Over the past two years, tablets have cut deeply into dedicated eReader sales. E Ink eReaders used to come in a variety of shapes and sizes and were priced much higher than they are today. This allowed device makers to offer more diversity in materials, build quality, and design. Consumers were actually given a few different options when it came to screen size. Amazon set the industry standard by using a 6″ display on their first Kindle, but soon after they released the 9.7″ Kindle DX, a much larger E Ink reader that was aimed at the education market. Amazon must have realized that not everyone would be satisfied with a smaller 6″ display, especially those who read PDFs or image-heavy textbooks, so they decided to branch out. With a choice between the Kindle 2 and Kindle DX, consumers could opt for the display size that suited their reading preferences the best.
Other 9.7″ eReaders, like the PocketBook 902 and the iRex DR-800, soon followed. Then in 2009, Sony released the first 5″ eReader, the Sony PRS-300, attempting to reach those who wanted a smaller, more portable device. The PRS-300 was light and could easily be held in one hand for long periods of time. Its compact size made it stand out from its larger competition. Sure, the usable font sizes were smaller and eBooks didn’t exactly look great on it, but you could now load 350 eBooks onto an E Ink device, stick it in your jacket pocket, and hit the road. The Sony PRS-300 also started at $199, making it a lower cost alternative at the time.
Ever since Barnes & Noble and Amazon entered into fierce competition to see who could offer the cheapest 6″ eReader, the diversification of eReader design all but disappeared. Larger E Ink devices were more expensive to produce, and after the Sony PRS-350 was released in 2010, Sony discontinued its 5″ eReader line. Amazon never put out a next-generation DX, Sony also dropped its 7″ readers, and iRex went out of business altogether. After awhile, it seemed like every new eReader would feature a 6″ E Ink display. Luckily, Kobo Inc. has other plans.
Along with the 6″ Kobo Glo and the 7″ Kobo Arc tablet, our “Read Freely” friends from Canada introduced us to the Kobo Mini, a new 5″ touchscreen E Ink device. At 5 1/4″ tall and only 4″ across, the Mini is the smallest 5″ eReader ever produced, mostly due to the fact that the only physical button is the on-off slider at the top of the device (the Sony PRS-300 had lots of buttons which added bezel space). It fits perfectly into your hand and is very light when compared to other eReaders. I have really enjoyed reading on it.
The Kobo Mini uses a 5″ 800 x 600 Vizplex E Ink display with the usual 16 levels of grey scale. 800 x 600 is the same resolution found on all of the non-glo 6″ readers, so despite the lack of Pearl technology or increased resolution, text looks great. The Mini’s firmware even lets you control your font’s weight and sharpness:
These advanced settings enable you to fine-tune your eReading experience (something I have wanted for a long time). The background looks improved from the Kobo Touch, and the contrast is more than satisfactory.
The Kobo Mini may be much smaller that its 6″ older brothers, but the screen still packs in a lot of text at a comfortable font size; definitely better than the Sony PRS-300. To avoid turning the page every twenty seconds, I decrease the size of my font a few points smaller than what I would normally, but I have had no trouble adjusting to the change. Whatever sacrifices I make in size, I gain back in the amazing features and dimensions of this little eReader. The technical specs are actually quite good, but there is not microSD slot like on other Kobo readers. The text settings are also limited on some side-loaded ePub books. At the $79 price point, it definitely outperforms the basic Kindle 4 with its touch capabilities and advanced firmware. Every so often, the touch screen won’t register a tap, and highlighting such small text can be rather tricky, but I see the Mini mainly as a device purpose-built for reading.
I really feel like the Kobo Mini will be a great traveling companion. For me, tablets and even 6″ eReaders can seem too bulky or fragile to take with me during the day (I am a little overprotective of my devices though). Cases are expensive, and I’m always afraid of adding wear and tear. I do most of my eReading at home, but I wanted a small, inexpensive device that I could bring with me to read at lunch or in between tasks at work. I went on Amazon.com and found a $4.99 hard shell zipper case specifically designed for the Kobo Mini. This type of case is perfect for throwing your Mini in a bag and heading out the door, and it is small enough to fit in your coat pocket. Due to its portability, I think I will be doing a lot more eReading throughout the day.
Kobo Inc. is the underdog of eReader brands, but I have always been pulling for them. They have a great company philosophy and are truly focused on making great devices. If you are looking for an inexpensive eReader but you don’t want to sacrifice on features, give the Kobo Mini a try.