Guest Post: A Kindle Fire Killer? The Kobo Arc 7 reviewed by Mike Barnes

I read over Christmas that sales of 7″ tablets are due to outstrip their bigger 10″ siblings during 2014, and that supersized smartphones (‘phablets’!) may outsell both. Whatever the truth of the matter, I’m sure a great number of Greyhart Press readers are enjoying our books (I hope) on tablets, and so news of the latest devices is always of interest. Author Mike Barnes has taken the latest offering from Kobo for the sternest road test possible: he bought one as a Christmas present for his son. Over to Mike for his findings…

For Christmas our eldest of course wanted a tablet, so the search was on… what 7″ tablet offers good value for money for kids? Enter the Kobo Arc 7.

Kobo Arc 7

I looked at a number of options: there are plenty of devices on eBay and Amazon, and from Maplin too, which are low on price. In the end, on a chance visit to PC World (which I love to browse in but hate to shop in, because the sales people there know absolutely nothing), I spotted the Kobo Arc 7 range – three tablets all the same save for storage space. For £90, you can get a 64Gb unit. Now, to me this seems not so much a bargain as a steal: you get far more storage than is usual in a tablet, a proper brand, PC World as an outlet for what it’s worth, and a device which not only looks great on paper but looks great in the hand and works well too. Build quality is excellent, with a nice matt black backing which is easy on the hand. It’s a little thicker than my Nexus 7, but size shape and weight are really not a problem at all.

Designed as a posh eReader to compete with the Kindle Fire range, Kobo have clearly discounted the tablet in order to entice you to use their services. Out of the box, the device is skinned with their Tapestries UI which does a good job for those who use their tablet primarily for books, videos and images. There’s a bar which is permanently at the bottom of the homescreen giving suggestions for new content to buy – which for many people will be useful, although a quick google shows a lot of people wishing it would go away. At the end of the day, though, the launcher can be replaced in minutes with another from Google Play to either provide a native Google experience or else something else entirely. There’s no need to stick with Tapestries if you don’t want to.

Specs are not cutting-edge, as you might expect from a media device. There’s no need for top-end quad-core technology here so we get a perfectly adequate 1.5GHz dual-core instead – and I do mean it’s perfectly adequate, my lad has had no complaints because, yes this is the main criteria, it runs Minecraft PE with no problems at all. The screen is really nice: helped perhaps by being in a 7″ unit the 1280 x 800 resolution provides punchy images and colour/blacks are presented crisply. It’s really a very nice screen, extremely well-suited to an eReader. One small grumble is that the bezel is raised slightly all around the screen, making off-screen to on-screen swipes – such as bringing down the Android settings bar – a little unwieldy. It’s not a bit issue, but one which seems unnecessary.

Sound comes from two front-mounted speakers, giving away the media-player intentions of this tablet, and as one would expect these don’t provide hi-fi sound – but for the times when you want sound on speakers rather than headphones they’re good enough, and rather better than the Nexus 7’s rear speaker.

Charging is via a standard micro USB, which is also the way to connect to a PC to get some media onto the thing. It’s an Android tablet so the full suite of Google Apps work, with full access to the Play store, so you can opt to use cloud services such as Google Drive to load content, of course. But I don’t find that a very good way to get large media onto a tablet. Sadly there’s no SD card slot, so buying anything less than the 64Gb model may be a bad idea – depending upon how you use your tablet, of course. The wifi on my other lad’s Sumvision is terrible, requiring him to be within a few feet of the access point, but the Kobo has reception all around the house – just as the Nexus 7 does. This is a very good reason to go with a brand: wifi radios in cheaper units often get bad press on the internet.

Confusingly, Kobo have mucked about with naming conventions such that the Kobo Arc 7 as listed on their website is shown with specs which I believe relate to an older unit. Their specs for the Kobo Arc, though, seem to match what you get from Currys. So beware if you think shopping around on the internet might save you a few quid.

There’s no case in the box, which is pretty standard, but the official case looks quite good – at £25 – and doubles as a stand, or there are a few on Amazon which look less tidy but are rather cheaper.

In summary, as an eReader/media player or as a standard Android tablet this little unit really is a great purchase at £90 for modern hardware, a good user experience and, significantly, 64Gb of on-board storage.

Kobo Arc Technical Specs

Available colours Black and white.
Connectivity Wi Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Micro USB cable.
Audio Built-in dual front-facing speakers and universal 3.5 mm stereo headphone jack with SRS TruMedia™ sound.
Device size 189 X 120 X 11.5 mm (7.4 x 4.7 x 0.5 in)
Weight 364 g. (12.8 oz)
Diagonal display size 7″ multi-touch IPS display.
Screen qualities 1280 x 800 HD resolution; 215 ppi; displays 16.4 million colours; clarity at extra wide viewing angles (+/-) 89 degrees.
Camera 720p HD front-facing camera (1.3 MP). Autofocus. Face detection with Face Unlock. Skype™ Certified.
Navigation Home, back, and menu touch sensors. Power and volume buttons.
Processor 1.5 GHz dual core processor. 1 GB RAM.
Graphics and video Dual-core graphics. Up to 1080p video playback. Support for 3D games.
Operating System Open access to Android™ 4.0.
Storage 16, 32, and 64 GB models.
Battery life 10 hours of reading and 2 weeks of standby.
Content Nearly 4 million books
Social reading Reading Life™, Kobo Pulse™, Facebook Timeline.
Fonts TypeGenius, font tuning engine designed for the best readability. Choice of 3 font styles, 15 font sizes, adjustable font sizes, and weight.
Advanced features Android customization features such as resizable widgets and Face Unlock. SRS TruMedia™ sound specifically tuned for tablets.
Software Tapestries — Kobo’s exclusive interface for easy content discovery.
Supported file formats Books: ePUB, including fixed layout and enhanced ePUB.
Images: JPG, PNG, GIF, BMP.
Audio: MP#, AAC, AAC+, MP3,.3gp, mp4, m4a, flac, ogg, wav, mid.
Video Formats: 3gp, mp4, webm, H.263, H.264, VP8.
Web browsing Android 4.0 web browser.
Media Music Player, Photo Gallery, Video Player. SRS TruMedia™ that provides a wider sound field, deeper bass, and natural stereo sound. 5.1 surround sound support over headphones.
Pre-loaded apps Facebook, Twitter, and Skype. Stream music from Radio, access your magazines and newspapers through Zinio and PressReader. Google apps: Google Play, Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps, Street View, Calendar, Contacts, Google+, and Google Chat.
In the box Kobo Arc, AC power adapter, documentation.

About Mike Barnes:

Mike is a freelance communications consultant and author of “An Infinite Number of Monkeys, A Guide to Effective Business Communications”, as well as of the children’s sci-fi adventure “The Long Way Home”. You can find more about him and his books at www.mike-barnes.co.uk.

 

 

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About Tim C. Taylor

Science fiction publisher and author of the bestselling Human Legion series. I live with my wife and young family in an English village. I am currently writing full time, when I'm not roped into building Lego.
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One Response to Guest Post: A Kindle Fire Killer? The Kobo Arc 7 reviewed by Mike Barnes

  1. Interesting article, Mike, and timely as well. I’ve been shopping e-readers, and will take a look at the Kobo before making a final decision. Interestingly enough, I read last week that many are predicting the Barnes & Noble Nook is going to disappear, having failed to take away a significant market share from the Kindle. Perhaps there’s a new kid on the block 🙂

    Best,

    Thomas Rydder

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