Hands-on with the $200 Kobo Arc Android tablet
The Kobo Arc is a 7 inch Android tablet from eBook seller Kobo. While Kobo may not be as well known as Amazon or Barnes & Noble, the company’s new tablet has a few things going for it that the latest NOOK and Kindle tablets don’t.
With a starting price of $200, the Kobo Arc is expected to launch in the US by the end of November. It’s already starting to hit stores in other parts of the globe, starting with the UK, Canada, and France.
The Kobo Arc has a 7 inch, 1280 x 800 pixel IPS display, a 1.5 GHz TI OMAP 4470 dual core processor, and 16GB to 64GB of storage. It runs Google Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich with some custom Kobo software running on top.
Here’s what sets it apart from NOOK and Kindle tablets though: The Kobo Arc is a Google certified device. So while the home screen doesn’t look like a typical Android tablet, you have full access to the Google Play Store.
That means that in addition to downloading books, magazines, and other content from the Kobo Store, you can also download apps from Google Play… or books, music, movies or other content from Google Play. In fact, there’s nothing stopping you from installing the Kindle or NOOK apps on the Kobo Arc and using it to read books purchased from those stores.
While the Kobo Arc may not have the high resolution displays that some of its competitors’ tablets offer, the full Play Store access could appeal to some folks.
Of course, you could also get a 16GB Google Nexus 7 tablet for $199. But here’s another thing that helps set the Kobo Arc apart: It will be available with up to 64GB of storage. A 16GB model runs $200, while a 32GB model costs $250. Kobo will also sell a 64GB model for $300.
Unfortunately none of those models feature microSD card slots, so if you think you might want the extra storage space, you’ll have to pay for it up front.
I got a chance to check out an Arc tablet for a few minutes last night, and another thing that distinguishes the tablet from its peers is the bezel. Some folks are going to love this, while others will hate it, but the bezel doesn’t sit flush with the touchscreen display. It’s a little higher, so you have to reach down past the bezel to touch the glass.
The good news is that gives you something to grip while reading a book, without worrying that you’ll accidentally tap the screen and turn pages before you meant to. The bad news is that sliding your fingers around the tablet takes a little more effort than on a model with edge-to-edge glass… and some folks may decide that this layout doesn’t look as good.
Likewise, the back of the Kobo Arc has a textured, soft-touch plastic material that makes the tablet look a little more bulky than some other 7 inch tablets. But it also makes the device pretty comfortable to hold — which is important for a tablet designed to be used as an eReader.
A Kobo rep also proudly showed off the custom home screen which lets you create “tapestries” rather than just icons and widgets. Basically this lets you create collections of content around any theme. If you’re in a web browser, a book, a social networking app, or other software and there’s a “share” button, you can share content to a tapestry to see pictures, web page thumbnails, and other content on your home screen.
I’m not convinced it’s an improvement over the default Android home screen experience, but it is a value-added feature.
Another one of those custom Kobo features is a Discover option that analyzes the books you’re reading as well as other content to suggest other things you might like. For instance, if you’re reading the Steve Jobs biography, Kobo might recommend music by artists that Steve Jobs had said he was fond of.
Kobo’s Arc tablet faces some pretty steep competition. But based on the few minutes I had with it, this seems like it might be Kobo’s first tablet that’s at least worth the asking price.