Review: Kobo Mini e-reader is as small and light as it gets

Is the 6-inch screen on your e-reader too big? Unwieldy, even? If so, perhaps you’re the market Kobo is trying to target with its new Kobo Mini, which is an e-reader so small and compact that it can fit in your pocket.

Of course, whether you need an e-reader that fits in your pocket is up for debate.

According to Kobo, the Kobo Mini is the world’s smallest and lightest full-featured e-reader. This $79 e-reader has a 5-inch E Ink-based touchscreen and measures just 4 inches wide by 5.2 inches long. In case you’re wondering, that makes it just slightly larger than most smartphones on the market today.

E-reader in miniature

The Mini is 0.39 inches thick, which makes it exactly as thick as the Kobo Glo, Kobo’s larger front-lit e-reader. It’s also thicker than Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite (0.36 inch thick), but is thinner than the Nook Simple Touch (0.47 inch thick). The Kobo Mini weighs 0.3 pound, which makes it a couple of ounces lighter than its larger-screened competitors (which have 6-inch screens and weigh between 0.43 and 0.47 pound ). Though this may not seem like a lot, that equates to 27 percent less than the next lightest e-reader of the 6-inch variety; and a couple of ounces can make a big difference when you’re holding a device in one hand for extended periods of time.

Basically, what I’m trying to get at is that the Kobo Mini is adorable. Though its screen is only one inch smaller than the screens of larger e-readers, the entire device looks and feels significantly smaller.

This e-reader's compact size means the Mini can easily fit into your pocket, providing your pocket is reasonably large. It just barely fits into the back pocket of my jeans, but should easily fit into the back pocket of a typical pair of men’s jeans. It’s more likely that you’ll carry the Kobo Mini in your purse or jacket pocket anyway, and it’s certainly small enough to fit in a purse. That said, the larger 6-inch e-readers are also small enough to fit into a purse, so I’m not sure this is a huge selling point.

The Mini features the same general styling as the rest of the Kobo e-reader line. It hasjust one switch along the top, for turning the device on and off. The bottom of the device has a Micro-USB port for charging, and for directly transferring your own documents and books to the device. The Mini's 5-inch screen is surrounded by a slim bezel covered by a soft-touch, rubbery material. The back of the device is made of the same rubbery material, and features Kobo’s signature quilted pattern.

And you have your choice of black, silver, blue, and purple. The backs are actually interchangeable – there’s a small notch in the upper left corner that allows you to remove the back of the device – and you can buy additional backs for $20 on Kobo’s website.

Inside, the Mini has 2GB of memory, which allows you to store approximately 1000 ebooks. However, it lacks the MicroSD card slot found on its larger siblings. Kobo says the battery will last for about one month, with Wi-Fi turned off.

The reading experience

Reading on the Kobo Mini is a pleasant experience, though it may take you a moment to get used to the scaled-down version of everything if you’re used to reading on a 6-inch screen.

The Mini has a 5-inch E Ink Vizplex V110 touchscreen. The screen’s contrast is not quite as good as the Kobo Glo’s screen, which features Pearl technology. This is particularly noticeable when you place the two devices next to each other – the Mini’s screen looks a couple of steps grayer than the Glo’s, and the text doesn’t pop quite as much.

Another issue I had with the Mini’s screen during testing was a ghosting delay in the display's text redrawing. There is quite a bit of ghosting, especially after you open (and close) menu settings and make adjustments. Like other Kobo e-readers, the Mini is set to automatically do a full page refresh after six pages, but you may want to set this to fewer pages depending on how much ghosting bothers you.

The Mini’s screen issues aside, reading is a pleasant experience. Kobo has several convenient features for readers, such as a built-in dictionary and word translator that can be accessed by tapping and holding any word on the page.

When you’re reading a book, you can tap the middle-bottom area to pop up a navigation bar along the bottom,. On the right side of the screen there’s a small Home link, and on the left side there are four icons. The first icon, which is shaped like an open book, lets you access reading tools such as the table of contents, annotations, search (in book), dictionary, and word translator. The second icon, which is shaped like two arrows pointing in opposite directions, tells you what page you’re on and lets you scroll through the pages using a scroll bar. Here, you can also skip through the book chapter by chapter.

The third icon lets you access text settings. You can change the font (you have 12 different fonts to choose from, including the document’s default font), font size (24 steps), line spacing, margins, and justification. This is where most of the ghosting is likely to happen – when you move the sliders along the various scroll bars, you’ll see traces of the little circles on the page, even after you close the menu. You can also use the advanced font settings to add weight and sharpness to the font.

The fourth icon handles a variety of tasks. Here you can sync your book activity across multiple devices, post to your Facebook wall, mark the book as finished, and adjust the touchscreen’s settings.

Usability

The Kobo Mini’s interface is similar to what's on the Kobo touch and the Kobo Glo e-readers. The home screen consists of the covers of five recently-read titles, arranged artfully in varying sizes, along with links to various features. The top of the page has two tabs, Reading and Discover. The Discover tab takes you to a cover flow of books that are recommended for you based on your reading habits.

Along the bottom of the screen are links to take you to the Library, Find Books, and Reading Life. Tapping on each link pops up a menu of things to do; for example, if you tap on the Library link, you can choose to view your books, your news & magazines, your previews, and your customized bookshelves. If you tap on the Find Books link, you can choose to see similar books (books similar to any particular title you have in your library), books that are recommended for you, categories, free e-books, reading lists, or simply search the Kobo bookstore. If you tap on the Reading Life link, you can view your reading stats and awards.

Finding and downloading books on the Kobo Mini can be tedious, though. The store doesn't provide a great way to browse for e-books – you can browse by sub-categories of rather broad categories (for example, you can browse Fiction > Drama), and pages can take several seconds to load. Unless you know exactly what you’re looking for and you can type it into the search box, finding books in the Kobo bookstore is a hassle.

One of Kobo’s main selling points is its Reading Life feature, or social networking integration. Unlike its competitors, Kobo does social pretty well. Kobo’s Reading Life tracks your reading statistics, such as minutes, hours, and pages read, as well as books finished and percentage of your library that you’ve completed. It also gives you awards for various goals completed, such as “owning a Kobo” and “finishing a book.” You can share these awards and stats with your friends on Facebook, or you can keep them to yourself.

The Kobo Mini also has a few other features, which are tucked away in the settings menu, under “Extras.” There’s a sketch pad, where you can draw jerky pictures on the device’s E Ink screen and save them to your library. There’s also a Sudoku game and a web browser.

The bottom line

If you already own a 6-inch e-reader, there’s no reason to run out and purchase the Kobo Mini. Sure, it’s lighter and smaller, but not so much so that it’s worth an extra $80 for an extra device with an extra degree of portability. However, if you’re considering an E Ink device and you don’t really mind reading on something that’s not much larger than your smartphone, the Kobo Mini might be a good fit for you? At the very least, it’s a cheaper, cuter alternative to larger e-readers, and the colorful interchangeable backs might make it ideal for a younger reader.

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