E-reader roundup: 8 devices compete for the crown

We look at the current state of the market and review 8 of the most popular e-readers

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Borders' Kobo

Small, light, easy to carry and use, with a long-lived battery and a memory card slot for expansion, Borders' Kobo would, at first glance, appear to be a near-perfect dedicated e-reader. It's only when you look at the details -- and at the screen -- that you wonder if maybe you should have instead spent your money on a Kindle or a Nook.

Kobo

Kobo

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The all-plastic, two-tone, white-fronted Kobo has an excellent tactile feel, due in part to its slimness and quilted no-slip gray back. Its layout is a model of simplicity -- there's a single blue four-way direction (D-pad) navigation button on the lower right front, four buttons on its left side (Home, Menu, Display and Back), a Micro USB port on the bottom, and the power button and memory card slot on top. However, the Kobo is definitely for the right-handed reader, since the navigation button is positioned on the far right side.

What's interesting: Besides USB connectivity, the Kobo incorporates a built-in Bluetooth interface. However, it syncs only with certain Blackberry devices, not your PC or another e-reader.

Pressing the D-pad up or down enlarges or reduces the size of the typeface. The Kobo supports ePub, PDF and Adobe DRM file formats. There's a status light underneath the bezel that glows red and violet while charging, and blue when fully charged. The blue light also briefly illuminates whenever you page forward.

What's good: The header and footer display the book title, chapter and number of chapter, page number and number of pages in the chapter. Readers can choose among five font sizes and either a serif or sans serif typeface. The Kobo comes with 100 preloaded public-domain books.

What's not: Because it lacks Wi-Fi and 3G capabilities, the Kobo must be attached to a computer to download books. It accepts only SD cards up to 4GB, not higher-density SDHC cards that will handle up to 32GB. And unlike Barnes & Noble's Nook, you can't automatically browse or sample books in a Borders bookstore.

Booting up, loading a book and turning pages is slow. The Kobo's screen is relatively dull, the fonts are thin and light, and the space between lines is large, so prolonged reading can tire your eyes, plus it requires more frequent page turns. The text displays only in portrait mode, not landscape, which makes paging and panning through PDF documents tedious.

Bottom line: In today's fast-moving e-reader market, Kobo needs to stay competitive with price reductions and technology improvements. The Kobo recently dropped its price by $30, but considering how quickly its competitors are pushing the technology envelope, that may not be enough.

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