Kindle vs Kobo: battle of the e-readers

E-reader convert Lloyd Gedye wonders if he will ever buy a "real" book again.’s Kindle e-reader

I used to be one of those people. You know the type. Every time people mentioned how great their digital reader was, I would go on some long rambling explanation about how I don’t get e-readers and prefer the tangible experience of holding a book in my hands.

I am no longer that person.

Ever since I got my hands on my first Kindle a few months ago and downloaded my first e-book, a biography of Bill Nicholson, the British coach to win the first league and cup double of the 20th century with Tottenham Hotspur in 1960-1961, I have been smitten.

The biography cost about US$7, a reasonable price considering that I would spend a year trying to find a physical book on Tottenham Hotspur in South Africa.

I set up my account, paid with my credit card and the download took seconds. All of this before I had even got out of bed on a Saturday morning. I lay back and settled in for a thrilling read, immersing myself in an era when football was a very different game to the one that is beamed from high-definition television sets today.

To say this experience was a revelation is an understatement.

The reading experience was so pleasant that I began to wonder whether I would ever buy a book in physical form again.

Was I getting ahead of myself? Was this just the initial blooming of love for my new Kindle? Would we settle down into a more staid reading relationship? Would this honeymoon phase end?

As it turns out, the answer to all these questions was yes.

Yes, I have bought a physical book again. However, I have also purchased more digital books on my Kindle, taking advantage of the cheaper prices and greater selection.

The Kindle is not backlit, which makes for a pleasant reading experience. The battery lasts more than a month before it needs charging and navigating through a book is a cinch.

I can store up to 3 000 books at any one time and it has become an invaluable companion, especially during work travel.

The Kindle is a lot lighter than a book, allowing for longer reading sessions before it finally hits you in the face as you doze off. That’s the one disclaimer: a Kindle can hurt a lot more if it falls from your hands when dangling precariously above your head.

But I come not only to praise the Kindle. As of this month it has competition in South Africa, in the form of the Kobo e-reader.

Kobo is a Canadian-based, Japanese-owned e-reader company that has its own e-book service, just like the relationship between Amazon and Kindle.

South Africa’s e-reader market received a shake-up when Pick n Pay announced that it was bringing the Kobo Touch e-reader to South Africa for R995.

By comparison, the Kindle Touch 3G, which was recently launched here, retails at R2 699. Obviously, these products are not strictly comparable, but an entry-level Kindle in South Africa costs R1 499 and a Kindle Touch with Wi-Fi, but no 3G, retails at R1 999.

The Kobo Touch costs R995

It is clear that, in comparison, the Kobo Touch looks like an attractive e-reader option.

But what is the international picture of the e-reader market?

According to technology analyst firm Gartner, 11m e-readers were being used globally in 2011. Gartner predicted that this figure would rise to 16,3m by the end of this year, a 48% increase.

Of this market, Amazon’s Kindle enjoys a share of nearly 60%, Barnes and Noble’s Nook holds a 25% share and the Kobo, made by Japanese company Rakuten, is hanging in there with a 10% share.

Steve Nossel, of electronics firm Circuit City, said the company sold between 60 000 and 70 000 Kindles a year in South Africa.

Kobo is predicting that it will take 50% of South Africa’s e-reader market in the next 12 months, threatening Kindle’s domination here.

It is an ambitious target, but with the South African market still in its infancy, establishing a firm foothold is imperative.

Pick n Pay has signed a six-month exclusive deal with Kobo and the e-readers are on sale in 41 of the retailer’s stores as well as on the Pick n Pay website. The deal will also see Pick n Pay earning a percentage of all e-books bought on devices purchased in its stores.

So what is the Kobo e-reader experience like? For the past few weeks I have been test-driving one of the new Kobos and, in terms of straight value for money, the Kobo wins hands down.

Sure, the shopping experience through the Kobo store is not as slick as on Kindle’s Amazon, but when you have paid 50% less for the e-reader  that is hardly worth quibbling about.

I set up an account with the Kobo store and within a few seconds I was reading a book of essays on hip-hop in Africa, another book I would have battled to find in South Africa’s book retail space.

As for the reading experience, I found the Kindle and the Kobo much the same. Although I slightly prefer the Kindle, it was not enough to fork out an extra R1 000 for it.

On the whole the Kobo offers a great entry-level option for readers who want to move into the digital space and its entry should substantially grow the local market.  — (c) 2012 Mail & Guardian

Share this article

  • Brian Seligmann

    I tried a Kobo at Pick n Pay the other day. I was very unimpressed with the lack of responsiveness. It was so slow that I thought it had crashed every time I turned a page. And these were brand new units with very few books loaded and therefore no excuse for slowness.

  • Richard

    I have had a Kindel for a few years now and half the family also have a Kindle, so we share one account, reading all books purchased or obtained on the Amazon site. We all have WiFi and free 3G, so if travelling, or away from a FREE wireless hot spot, we can still download a book, Kobo cant do this nor will it ever do this.

    I don’t want a computer or Ipad, I want a book and Kindle is it, no glare when reading in direct sunlight (on beach, waiting for a sports event to start etc.,). You pay for what you get and Kindle is the industry standard.


    i am happy with mine i only have free books loaded and they say there r a million free books i have loaded 400 so far some junk some very informative and i have set the letters on large ,on being slow have not noticed that .perhaps i am just slow

  • Karel Venter

    1. The Kobo’s shipped to Pick ‘n Pay seems to have a slightly older firmware revision. First thing to do would be to run the firmware update. The update fixes the apparent laggy interface and adds a few additional features.
    2. I’ve had good experience with both e-readers and agree 100% with the article above. Amazon does have a slick buying experience. Kobo makes up for this however in ebook pricing a lot of the time with instances of 50% lower pricing in some cases. To argue that the Kobo will never have WhisperNet (“free 3G”) is a bit moot seeing as the Kobo comes in at 50% less than the comparative Kindle market price and is meant to persuade more people to switch to the e-reading experience. The Kindle is a great product but because of a lack of competition has become complacent in terms of competitiveness. The Kobo brings competition to the market with a good alternative to the Kindle as a result, the consumer is the winner.

  • Robert MacLean

    Not really that good a review of the devices (maybe I misunderstood what the title implied) – most of the article is about market share, sales strategy and fluff. The portion devoted to the devices, how they are & how they compete is relatively tiny :|

  • Justin

    Forget the hardware – the real battle is in the library. What does Kobo offer by way of available titles compared to Amazon? That’s the real question that needs answering.

  • Delano Stockhoff

    I really don’t think anything other than a Kindle is a good choice, Amazon’s content offerings are superior to anything else on the market

  • Phil Mowatt

    I live in Canada, I have had my Kobo for about a year now. I have had a number of issues. I have had to to a hardware reset 3-4 times now. Each time I loose all my notes, annotations, and reading stats. These things, for whatever reason, are sync’d to the website. I have also had formatting issues with a number of books, the most recent being the worst. I downloaded a book pack, all three books of a trilogy together. The first chapter presented was the first chapter of the second book (so i got spoiled) and then I noticed the rest of it was a complete mess with books one and three mixed together. I have had other books with entire chapters missing, or duplicated as well.

    Honestly, if I could go back in time I would never have got a Kobo. I hear much better things about the Kindle.

  • Gayle

    I have a Kobo and have enjoyed the ease of use. Customer service… not so much!!! I have a Kindle being sent to me from the USA and look forward to using it. E-books from Amazon are much less expensive than Kobo as well. In addition, Kobo charges an extra 13% tax on each book. Chapter/Indigo (Canada) only 5% on their PB’s. So although the Kobo may be less expensive at first, the lack of service, the cost per book being more, and extra taxes … it adds up in the end.

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