Sometimes smaller can be better?even when it comes to reading. The tiny Kobo Mini ($79 direct) is one of the smallest?ebook readers we've tested. But the size is deceptive, as it still packs a 5-inch E Ink screen, which is just an inch less than you'll find on the average Kindle or Nook. And unlike Sony's now-discontinued 5-inch Reader, the Kobo Mini supports touch.?If an ebook reader could be called "cute," it's certainly this one. That said, you're not really saving any money by going with the smaller screen size. If a diminutive reader appeals to you, the Kobo Mini is worth getting, but a number of flaws dampen our enthusiasm about it. The base Amazon Kindle costs $10 less and is our Editors' Choice for entry-level ebook readers, thanks to its superior contrast and faster page turns.
Design and Reading
The Kobo Mini measures just 5.2 by 4 by 0.4 inches (HWD) and weighs 4.7 ounces. The size is the biggest reason why you'd buy the Mini?or why you'd avoid it, for that matter. It's smaller than a paperback, and barely bigger than the 4.5-inch-plus screens that come on many of today's smartphones, although smartphone owners probably aren't the Mini's main target market.
The top edge contains a sliding power switch, while the bottom edge houses the micro USB charger port. It's covered in a grippy, soft touch material that's similar to what Barnes & Noble uses. You can get a Mini in black or white.?Unfortunately, the Mini loses the Kobo Glo's memory card slot.?There's 2GB of internal storage?still good for roughly 1,000 books?which should be plenty for most people. It limits your sideloading and PDF storage options, though.
The 5-inch touch screen offers 16 shades of gray, but the smaller panel isn't the whole story. Instead of E Ink Pearl, the Mini uses an older Vizplex V110 panel with noticeably poorer contrast. Worse, the Freescale 508 800MHz processor is a step down from the 1GHz CPU in the Glo?and the lost 200MHz turn out to be really important. The Kobo Mini feels sluggish, and takes roughly twice as long to turn a page as the Kobo Glo does.
The Mini also has the same problem as the Glo, in that not every screen touch registers unless you're quite deliberate about it. Thankfully, it also doesn't black the screen out completely with each page turn, so Kobo is still using the same caching engine here.
Still, while much of the above sounds bad on paper, it's mostly in comparison to newer models. You get seven fonts in 24 different sizes, plus adjustable weight and sharpness settings, so you can customize the reading experience pretty heavily. Despite fiddling with these settings?some are tucked under an Advanced menu within the Font Setting page?I couldn't get text to look quite as clear or crisp as on the base Amazon Kindle. The Mini was still fine for normal reading, though.
Other Features, Store, and Conclusions
While reading, you can highlight text, look up words in the built-in dictionary, and share passages on Facebook or Twitter directly from the device. The Mini also comes with Reading Life, which tracks your reading speed and lets you score achievements, which, to me, seems a bit silly. Kobo claims the battery lasts for roughly one month of reading on a single charge with Wi-Fi turned off.
The Kobo Mini connects to the Internet via 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi on 2.4GHz networks only. Kobo's online store has over 2.5 million books, and most are priced similarly to Amazon or Barnes & Noble's selections. You get ePub, PDF, and TXT file support, but not MOBI; either way, ePub support is the most important, as it opens up access to public library lending and a host of download sites you can't access with a Kindle. You can buy books on the Kobo Mini, but as with the Kobo Glo, it's a lot easier to shop on the desktop website.
If the size of the Kobo Mini speaks to you, it's probably still worth getting, but it's not where the state of the art is?even in the same price range. Our current entry-level Editors' Choice is the latest version of the base Amazon Kindle, which costs either $69 or $89, depending on whether the Special Offers bother you enough to spend the extra $20. (They certainly bother me enough.) That Kindle lacks a touch screen, although it's a standard 6-inch E Ink display instead of the Kobo Mini's 5-inch version. The Kindle also has no memory card slot or ePub compatibility, but it has significantly better contrast and faster page refreshes. Finally, the base Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch costs $20 more; it's the next least expensive touch-screen reader after the Kobo Mini, and gives you a larger touch screen with better contrast and a memory card slot.
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