Kobo Arc review
7 in 1,280x800 display, 364g, 1.5GHz TI OMAP4470, 1.00GB RAM, 16GB disk, Android 4.0
The Kobo Arc arrived hot on the heels of the Kindle Fire HD and Barnes & Noble Nook HD as the latest in a line of tablet-based eBook readers. Now officially end of life, is it still worth picking one up second hand, should you look to Kobo's newer models, or does another manufacturer have the ideal Android-based eBook reader?
Originally £159 when we first reviewed it, the Arc can now be found for as little as £99 for a 64GB version from Play.com, although the 7in Kindle Fire only costs £20 more and is still fully supported in terms of software updates.
The Kobo Arc is a 7in tablet which originally ran Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. It has an IPS screen with a resolution of 1,280x800, matching the Kindle Fire HD’s resolution, and so is bright, sharp and colourful with exceptionally good viewing angles. It has a dual-core 1.5GHz processor and 1GB of RAM. You can buy it with either 16GB (as reviewed here) 32GB or 64GB of storage. It’s 11.5mm thick and weighs 364g, which is lighter than the Kindle Fire HD, but still a little weighty for an eBook reader. It's available in both black and white colour options.
There are some problems, though. The first is an annoying typing lag on the stock Android keyboard, but we easily resolved it by installing a more responsive alternative, such as Swiftkey. The second problem is more irritating: we found the Arc frequently dropped its connection to our Wi-Fi router, and this problem could only be resolved by switching it off and on again in the settings. We couldn’t get BBC iPlayer to work either, and the Arc also makes an intermittent, very faint fan-like noise, although this is only audible in quiet environments.
As with its main rivals, the Arc has a custom Android installation. The main home page scrolls continuously rather than in distinct page-like jumps. You can drop shortcuts and widgets on the home page, as with standard Android, and there are large boxes representing links to various themed subscreens dubbed ‘tapestries’ by Kobo. Essentially, these are glorified folders. Initially, you’re provided with Reading, Entertainment, Social and Browsing tapestries, but you can set up your own.
Surprisingly, this is the limit of the Arc’s Android tweaks, for Kobo has largely left the rest of the interface alone. As mentioned above, widgets and shortcut links can be added to the main Home screen and the tapestries. The app launcher screen, notifications menu in the bottom-right corner, and settings menu have also been left untouched.
This means it isn’t quite as simple to use as the Nook HD or the Kindle Fire HD, but it also means it isn’t as restrictive as those tablets. As well as the Kobo book store and excellent collection of Kobo reading apps, the Arc comes preloaded with Google Play, which allows you to take advantage of Google’s huge range of apps and games.
You can download and install the Kindle app and read books bought on the Amazon eBook store, and load ePub books purchased through third-party websites such as WH Smith and Waterstones. Kobo provides no video or music content of its own, but it’s incredibly easy to add your own choice. The Kobo Arc comes preloaded with Rdio and 7digital apps, but you can use others too, such as Google Music and Amazon Cloud Player.
Kobo updated the Arc to Android 4.1 a few months after launch, adding Google Now, the super-smooth Project Butter response time upgrade and a revised homescreen, but otherwise the custom interface remains unchanged from Kobo's original implementation. Jelly Bean helps speed up homescreen animations, but it isn't the radical change seen in Android 4.4 KitKat. Even so, it's still Android underneath, and with a custom launcher you can quickly turn this ebook reader into a full-time tablet.
This gives the Arc an appeal the Amazon Kindle Fire HD and Nook HD can’t match, and pushes it level with the superb Google Nexus 7 for flexibility. The software isn’t quite as polished as the Nexus’s and it doesn’t have the latest version of Android, but the Arc still makes a very tempting alternative.