine its pocket-friendly dimensions.
Kobo's online store isn't much different to Amazon's for the Kindle in that it's fairly slow going on the e-ink screen, though Kobo doesn't enable you to email documents or e-books for Wi-Fi syncing.
So aside from downloading from the Kobo online shop, furnishing the Mini with books and documents is a completely manual, wired experience.
A small, versatile, customisable and highly portable e-reader that can be held in one hand, the Kobo Mini features a user experience identical to other efforts from the brand, though a slower processor, low-res screen and the need for a computer make this a relatively limited effort.
With a screen only just bigger than a passport, the affordable Kobo Mini makes for a great occasional e-reader on long or frequent trips.