When we first saw a prototype of the 6-inch, touch-screen Kobo Glo and its built-in ComfortLight a few months back, we asked a simple question to its makers: why didn't anyone think of this idea before? As it turns out, they did – you only have to check the subsequent Kindle Paperwhite and the Nook SimpleTouch with GlowLight for proof of that. Have the big boys beaten Kobo to it? Perhaps, the main worry being that the basic Kindle Paperwhite is a mere £10 more expensive than the Kobo Glo. We're talking Wi-Fi here, not 3G, which will instantly limit the Glo's appeal to some, though any normal person - save for readers of daily e-newspapers, and lonely road warriors, perhaps - just don't need an always-on connection for the purposes of reading books.
Measuring 10mm in depth and weighing 182g, the Kobo Glo is lighter than the Kindle Paperwhite. Our review sample was finished in a soft-touch matte white plastic that proved adept at fighting off finger marks, though a black version is also available. For those who like to express their individuality through moulded plastic, you're in luck: blue, pink and black “snapbacks”, which clip on to the rear of the device, are available to replace the grey/silver plate supplied.
The 6-inch screen itself is of the E Ink Pearl variety, of course, with a 1024 x 768 pixel (VGA) resolution and a 16-level grayscale. It's a touchscreen device, with page turns performed by pressing the left or right sectors of the page - a middle press launches other options - so buttons are limited to an on/off switch and that light switch. Meanwhile, there's a micro-USB slot on the undercarriage.
The headline feature here, of course, is that ComfortLight. Switched on and off via a tiny, flat button on the Glo's right shoulder, it's clever stuff - although the brightness is supplied by five almost-visible LEDs along the screen's bottom, the illumination of the entire screen is impressively uniform. It achieves this by diffusing that light through a nano-printed fibre optic film. You won't notice any of that while reading in even pitch black, though tinkering is needed.
Out of the box the intensity is scorch-yer-eyes-out, but a sliding scale accessible behind a sun icon sees roughly 15 easily differentiated levels of brightness make this instantly curable. The lowest few are perfectly good for using in a total blackout, such as an airline cabin at night, and we didn't experience any uncontrollable glare or discomfort while using it.
Using the light at even low levels makes reading from this E Ink screen more like reading on a tablet, which does slightly defeat the object of E Ink, though that ComfortLight is optional. It also doesn't appear to affect the battery power, with Kobo quoting a battery life of over two weeks if WiFi is switched-off.
Kobo's way is more open than Amazon's, though arguably not as polished, with new additions to the experience including Reading Life - stats on what you're reading - which you can share on Twitter and Facebook … as if … along with 17 separate “awards” for doing strange things such as reading after midnight, using the built-in dictionary, or reading a proper-long tome like War & Peace. And there’s a Discover section that generates recommendations for eBook purchases according to your reading habits. There's also a wishlist, unlike on the Kindle.
There's no 3G option here, and though Kobo's online store is stuffed, in our test it was slow to connect to Wi-Fi and to load pages. Sadly, you can't email books and documents to yourself, as you can on a Kindle - we tried it and received a curt 'the e-mail address you entered couldn't be found' message in response; manual Micro USB hook-up is an all too frequent necessity. Yuck. The app we tried (for iOS) was pretty stuttering, too.
As for manually adding your own files, the format support isn't total, but it's pretty comprehensive; EPUB, PDF, JPEG, GIF, PNG, TIFF, TXT, HTML, RFT CBZ and CBR files – as well as anything locked by Adobe DRM – are all supported. Anything goes on the Glo, apart from Kindle books, of course, since you can load books bought and sourced from any website, which does give it one up on its rivals. However, PDFs are treated rather poorly; although they can be zoomed-in via a double-tap, it's a messy, hit-and-miss process and rather fiddly to manually tweak.
When connected to our iMac the Kobo Glo had 1.36GB available for storing eBooks etc, although its total storage is 2GB - the rest is reserved for software. Once connected to a computer, the device begins recharging and the light is switched-off, and must be reactivated afterwards.
This is mostly a complete joy. Press the cover art, launch the book – and then the fun starts. The screen has a wide viewing angle and always feels comfortable, though something that the Glo has over other e-readers is TypeGenius, a collection of very comprehensive customisation options. Seven font faces and 24 font sizes can be tweaked, with sliders - identical to the ComfortLight's brightness slider - for line spacing, margins and justification.
There's even an "advanced panel", which adds before-and-after images for comparison. Perhaps more importantly, skipping through pages is fast thanks to its 1GHz processor, as is navigating around the device in general.
So useful and well executed is illumination on this year's touchscreen eBook readers that we're sure that it will now become standard, though there's more here to like than light.
There's nothing intrinsically wrong with the Kobo Glo, but it does suffer from a similar problem that Android tablets used to when compared to the iPad; it's only slightly cheaper, so what's the point? The point here is that Kobo doesn't lock you into restrictive file formats as the Kindle Paperwhite does – something that will appeal to many – though it doesn't sync as easily, and might require you to use a PC or Mac more than you'd like.
Judged purely on readability, though, the Kobo Glo is a standout reader.