This, the smallest e-reader on the market at around 5 inches, is gadget nirvana for book-loving commuters. The secret is in its size, which is carefully judged to fit into a handbag, a chest pocket of a shirt, or even the back pocket of a pair of jeans.
Built around a E Ink screen with a 600x800 resolution and 16-level greyscale, the Kobo Mini has a width of a mere 4 inches. We tried it in a load of pockets, and though it didn't fit in many shirt pockets - it's a smidgen too wide - it easily slipped into trouser pockets, inside pockets of suits and jeans, hand and back, pockets. Our only thought is that a protective cover - a must to protect any E Ink screen - will probably edge it out of most of these places. At 131g it's the lightest e-reader around, so carrying it in a handbag, manbag or pocket is no problem.
Boosting its travel prospects further is a two-week (if Wi-Fi is off) battery, which means you can leave the bundled Micro USB cable at home, with its 2GB capacity able to store more than 1,000 books - a third gigabyte is fenced-off for software. Dimensions are 101.6x1331.1x10.3mm, so it's a fraction deeper than a Kindle Paperwhite or a Kobo Glo.
The business of books is split into "reading" and "discover" within a user interface dominated by book covers. The former is divided between "library", which is the devices' stored books, newspapers, previews and new feature "shelves", which is merely an option to group content into folders. There's also "ind books" - a link to Kobo's online library of one million free and three million pay-for books, as well as magazine and newspaper subscriptions, and a new wishlist feature. And, finally, "reading life" which amounts to some stats, and the chance to post a "look how fast/much I read" message on Facebook and Twitter – please don't. All are a breeze to set-up - as is connecting to Wi-Fi.
Any format of ebook - including EPUB files bought online - can be transferred to the Kobo Mini, but it must be done via a computer using the micro-USB cable. And not via email, as on the Kindle. So although the freedom to drag and drop a bunch of free EPUB files downloaded from the likes of Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive [archive.org], Google Books, and Open Library is welcome, this has to be done manually by attaching the Kobo to a computer using the micro-USB cable.
If you don't mind the limitations of Wi-Fi, and you shouldn't – who seriously downloads books more than once a month? And prefer the freedom of reading any ebook format, the Kobo Mini is a decent option, though the Kindle experience is more streamlined, if totally ring-fenced in terms of where you buy your books.
We tested the Kobo app on an iPhone, and found it to be rather sluggish and slow. It looks simple, and apes the experience on a Kobo e-reader well, adding a splash of colour and a few more options. However, if you download a book from the Kobo e-store using the app - whether paid-for or free - it doesn't then sync with the e-reader itself, which the Kindle does.
We also found that books on the app were slow to load, some interminably so, and even page turns took a few seconds. Read a book on the e-reader, then fire-up the app, and page numbers do sync, but it doesn't appear to work the other way.
The lack of resolution isn't a big issue in practice, with the smaller size rendering that a non-issue. In fact, the tweaks to fonts, font sizing and spacing is so comprehensive that we managed to get the perfect picture for reading.
The 800 MHz processor sews-up the Kobo Mini's reputation as a second-rung e-reader in terms of spec, but again, we had few problems with page-turning and onscreen menu navigation - until the end of the review. All we'd done is dragged a few EPUB files from an iMac to the Kobo Mini, which henceforth crashed, and endlessly so; it was never able to get past a "processing content … one moment please" message. Oops.
Last year we had a similar experience with an iRiver e-reader on the first day of a week's holiday, and vowed to return to paperbacks.
Nicely priced at £59.99, the Kobo Mini is a possible stocking filler for frequent travellers, commuters and anyone who likes to travel light, though in strict hardware terms it's certainly convenience over quality.