Review: Kobo Arc, 7" Tablet of the Year?

Our score: 4/5
Reviewed: January 10, 2013 9:00 AM
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Published: January 10, 2013 9:00 AM
By Romain Thuret
Translated by: Hugh Ehreth
For the past couple of years Kobo has been waging a ruthless war against the Kindle and its eReader rivals. Now the battlefield has switched to the touchscreen Android tablet market. In response to the Amazon Kindle Fire HD, the Toronto-based Kobo has unsheathed its latest weapon, the 7-inch Kobo Arc.

Fnac Kobo Arc

Beneath the 1280 x 800-pixel IPS display are a Texas Instruments OMAP 4470 dual-core processor clocked at 1.5 GHz and 1 GB of RAM. The model we tested has 16 GB of storage, with no microSD slot for expanding the memory. The only two ports are micro-USB for charging and transferring data and a 3.5 mm headphone jack. A 1.3-Megapixel webcam rounds out the specs on the front of the slate.

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The operating system is Android 4.0.4, but Kobo added its own interface with a series of "Tapestries" to replace the traditional app folders. More on that later...

In the UK the Kobo Arc is sold exclusively from WH Smith and comes with either a white or black front, in a choice of 16 GB (for £160) or 32 GB (for £190)—although in other countries there's also an 8 GB and a 64 GB version. There's no word on when, or if, those will ever make it to the UK.

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Design & Handling3/5



Design and look tend to play a huge role in your first impressions of any device. And sometimes it's better to avoid being too original, or too lazy, with the aesthetics. Here, we can't decide which description is more fitting. Quite frankly, we were disappointed with the Kobo Arc's design. Yes, taste is subjective, but we still feel Kobo could have made more effort in the style department.

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Here's the thing: you can take a Kobo eReader, replace the E Ink display with an LCD panel, add about 200 grammes, and you have a Kobo tablet. The result is a screen that's separated from the frame, unlike most tablets where there's at least a sense of continuity between the two.

But again, taste is subjective...

Fnac Kobo Arc

There's good news for any customisation hounds out there: the "quilted" back is interchangeable, meaning you can replace it with different coloured back plates that are available for sale from Kobo's website. But contrary to what you might think, that doesn't make the Arc feel flimsy or toyish in any way.

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The Kobo Arc has a similar feel to the Google/Asus Nexus 7 (they have the same width)—in other words, it has an excellent feel.

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The Arc fits perfectly in your hands, whether they're colossus hands or just regular hands. We also like the placement of the speakers on the front of the device, located just right so that whether you're holding it in landscape or portrait mode your fingers don't tend to block the sound. (On many tablets they do.)

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One huge drawback to the white model is that it gets extremely dirty extremely quick. This is due to the material used to line the body, which seems to pick up all the microscopic gunk on your fingers and electromagnetically attract the ink from the magazine it was sitting next to in your bag. This leaves you with two solutions: 1. Buy a carrying case. 2. Buy an eraser. Yes, an eraser—our model looked like Huckleberry Finn had dragged it through a swamp all day, with grey and black splotches all over the frame, so we actually took an eraser to it and afterwards the slate had regained its original, immaculate look.

Display4/5



In a very general way, the Kobo Arc's display gives a similar image to its "arc" rival, the Kindle Fire HD. The Arc has 763:1 contrast and the Fire HD has 788:1, which in practice is the same thing. In fact, all 7-inch IPS-screen tablets, the 7.9-inch iPad Mini included, have practically the same average contrast ratios.

However, Kobo gave its tablet lower brightness than Amazon did (the Kindle Fire HD goes up to 430 cd/m²). The Kobo Arc, in contrast, maxes out at 363 cd/m². But don't forget, that's still far from disappointing—it's actually better than most tablets.

But the biggest thing to note about the Kobo Arc's screen is that it isn't matte, but instead it's covered with a glare-reducing lining that easily makes the Arc the tablet that gives off the least amount of reflections, which means good readability both indoors and out.

Fnac Kobo Arc

The colours on the Kobo Arc's screen are excellent. The average Delta E, which measures how accurate the colours are, is 4.3 (where 3 and below are ideal, so 4.3 is very good). Greys, black and magenta are close to perfection, and all the primary colours except for blue hardly diverge at all. With a highly homogeneous average colour temperature (5,497 kelvins), the end result is very satisfactory, with close-to-neutral colours. The viewing angles are super-wide and the response time is 18 ms, one of the best figures on the IPS display market.

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The 214-dpi pixel density provides comfortable reading, no matter what kind of text you're looking at. E-books, comic books, web pages and the OS on the whole all read clearly, with finely cut letters and no "staircase effect". In terms of pixel density the Kobo Arc does just as well as the Kindle Fire HD and the Nexus 7, and much better than the iPad Mini.

Interface & Navigation4/5



Kobo decided not to go down the same radical road that Amazon took by imposing a closed interface on top of an OS (Android) that's supposed to be open. Here Kobo used a system of tapestries that are well designed and non-mandatory. Instead of the classic Android app folders you have these thematic windows that, when you select them, become the main desktop. There are shortcuts and dynamic windows (such as the Kobo Store) that navigate just like the YouTube widget.

Fnac Kobo Arc

A simple tap on the Home button and the tapestry groups its little world together and waits along with the others, waiting to be opened again, or not. Navigating through the Android desktops is original, without any breaks or separate panels. The more shortcuts and tapestries you create, the more you move toward the right. The standard Android menu with all the apps is always accessible.
 
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All the Google features (Gmail, Play Store, etc.) are there alongside the Kobo apps. The Kobo e-book app retrieves any e-books you already own and have stored on a different Kobo device. Like with the Kindles, when you open a book on the Arc you automatically start on the same page you left off on your Kobo e-reader. Bookmarks are synced online via your Kobo account.

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The Press Reader is included by default. It's flexible and enjoyable to use. In the e-book section, an app links up to the Kobo Store and tells it what products you buy so that it can suggest e-books you might like in the store.

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It hardly takes a minute, and it allows the Kobo Store to give quality suggestions tailored for your reading tastes.

A menu appears horizontally at the bottom of the homescreen to suggest diverse content (pictures from the web, books, news articles...) in function with the apps and widgets you have on your homescreen.

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The whole system runs incredibly smoothly. It's so fun going through this OS that you'd think you're on a Nexus 7, whether it's in the tapestries, apps, multitasking or transitions between processor-intensive games and other activities. Note: the main interface on the Kobo Arc always stays in portrait mode.

For us to really love the Arc, Kobo would have to at least upgrade Android to Jelly Bean 4.1 (but we wouldn't object to 4.2, either!). At least that way we could make use of the excellent developments Google has been making in terms of mobility. But as things stand, the path that Kobo has taken with the Arc is one of the most enjoyable.

Multimedia4/5



Web browsing clearly has nothing to envy of the other big names in the 7-inch tablet business. Pages load quickly and the HD display makes browsing a pleasure, both in portrait and landscape mode. The zoom function is fast and precise. In sum, the Kobo Arc offers an excellent online experience.

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The media player has all the basic compatibility of the standard Android players, so we recommend using third-party players for full video and audio file support. The OMAP 4470 processor is moving on in years, but it can handle 1080p resolution without any problems. The only exception is when you go above 50 Mbps, at which point the image gets irritatingly choppy. But either way, on a screen this size 720p is plenty.

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Great news for gamers: everything in the Play Store, up to and including the most processor-heavy games, run like clockwork. In terms of raw 3D processing figures, the OMAP 4470 may not be a thunderbolt of lightning, but it's plenty powerful to run the most demanding games without getting choppy.

The sound on the Kobo Arc varies between power and perfectibility. Power, because the speakers spit out a sound that's astonishingly loud and clear, even when the volume's not on max. Perfectible, because the headphone output spits out a sound that lacks detail and provides a generally unremarkable listening experience.

Fnac Kobo Arc

Like the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD, the Kobo Arc has no rear-facing camera, but it does have a front-facing webcam. And you can tell that Kobo put a lot of attention into the webcam. The sensor gives a fluid image with very little video noise, whether in good lighting or not, and adequate sound. Along with the iPad Mini, the Kobo Arc has without a doubt the best webcam for a 7-inch slate.

Battery Life4/5



WH Smith is advertising 10 hours of theoretical battery life. In practice, we got more like 8 ½ hours. That was with varied usage that included e-mails, video playback, web browsing and video games. With continuous video playback, those 8 ½ hours will drop by 45 minutes. But playing big, demanding video games downloaded from the Play Store will dwindle the Arc's battery life by 40% after only around 2 ½ hours of gameplay. However, on standby it loses just 5% from morning to night. A full charge takes roughly 3 hours, whether via wall charger or USB/computer.
4/5 Kobo Arc DigitalVersus 2013-01-10 10:00:00

Pros

  • Simple interface
  • Tapestries
  • Responsiveness
  • Overall screen rendering
  • Good handling
  • High quality webcam

Cons

  • Design: is this a tablet or an e-reader?
  • White model gets dirty quick
  • Non-expandable memory
  • No connectors
  • Is "Tapestry" really the best name for a feature on a 2012 tablet?
  • Suggestions bar not removable

Conclusion

This just might be the Google Nexus 7's fiercest competitor. In a number of ways—handling, screen quality, responsiveness, services—nothing is more certain. Most of all, it's a far more flexible device than Amazon's Kindle Fire HD. If only it had a more inspired design and a few extra features, such as a microSD slot and more than just a micro-USB port, then this just could be the 7-inch tablet of the year. The Kobo Arc has great value for money and an attractive multimedia-oriented interface.

OUR SCORE 4/5
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