Kobo Arc Review

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Kobo Arc

Hot on the heels of the Kindle Fire HD and Barnes & Noble Nook HD , Canadian bookseller Kobo is the latest to release a tablet-based eBook reader: the Kobo Arc. It is a 7in tablet running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. It has an IPS screen with a resolution of 800x1,280, 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 but it with either 16GB (as reviewed here) or 32GB of storage, and the prices are £159 and £189 respectively, which isn't bad. 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. Sadly, there isn't a 3G option, and you don't get a microSD card slot for expanding the storage or an HDMI output, but other than these omissions, there's nothing to complain about. The Kobo Arc plays 1080p video smoothly and demanding games look and feel spectacular. It also performs well in benchmarks, achieving 1,470ms in the SunSpider JavaScript test and nine hours and six minutes in our battery test.

Neither result blows the competition out of the water (the Kindle Fire HD has longer battery life), but they're not disastrously bad either. 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 sub-screens 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 pre-loaded 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. 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, especially the £189 32GB version.
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