Kobo Arc 10HD £299
4th Dec 2013 | 16:13
Kobo's iPad challenger is definite value for money
Kobo has launched an array of devices recently, including the Arc 7, the Arc 10, the Aura HD and now the Kobo Arc 10HD. Impressive. But what's more impressive is that the launch of all these devices hasn't affected the quality of the hardware.
Just in time for Christmas and just after the iPad Air launch, the Arc 10HD is the final throw of Kobo's dice, the manufacturer's big finale. The jazz hands. It's what Kobo has been building towards for the last 10 months, with its rhetoric about "high-quality hardware for the sophisticated user" and its description of the Aura HD as "the Porsche of ereaders."
The Arc 10HD is an excellent tablet, and it's competitively priced. The 2,560 x 1,600 screen is stunning, it comes with an HDMI-out port and it has some powerful specifications under the hood. And it's substantially cheaper than the iPad Air.
Kobo has always focused on the reading experience, with apps like Beyond the Book and Reading Mode. But while it makes sense that those features appear here, delving into a long book isn't something that feels comfortable on a heavy 10-inch tablet.
With that said, as a multimedia device, the Arc 10HD excels and is worthy of a title challenge for best-value tablet this Christmas.
The Arc 10HD is minimalist in design with few external ports and barely protruding buttons. As with other Kobo products, it's aimed at an older, more sophisticated crowd. It's hard for a 10-inch tablet to look effortless and unobtrusive, but the Arc 10HD pulls it off.
However, it does feel a bit delicate. The plastic back-casing is easily marked and without a protective case, you'll find yourself handling it gently to avoid scratches. This isn't a device you would trust your kids with.
Despite its design simplicity, this is a powerful tablet. Under the hood the Arc 10HD houses an Nvidia Tegra 4 1.8GHz quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM - slightly more than the iPad Air, which only has 1GB RAM.
The 2,560 x 1,600 resolution screen is the Arc 10HD's undisputed stand-out feature. It's crisp and mesmerizing. Even in direct sunlight and at sharp viewing angles, the screen performs well.
Refreshingly, the Arc 10HD comes with a mini-HDMI out port - unusual for a higher-end tablet. If you've got a good LCD 1080p TV, the Arc 10HD's mirrored screen on TV looks excellent.
There isn't much else in the way of physical connectivity other than the USB and headphone ports. The physical buttons sit on one corner of the tablet and, like the rest of the Kobo product line, the on button is a retractable slider, making it harder to switch on by accident.
A new feature that Kobo has introduced is a miniscule, pinhole-sized, white light that indicates that the Arc 10HD is on, even when it's asleep.
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On-board storage is advertised as 16GB, but with bloatware you'll actually have about 12GB useable storage. There is no external storage port, which feels like a genuine shame given that the device costs £299. If you're prepared to spend that much money on a quality tablet, you want to have removable storage as an option.
At 9.9mm thick and weighing 627g, the Arc 10HD is both heavy and thin. It ways 149g more than the iPad Air and when you pick up the Arc 10HD, it's instantly noticeable. Tablets this size are hard enough to hold as it is - the extra weight can easily take its toll on your wrists in a short amount of time.
It doesn't feel comfortable or natural to use the Arc 10HD on anything other than a flat surface for an extended period of time. If you want to lie in bed and read a book or watch a film, it's unlikely you'll win a game of forearm endurance.
The Arc 10HD has the basic sensors most modern tablets come with: gyroscope, accelerometer and ambient light.
On the back of the Arc 10HD there are dual stereo speakers that don't sound too bad. They have no base, but there's also no distortion, and audio sounds refreshingly clear. You wouldn't use this as a loudspeaker option, but for a TV show or non-action film they'll perform just fine.
Interface and performance
The Arc 10HD is running Kobo-customised Android, Reading Life. The level of customization is mild: Kobo hasn't forced its own brand of user experience on us, and we thank it for that. The closer to stock Android, the better.
Standard Android options such as wallpapers and keyboards are still available. The Android customization relates largely to the layout of the home screen and the two secondary screens, which are used for easy access to the Kobo store and your library. Unfortunately, the store and library can't customized.
There are some more subtle additions such as Reading Mode, which lets users set optimum reading settings, and can be turned on from the quick settings menu.
This is essentially an optimum reading setting that has been built into the UI. It will dim the brightness and stop the tablet going into sleep mode. These options are also available within the Kobo reading app, but it's good to have them available for other activities.
There's also Miracast, which lets users wirelessly stream video and audio to a compatible device, a feature that is similar to Apple's AirPlay. But you'll need a compatible smart TV or audio system like Sonos to properly test this out.
Everything else is standard Android and whether you're familiar with Android or not, it's incredibly straightforward to use. It seems that Kobo has considered entry-level android users when designing the custom Reading Life UI.
All Kobo devices revolve around an optimized reading experience and that's why the Arc 10HD's secondary screens relate solely to the bookstore and library.
Despite the powerful processor and good amount of RAM under the hood, there's still a bit of lag when gliding around the menu. This is probably due to the processing power that has been gobbled up by the high-resolution screen. It's not game changing, but it's noticeable enough to irk you on occasion. It only occurs when you open or close an application and the animation isn't as smooth as it should be.
Even though there is some mild lag, the Arc 10HD performs reasonably well under pressure and when multitasking.
I ran the Napster music app whilst playing NBA 2K14 with no problems. But when I quickly switched out of the game and opened an issue of Forbes magazine, the music began stuttering and the Napster app ultimately forced a close.
It's also noticeable that when the Arc 10HD boots up or comes out of sleep, it doesn't automatically connect to Wi-Fi - not ideal. You won't have to enter your Wi-Fi password every time, but you will have to manually connect to the Wi-Fi, which is very bothersome. Kobo needs to release a software patch to sort this out.
Movies, music and books
Music, books, games and apps can be purchased through the Google Play store. The experience will feel familiar to longstanding Android users.
Kobo also has its own store that is focused on books and magazines - with around 3.5 million titles, it comes in at around 2 million more than the Amazon store. This can be accessed either from one of the second home screens or the Kobo store app in the app menu.
The Kobo store has a few issues. It's a bit slow and there's a longer-than-normal wait when flicking between categories and menus. Oddly, the pricing is in US dollars, even though I was using the Arc 10HD in the UK for this review. I couldn't find a way to change this.
Other than that, buying media is very straightforward and all bought content is downloaded to your library, which is available from one of the home screens.
Content is nicely laid out and the store is easy to navigate. It actually looks very similar to the Netflix browser page, with content in side-scrolling rows and categories based on your reading history. Helpfully, the store shows the compatible devices for each item before you make your purchase, so you won't end up buying media you can't view.
One thing that the Kindle store has and Kobo lacks is a wish list option, allowing you to save titles for purchase later. It's a shame because the Kobo store has such a breadth of content, it's entirely likely that you'll see things you want to come back for.
Just like the Kindle store, purchases are held on the cloud and available to download when you please.
Your personal library presents all of your content as large thumbnails in a continuous list. If you have only a handful of titles, it looks quite nice. But if you have hundreds, it could become a chore looking for a specific title. There's more categorization in the third home screen, but you can't change Kobo's preset options.
In terms of software performance, the Arc 10HD fares well as an eReader. The Reading Mode option is a clever idea and magazines really benefit from the sharp screen.
The reading extras such as public notes, annotations and highlighting are all available as they are on other Kobo devices. Facebook sharing is also available, but as we've remarked in previous Kobo reviews, this is a bit of a pointless feature to Kobo's target market.
An interesting feature that Kobo recently launched is the Beyond the Book app that gives you information on key protagonists and background on the author. A nice addition for some extra reading.
Although the reading software is well implemented as you would expect from Kobo, the reality of actually reading a book on a 627g device is a different story.
A 10-inch tablet is too large to hold in your hands for any extended period of time and it doesn't feel very personal. If you're using this on public transport it can be a little like some sort of group reading exercise with the person next to you.
With less in-depth publications like magazines, it works perfectly because you're not going to be holding the tablet for two hours, and high-resolution images look excellent on the high-quality screen.
Films, too, benefit from the high-quality screen, but unfortunately they can't be purchased from the Kobo store.
Streaming on Netflix, or running a movie directly from the HDD, looks excellent and is probably the main reason you would use this device, especially since you can rest the tablet on your lap or on a surface to watch a film.
Battery life and connectivity
The battery is advertised to last 9.5 hours, and after extensive testing we managed to get just over seven hours out of it. That's not bad, but it doesn't compare to the solid nine hours you'll get from an iPad Air.
The main drain is obviously the screen. You will get more out of the battery if you keep the Arc 10HD in reading mode constantly, but you'll lose out on other functionality.
We did, however, manage to draw out two full days of using it casually and leaving it on standby overnight.
Apps and games
The Arc 10HD isn't challenged by high-performance games. Deer Hunter 2014 looked sharp and didn't stutter. We ran some music in the background as we played the game and there was no random freezes or lag. The screen is very responsive, which is what you would expect from a tablet of this quality.
The Arc 10HD comes with about 3GB worth of bloatware pre-installed; some of which doesn't actually work for UK customers. An app called Cinema Now, for example, doesn't work in the UK. Fortunately, many of the pre-installed apps can be deleted, with the exception of the Kobo apps.
The Arc 10HD only has a front-facing 1.3mp camera that has limited use. There's no Kobo UI overlay on the camera app; it' standard Android. There's also limited functions since there's no flash.
There are some minor editing options; for example, you can change the warmth of pictures depending on lighting conditions around you. Other than that, not much can be done. The camera is clearly designed primarily for video calls and poor-quality selfies, but not much else.
It seems odd that there's no rear camera attached. Granted, you look a bit silly taking photos with a 10-inch slab of metal, but it is a feature that the iPad Air comes with and if this is a rival, then it ought to be a match.
There is no 3G functionality on the Arc 10HD: everything is done over dual-band Wi-Fi. Pages load quickly, although Wi-Fi does have a tendency to switch off when in sleep mode and it doesn't come back on when brought out of sleep.
Firefox and Chrome are available and both work perfectly well. Chrome looks particularly good on the Arc 10HD and browsing is as good as any other top-end Android tablet.
Pinching to zoom in and opening tabs is the same smooth operation you have become accustomed to with other expensive tablets. As you would expect, flash is not supported.
The Arc 10HD tablet is a strong contender for the best moderately expensive Christmas gift of 2013. It's stylish in true Kobo fashion, has an outstanding screen, and it's cheaper than the iPad Air.
Kobo has come out swinging to challenge Apple's featherweight tablet and it's landed a few blows. That's not to say the Arc 10HD isn't without its problems: it's very heavy, there's no rear camera and there seems to be a technical fault with the Wi-Fi when in sleep mode.
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Kobo isn't a household name and this probably isn't the tablet to carry it over the threshold - but it is a large step in the right direction.
The stunning 2,560 x 1,600 screen is a triumph in resolution technology and a genuine pleasure to look at.
Just like every other device in Kobo's repertoire, the Arc 10HD is very well designed. The smooth, black, hard plastic casing gives the tablet an almost regal quality and the buttons don't protrude so there's little chance of accidental pressing.
The Kobo reading experience is also a success. Although this is executed better on Kobo's smaller tablets and eReaders, it's still nice on the Arc 10HD, and Kobo's attention to detail with the Reading Mode and Beyond the Book apps are genuine enhancements.
The glitches. Wi-Fi turns off every time the Arc 10HD goes into sleep mode but it doesn't come back on once the device is woken up. It has to be turned on manually. This is a pretty serious flaw.
There's an ever-so-slight bit of lag when gliding around menus. It's not game changing, but it's noticeable enough to irk over time.
The lack of a rear camera this isn't a major loss of functionality for a tablet this size - but it is an omission, and the quality of the front-facing camera should have been improved.
This is a high-end tablet that is competitively priced. It stylish, powerful and cheaper than the iPad Air.
The addition of a micro-HDMI out port is a welcome bit of extra connectivity that marks the Kobo Arc 10HD out from other high-end tablets.
But the real star of the show is the highly impressive 2,500 x 1,600 screen.
The Wi-Fi and weight issues are drawbacks, but they don't mar the overall experience. The Wi-Fi glitch hopefully can be fixed with a software update. And while a smaller tablet would work better as a standalone reader, the Arc 10HD offers enough as a tablet to justify its size.
All this considered, the Kobo Arc 10HD is definite value for money.