Tech review: Kobo Forma e-book reader is comfy to hold and read

The Forma is the flagship model within Kobo's full range of e-book readers, with all the bells and whistles.
The Forma is the flagship model within Kobo's full range of e-book readers, with all the bells and whistles.PHOTO: KOBO

Despite being a voracious reader of e-books over the years, I do not have a dedicated e-book reader.

The thought of buying one had crossed my mind, especially when the Amazon Kindle was the hip, must-have gadget over a decade.

But the hassle of importing one from the United States and the thought of being locked to Amazon's Kindle platform ultimately dissuaded me. Ironically, the Kindle e-book readers are now available here through Amazon Singapore.

Instead, I have been reading e-books from the National Library Board (NLB) using the excellent Libby app on my smartphone.

The Rakuten Kobo Forma, though, has changed my mind about dedicated e-book readers. Launched last year, the Forma made its local debut last Tuesday (Nov 19) and is now available from authorised retailers such as Challenger, Courts and Sprint-Cass.

In fact, Kobo's full range of e-book readers, which includes the Clara HD ($199.90) and the Libra H2O ($279.90), is now available here.

The Forma is the flagship model with all the bells and whistles. For starters, its 8-inch E-Ink (electronic ink) display is the largest among e-book readers. It is waterproof (rated at 60 minutes in depths down to 2m of water). It also has a colour temperature feature that automatically adjusts the colour of the backlight - at night, the screen looks almost orange while the amount of blue light is reduced to help users relax and sleep better.

While most e-book readers resemble a small tablet, the Forma has a thicker wedge-like side so it looks more squarish. This wedge, which is slightly curved, makes the Forma easier and more comfortable to hold with either the left or right hand. The device also fits nicely in the palm when held in landscape mode. It also helps that the Forma is coated in a soft-touch textured material that feels grippy.

At the wedge are two physical buttons to turn the pages. Such buttons have disappeared from most modern touch-capable e-book readers, but they are more reliable than using the touchscreen.

Its E-Ink screen looks good with a high-resolution of 300 pixels per inch. But it feels sluggish to me at first because of the low refresh rate of these E-Ink screens. Their upside, of course, is that they consume very little power - e-book readers can usually go weeks on a single charge.

But I noticed a slight screen banding issue - a thin strip of the screen besides the wedge is brighter than the rest of the display. There are also similar reports of this banding online, but to be fair, my eyes soon got used to it.

The Forma supports all the necessary digital media formats, from EPUB (e-books) to CBZ (comics) to Jpeg (images). There is no support for audiobooks, unlike Amazon Kindles.

I found the Forma's estimates on how much longer it would take me to finish an e-book based on my reading speed to be very handy. There are also awards that celebrate reading milestones for those who need the occasional nudge to motivate their reading habit.

The best thing about Forma and other Kobo e-book readers is its integration with Overdrive, a digital service used by many public libraries, such as NLB, to distribute e-books and audiobooks to users. It works seamlessly. Sign in to your NLB account in the Forma, browse the library's e-book collection and download the borrowed e-books to the Forma.

In addition to the free e-books from NLB, users can also buy from the Kobo store, which is said to have over 6 million titles. This figure is comparable to Amazon's catalogue.

The Forma also supports the Pocket service, which saves Web pages directly to the Forma for reading later, as well as Dropbox so users can access their documents in their Dropbox account from the e-book reader.

It seems strange to recommend an e-book reader when it is so much easier to read on multiple devices using a mobile app like Libby - which can even synchronise your e-book progress across devices. But there is something to be said for a dedicated reading device that ensures you are focused solely on reading, without distractions from messages and e-mails from a phone.

FOR

- Largest display on an e-book reader

- Comfortable to hold

- Physical page-turn buttons

- Integration with Overdrive lets users borrow e-books from public libraries such as NLB

AGAINST

- Pricey

- Screen banding issue due to the backlight

- No audiobook support

SPECS

Price: $399.90

Display: 8-inch Carta E-Ink HD with Mobius Technology (300 ppi)

Supported e-book formats: EPUB, EPUB3, PDF and MOBI

Connectivity: Wi-Fi, micro-USB port

Weight: 197g

Battery: 1,200mAh

Storage: 8GB

RATINGS

Features: 4.5/5

Design: 4.5/5

Performance: 4/5

Value for money: 3.5/5

Battery life: 4.5/5

Overall: 4/5