BlackBerry’s PlayBook and Kobo – A Review

Not too long ago, I wrote a post about how resistant I am to the idea of eReading. Then fate decided to be funny and arranged for me to get a BlackBerry PlayBook for free (through work, long story). The PlayBook comes with Kobo, an eReader software.

I received it yesterday, so these are my impressions after only a couple hours of playing with it.

The young prince plays with his future inheritance...

Availability of books

Kobo has the ability to sort its site so that it displays only free books. I’m pretty cheap, so that’s what I went for straight away. There isn’t a huge selection, but it’s pretty good and will keep even a speedy reader occupied for a good amount of time. There are quite a few Star Wars books, and a reasonable selection of what looks to be either Christian books or pulp romances – it’s hard to tell by the covers and titles.

But more interestingly, there’s a fairly good collection of classics. I was able to find quite a few books that I’ve been wanting to read, so that was rather nice. If you want more, they have a fairly good selection of books for under $10.

Text presentation

One of the things that I complained about in my post about eReaders is that I remember books far better when they are in book format, as opposed to the types of pages that you get in a Word document, for example. Kobo does its best by giving the option of displaying books as double pages (or, if you prefer, as single pages). This gives something of a book-y feel, although they still haven’t solved the issue of being able to feel, with your hands, how far into the book you are.

There are other ways that you can manipulate the display, such as changing the font style (serif or non), altering the brightness, or, best of all, changing the font size. As I get older and my eyes start to fail I think that this will be the best argument in favour of eReaders.

Page turner

They clearly tried to replicate the book experience. Turning the page involves actually turning the page – or, rather, tapping the screen in the direction that you would like to navigate. I like it better than scrolling, but it does feel a little gimmicky.

There’s also a quick button back to the table of contents, so it’s easy enough to jump from one section of the book to another. That being said, page numbers are gone, so referencing could be a problem.

Kobo automatically remembers your place in each book, so it’s quite easy to pick up where you left off in a previous reading session.

Referencing

As I noted above, page numbers are missing. This is a pretty serious issue if you’re the kind of person who likes to take notes while you read. It wouldn’t be so bad if there were some kind of marginal notes feature, but there isn’t that I could find.

The only option is what Kobo calls “dogears.” By tapping the upper corner of the screen, you can “fold” the page to leave a place mark. These can then be searched in their own list to make navigation between your favourite passages a bit easier. It’s something, but it really isn’t enough for people like me who are in the habit of marking up books.

Battery life

One thing you don’t have to worry about with paper books is how long the batteries will last. I haven’t really pushed the boundaries, but I did keep it on for about two hours while writing this review and the battery icon showed only a sliver lost. I take that as a pretty good sign.

Conclusion

It seems nice to have, especially since the PlayBook can be used for a fairly wide range of things. For example, it has Word installed, so I transferred over my notes for my Bible reading project, which will make it a bit easier to work on while “on the go.” There are also some apps available for free, and the PlayBook can be used to surf the internet. I’m definitely glad to have it and I think I’ll get some use out of it.

But I got it for free. From my perspective, it would have to be pretty awful for me not to like it in at least some ways. But this model costs $700 in Canadian stores. At that price, it’s definitely not worth buying just as an eReader, and I think it would be hard to justify even with all the other features factored in.

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