On paper, there isn’t much to separate Kobo from Kindle, so the only real way to tell the difference is to get your hands on the real thing and see how they perform. I have done exactly that and pitched a Kobo Touch against a new Kindle in order to see if there is anything notable to pick out against these two lightweight e-book reading devices.
Kobo vs Kindle
I’m going to compare just about everything from start to finish, so feel free to skip past the bits you aren’t very interested in in order to get to the comparisons that matter to you. I have read multiple book on each device, so this very much a hands-on Kobo vs Kindle comparison; not a paper exercise.
I would have loved to compare the Kindle Touch to the Kobo Touch, but the Kindle Touch edition isn’t currently available in the UK. Suffice to say, you pay around 25% extra to get the touch capability on either device, although this feature in itself has pros and cons. Textual input is much easier on a touch device, as the on-screen touch keyboard is what you would expect from a mobile phone (just slower) but as with all touch-screen devices, the more you put your greasy paws on the screen, the worse the reading experience is.
The Kobo Touch comes in standard packaging, a thin cardboard box with a tray containing the Kobo. Everything you really need is in the box, including the USB cable you use to charge the device. After starting up the reader and filling in some information in order to create a Kobo account, the first book you’ll read serves as a great introduction to how you use the device.
The Kindle comes in the new Amazon hassle-free packaging. Not only is this really easy to open, there is also less wastage because they can post the Kindle without any additional boxes or materials. Just like the Kobo, everything you need is in the box and the first book you’ll read is the welcome manual. The only real difference at this stage is that the Kindle is already linked to your Amazon account.
Both the Kobo Touch and the Kindle are surprisingly similar in size, shape and weight. Any differences on paper are absolutely impossible to tell with the actual devices in your hands. The bevelled edges of the Kindle make it feel thinner than the Kobo, although if you turn both sideways on they appear to be around the same depth.
Both feel great in your hand, small and light enough to comfortably read for extended periods. The quilted-style texture on the back of the Kobo is a nice touch and makes the device more tactile, although otherwise it is generally more boxy than the Kindle, which is smoothly rounded.
Both devices have a USB input in the middle on the bottom side. The Kobo has its power / standby on the right at the top, whereas the Kindle has a button next to the USB port. Both of these are inconvenient locations if you put them in a cover.
The Kobo and the Kindle have nearly identical six-inch e-ink screen, but side-by-side you can see quite a difference between these two readers. The Kindle is by far the sharpest and clearest of the two screens and appears to have higher contrast – the difference between the surface and the text makes the Kindle look black and white, whereas the Kobo has text that appears grey. This is really big score for the Kindle, because readability is so high on the list of priorities for a device such as this.
This is the first category where there is a notable difference between the two devices.
Given the duration of your smart-phone’s battery these days, the battery life of both the Kobo and the Kindle are stunning. I tested both devices with the built-in wi-fi switched on, because this is pretty much how you will use either of the devices unless you have lots of discipline in respect of opening up the settings to switch it off when you don’t need it. I found that I needed to charge them up around once every few weeks, depending on how much reading I had found time for.
There is much more to talk about when it comes to reading books on these e-book readers. First and foremost, when it comes to page-turns, the Kindle is an order of magnitude faster than the Kobo. I think Kobo users will get into the habit of initiating the page turn before they have finished reading the page in an attempt to bring some flow to their reading. The Kindle on the other hand is very fast indeed – not as fast as a computer screen, but much faster than the Kobo. I think this will be one of the biggest frustration for people reading on the Kobo.
This is also one aspect of reading where the physical buttons of the non-touch device are preferable to the tap and swipe actions of the touch screen. I had big problems with the delays on the Kobo because on some occasions it didn’t register my page turn, which meant I had to try again – and at other times I tried a second swipe just as the first swipe resulted in a page turn, which meant I skipped a page and had to go back.
Both the Kobo and the Kindle offer more storage than you are likely to need. The Kobo has a slot for a memory card, which allows you extend the storage and any books you buy from Kobo are available to download via wi-fi.
The Kindle stores a back-up of all your content on-line, whether you buy the books on Amazon or elsewhere, which means you can archive your books to save space on the device if your collection is massive and then download whichever books you want using the built-in wi-fi.
So despite the Kobo being expandable by quite a few extra gigabytes, both devices come with plenty of storage in the first place and offer a way to store your books somewhere other than your device in a location that makes them easy to download on demand (although with the Kobo this only applies to the books you purchased via the Kobo store – any other books will need to be added via the USB cable).
Amazon has one mighty book store and the chances are you already have an account on Amazon too. The Kobo book store has a lot of books, but when searching for specific books that I want to purchase I found that they weren’t available on the Kobo or were much more expensive than I could buy them for elsewhere. With the Kindle, almost all the searches resulted in finding the book at a competitive price.
For example, today “The Clean Coder” by Uncle Bob was £18.71 in the Kobo bookstore and £16.18 on Amazon and “Round Ireland With A Fridge” by Tony Hawks was £5.49 in the Kobo bookstore and £4.94 on Amazon. All books were selected by browsing the paperbacks on my shelf.
|The Clean Coder (Uncle Bob)||£18.71||£16.18|
|Round Ireland With A Fridge (Tony Hawks)||£5.49||£4.94|
|Join Me (Danny Wallace)||£5.49||£4.94|
|Don’t Make Me Think (Steve Krug)||£14.51||£13.44|
This is another important consideration where the Kindle beats the Kobo.
Buying From Other Stores
At first, both the Kobo and Kindle look quite similar when it comes to buying books from other stores. This is important to me because I buy specialist books, such as titles from The Pragmatic Bookshelf.
The Kobo allows you to add books via a USB connection by dragging the books into the folder on your Kobo, whereas the Kindle has a really neat “email-to-device” feature that lets you send your books via email, resulting in them being delivered via the wi-fi connection. This also means you can grant permission to publishers to send you books via email, which means you don’t need to download and copy the books via wi-fi, they just appear as if you had bought them from Amazon.
Another very strong feature on the Kindle is that any books you email to your device get stored in a personal documents folder on Amazon, which means they are safely backed up and available to re-download to your Kindle later on and to read on other devices (like your mobile phone) using the Kindle app. The Kobo application refuses to acknowledge any books that you’ve added outside of the Kobo book store, so you won’t see them listed in the Kobo app and they won’t be synced with the Kobo app on your other devices.
From the marketing gumph, you might be led to believe that the Kindle locks you into Amazon and that the Kobo is far more open, but in reality the Kindle behaves identically no matter where you buy your books, whereas the Kobo experience is very clunky for books bought outside of the eco-system.
As an aside, one of the externally purchased books I loaded onto the Kobo had terrible problems, causing a long freeze followed by a crash and re-start, but the same book worked perfectly on the Kindle.
The chances are that I will buy many books through the native book store, but for specialist books I want confidence that I can buy books elsewhere and still read them on my e-book reader and the Kindle is the hands-down winner in this category.
Where these two e-book readers are similar, they are very similar – but in all respects where there is a significant difference the Kindle comes out on top. If you want to have the most seamless reading experience there is no question that you should buy the Kindle.
There are a lot of features on both devices that could be compared, but they both have a web browser, which works about as well as you would expect on a monochrome display, they both have a dictionary to obtain definitions, they both have slightly different ways of navigating the books in your library and finding books via the book store on the device – but there just isn’t a significant difference in any of these aspects.
It is also very easy to be distracted by technical specifications and features that aren’t important. If you are buying an e-book reader in order to read books, the features that matter are the ones listed below and nothing else should really affect your buying decision.
– Actually reading books on the device
|Native Book Store|
– Finding and purchasing books and value for money
|External Book Purchases|
– Getting books elsewhere and getting them onto the device
– Legibility and clarity of the screen for text and graphics
– Battery life and time to charge
– Size and weight, comfort in the hand
Decided on a Kindle, but don’t know which Kindle to buy? I have written a handy guide to choosing which Kindle to buy.
Here is some of the feedback I received on this article – I responded personally to these messages where possible. I am unable to publish all of the messages I receive as some are very specific.
“Hey there — thanks for the Kobo vs. Kindle piece. You have helped me decide which product I will purchase. The Kindle Paperwhite.”
“Hi Steve do you know how to get a hold of a Kobo senior manager, I have so many complaints about the staff and their incompetency, it is amazing! They are rude, don’t know what they are doing which make them somewhat useless!”
“Thanks for that excellent clear, concise explanation of the benefits of Kindle v Kobo. You’ve sold me on the Kindle, but would you suggest waiting for the Paperwhite?”