A Question of Format

Well, it’s been a little while since I got my kobo mini eReader, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time either reading or trying to organise its contents.  Having shelves is useful but I’ve discovered that there are definite failings, though I’m not sure that they’re unique to the kobo.

I like to have the best metadata (information about the ebook) possible, and the nicest covers I can find, for all the ebooks I’ve got.  Neither the kobo desktop app nor Adobe Digital Editions allow the metadata to be altered from within them, any more than the eReader does.  As a consequence, I’ve been using Calibre to perform the task, and also to keep a track of my full library.  It’s a very useful tool for such activities as updating metadata, converting formats and maintaining a database of contents, including moving books to and from the kobo.  Unfortunately, problems are thrown up very early on!

First, and perhaps the most frustrating, is that when you obtain an ebook through the kobo store, adding it to your library but not actually downloading it, a “virtual book” record is created on the eReader.  This shows up in Calibre as being a book but is in reality just a pointer – you can’t save the book to your Calibre library or to disk!  The first ebook I opted to read on the kobo was The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, which I added to my library on the kobo site.  All was well, until I discovered that I didn’t actually have the ebook – just that pointer.  Naturally, I downloaded it then, from the kobo store.  The metadata was very poor and the cover was transformed into something of no interest.  Naturally, I updated the data in Calibre, though I first had to copy the ebook to disk and add it to my Calibre-kobo library.  To get the information back onto the kobo, I then had to copy it back to the mini, which left me with two copies!  Deleting the original, uninformative version was the obvious thing to do – until I ran the Synch process – which proceeded to reinstate the version on the kobo store.  I had to delete it from “My Library” at the store to avoid duplication on the eReader.  What’s more, I lost annotations and bookmarks in the process.  Updating metadata leaves much to be desired!

Next, there’s an issue with the way ebooks are rendered.  Pages don’t flow properly.  I constantly encounter situations where large areas of the screen are empty – with fragments of text which are completed on moving forward in the ebook.  Also, bookmarks don’t work!  Periodically, a muddled piece of text is displayed, where a page number collides with a word, at the right edge of the screen.  Putting the eReader to sleep, or powering off, causes a complication in that the automatic bookmark, which is supposed to remember where you got to, restores you to an earlier position in the ebook because the page numbers don’t equate to the number of actual screen pages you’ve read.  This has happened in both PDF and ePub versions.  I don’t know whether it’s a question of the kobo getting it wrong, or the publisher/author!

None of these problems are truly critical, but they are niggles which cause some annoyance.  Interestingly, the pagination/bookmarking worked perfectly for the Sherlock Holmes ebook when it was just a virtual book!  It was only after I switched to a genuine copy of it that the pagination/bookmarking errors started.  It’s not a good advertisement for ebooks.  I’ve also discovered a problem with the Facebook connectivity function – which may be a consequence of using different email addresses for my Facebook and my kobo accounts – I’m still investigating that.

I hope that these problems can be addressed and solutions found.

~ Steve

The kobo mini eReader – and a bit more

Well, I hope everybody has enjoyed the last couple of days.  Our Christmas Day was very quiet, just myself and Jenny this year.  Boxing Day (more properly, St. Stephen’s Day) was a bit more busy as we visited our daughter and her family – which exposed us to two grandchildren and several other people, who were in high spirits!

To the matter of this post’s title.  I was delighted to receive the kobo mini eReader from Jenny!  I’d used an iPod Touch and an old iPhone for reading ebooks, but it was less than perfect, especially with the battery running down quickly.  The kobo was another matter entirely!

kobominiThe mini eReader comes packaged as simply as possible.  You get the eReader and a usb cable, plus a couple of leaflets and the normal guarantee information.  Personally, I believe that the usb cable is too short, giving little chance of having the eReader at a distance from the computer.  You have to connect using the usb cable to charge the device.  I haven’t tried any other method – I have a mains adaptor which allows Jenny’s Kindle and my iPod Touch and iPhone to charge quicker but I’m not sure that’s safe with the kobo, and I can also charge some devices through a usb port in our car but I’m again not sure it’s sage for use with the kobo.  Apart from the length of the usb cable, it’s a pity that the user manual doesn’t come in paper form with the eReader.  I eventually found it as a PDF on the kobo site and it provided information that’s actually quite essential for effective use of the device.  I can only assume that it’s not included as a means to maintain an economical price.  The eReader’s screen is protected by a transparent film but I found that this started to hinder use of the device after an couple of hours or so.  I’m not sure whether this means that commercially available screen protectors would be worth getting for the kobo.

Your first task on receiving, or buying, your device is to attach it to a computer using the usb cable.  This, of course, means that you either have to have a computer yourself or you need somebody with one to help you!  Having connected devices, you are then guided through downloading and installing the kobo desktop app.  You really need Adobe Digital Editions too!  You need to register with kobo, so you’ll need an email address, even if you don’t have a computer yourself.  The rest of the setup procedure is quite simple and is accomplished fairly quickly.  If you have a Facebook account, you can connect to it with your eReader, so you can post to your timeline when you are reading particular books.

Unlike the Kindle, the kobo mini eReader is a touch screen device.  The “home” screen is quite nice, with access to the device’s settings much better than the system used on the Kindle, in my opinion.  There’s a limited set of options available on a single tap, plus more advanced options as an offshoot of that.  I did find it rather odd that the four “extras” were buried in the advanced settings menu.  Then again, having used the built-in browser, it’s not a big deal.  The web browser is probably the worst aspect of the device!  At normal zoom, it flickers and is almost invisible. That was quite a disappointment.  The home screen also displays the health of the battery and any wifi signal strength.  The top of the screen offers options of “Reading” or “Bookstore”, with the former automatically selected and the latter leading to the kobo bookstore.  From “Reading”, you can opt to enter your library, go to kobo’s “Reading Life” record of your activities, or synchronise the device with your computer, either via the usb cable or, if you have the facility, by wifi.  From “Bookstore”, you can opt to “Discover”, Browse or Search, plus there’s an opportunity to browse current offers.  If you have placed books in your Wishlist, this will be indicated right at the bottom.

On the “Reading” screen, tapping on the Library option offers you the opportunity to browse through all the books you have loaded, any newspapers or magazines, any previews you’ve downloaded or go to your list of library “shelves”.  These shelves are set up by you.  They allow you to organise your books more efficiently. I tend to just use author shelves, but you can use whatever system you prefer, and the books may appear on more than one shelf.  Using shelves is certainly advisable if you have a large number of books on the device.  “Reading Life” has two options: Reading Stats or “Awards”.  The latter reward you for being active on kobo, allowing you to collect “badges” or “trophies”.

On the “Bookstore” screen, “Discover” permits you to access a list of similar books to what you’re reading or a list of books recommended for you by kobo.  “Browse” lets you do so by using Categories, Reading Lists or a selection of Free ebooks.  “Search” is obviously your opportunity to search either the kobo bookstore or your device’s library.

When you open a book, the screen starts uncluttered.  Tapping on the left takes you backwards, on the right takes you forwards.  Tapping the centre brings up additional options and information.  The top left shows the Home icon so you can leave the book  (opening it again will return you to where you left off) and the top right shows any wifi signal, battery health and the standard setup box.  Along the bottom, the left shows what percentage of the book you’ve read and the right offers four icons giving access to reading options.  First, an open book icon, accesses a menu of “Table of Contents”, “Annotations”, “Search in Book”, “Definition” and “Translate Word”.  The table of contents pops up in its own screen and allows quick navigation.  Annotations gives access to any notes you’ve made or highlighted passages.  Definition accesses the dictionary and Translate Word does what it says.  Next, the double-headed arrow icon pops up an information box on your location in the book and a slider to let you navigate faster.  The double A icon lets you change font, font size, line spacing, margin sizes and paragraph justification.  The final icon, a spanner, accesses miscellaneous general options.

I think that’s enough detail about the mini eReader.  A little exploration and experimentation is worthwhile.  I’d prefer to go on to some personal observations, now.

The eInk  display works very well, except for the web browser.  Light isn’t an issue, other than when it’s very dark.  Not being backlit, you will need a light of some kind in a dark room.  My device froze a few times, without obvious cause but perhaps because I was working too fast for it, forcing me to remove the back cover and use the reset switch hidden under it.  The power slider is OK, but could possibly do with having a ridge or ridges at one end.  The touch screen is just sensitive enough.  All in all, I like the kobo mini eReader!  The weakest part of it all is the kobo desktop app.  You can add ebooks (in the right formats) from any source to the device.  This is a fact which kobo make much of.  Unfortunately, the desktop app doesn’t recognise anything unless it’s obtained through the kobo bookstore!  This means that the synchronisation is rather pointless in some respects.  Your library, and any shelves, will differ from eReader to desktop unless you only shop through kobo!  You can use Adobe Digital Editions to add ebooks from other sources, but it still won’t update the kobo desktop app library.  Personally, I regard this as a major failing that kobo need to fix as soon as possible.

I’m happy to recommend the kobo mini eReader.  It’s just the right size – not too small and still pocket sized.  Like the original Kindle, the eInk display works well in almost all circumstances.  Using it is simple and the display is easy on the eye.  It isn’t all-singing-and-all-dancing, but it’s exactly what it should be for any serious reader.

~ Steve