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Rakuten Kobo Forma: Super e-reader

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 ago.

But the hassle of importing one from the United States and the thought of being locked to Amazon's Kindle platform 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 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 up 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.

  • 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 the National Library Board 

  • 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

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 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 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 is that they consume very little power - e-book readers can usually go weeks on a single charge.

But I notice a slight screen banding issue - a thin strip of the screen beside 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 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 its 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 their 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.

In addition to the free e-books from the library, users can buy from the Kobo store, which is said to have more than six million titles - comparable with Amazon's catalogue.

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

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.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 27, 2019, with the headline 'Super e-reader'. Print Edition | Subscribe