Books

E-Readers: Kindle vs. Kobo

I’ve been using an e-reader since July of 2020, and I gotta say, I’m completely hooked. A blog post about my switch from paper books to e-books will follow, but for now I want to tell you about the differences between the two major e-readers. Having tried both, I can say with confidence that I prefer the Kobo. But different people look for different things in their devices, so I thought I’d list some of the reasons you could go for either one.

Let me know in the comments or on Twitter: have you ever tried an e-reader, and what did you think? Do you think you could ever make the switch (even partially)? If you had to choose between a Kindle or a Kobo, which one would you go for?

Kindle

Goodreads integration

Kindle’s Goodreads integration allows you to access the site, save quotes, share status updates, and write reviews, all straight from your e-reader.

I initially got the Kindle Paperwhite because I’m obsessed with Goodreads, and the Goodreads integration was what got me so excited about e-readers in the first place. But as soon as I tried the device, it felt wrong in almost every way. The biggest problem of all was that the Goodreads integration didn’t even work in my country, and that was, frankly, the only reason I chose the Kindle over the Kobo.

Purchasing from Amazon

Having to use Amazon to buy all my e-books from now on felt like I was compromising my beliefs. (The main belief being that Amazon is destroying the book industry.) Not only that, but Amazon is, in my opinion, one of the least user-friendly sites I’ve ever come across and truly a sensory hell. 

X-Ray and Vocabulary Builder

After Goodreads integration was no longer an option for me, there were only two reasons to prefer the Kindle: the X-Ray function and the Vocabulary Builder.

The X-Ray function allows you to interactively explore Kindle e-books. Say you’re in the middle of a novel and a character is mentioned that you don’t really remember, and it’s getting in the way of you understanding the story. Just tap the name and see all the instances that character was mentioned. This is especially great if you’re continuing a book that you haven’t picked up in a while and you want to get back into it quickly, or if you read books with a large cast of characters. It also works with locations and other repeated terms throughout the book.

The Vocabulary Builder is a feature that can help you memorize the definitions of words you’ve looked up with the Dictionary. When you open the feature, it shows you a list of all the words you’ve looked up before, and you can start memorizing them by using the Flashcards, which shows you the word in the context of the book from which you’ve saved it. You can tap the virtual flashcard to see its dictionary definition, and once you’re certain you know a word by heart, you can mark it as ‘mastered’.

As a non-native English speaker, reading is where I learn most of my English. Before — when I read the occasional e-book using an iPad — I’d highlight new-to-me words with a certain color so that after finishing the book, I could list the words in a journal and write down their definitions. Obviously, this is a lot of unnecessary work. X-Ray is a great feature if improving your vocabulary is important to you.

Kobo

After a couple of days of trying out the Kindle, I decided it didn’t feel right. I returned it and ordered a Kobo Clara instead. From the moment I held it in my hands, I knew I had made the right decision.

All those fancy features on the Kindle may seem great when you read about them, but in the end, all you really need is a device to read books on. The Kobo Clara is a simple device, but in some ways that’s better because there aren’t as many features distracting you from actually reading.

More purchasing freedom

One of the main benefits of the Kobo compared to the Kindle is that you’re free to purchase your books from wherever you prefer (as long as that place is not Amazon, although you might be able to convert the file to the Kobo-accepted .epub). If your local bookstore offers e-books, you can buy them through their website and keep supporting your local bookstores even though you’ve switched to e-reading. I personally get my e-books from Bol.com right now, because it’s easy, quick, and affordable. You can also easily purchase e-books from Kobo itself, but I haven’t tried that yet. I’m looking into how to support my locals with my e-book purchases, but I have to say, I’ve gotten rather attached to how incredibly easy it is to buy from Bol.com and have them sync immediately to my device.

Library

With the Kobo, it’s possible to borrow e-books from your local library. I’ve heard that American libraries tend to use Overdrive for this and from what I’ve heard, it sounds like a great system. Dutch libraries have made things a little more complicated: you download the book from the library’s special e-book website (onlinebibliotheek.nl) on your computer, import it into Adobe Digital Editions, connect your Kobo via USB, drag and drop the file to your device. The first few times I did this, it was a bit of a hassle, but at this point, I could probably do it with my eyes closed.

Most of the (English) books I read aren’t available at my local library so I still have to purchase the majority of my books, but for the occasional Dutch book I read, it’s fine to put in a little extra effort to be able to read a book for free (minus the library subscription costs).

Pocket

Pocket is an app/website/plug-in you can use to save articles and blog posts for later reading. I’ve used Pocket for years, and although I save more than I actually end up reading, I’m glad to have the feature on my e-reader as well. Short articles and image-heavy posts I tend to read on my computer or phone, but longreads are much more pleasant to read on the e-reader.

The only problem I’ve had with this so far is that I forget that it’s there. Maybe I should make it a goal to read at least one article on my Kobo every day.

Statistics and badges

Kobo has a little hidden-away feature where you can see your reading stats. It shows you the numbers for the book you’re currently reading, as well as statistics on your reading in general. It’s not very in-depth, but it’s fun to check every once in a while and see my ‘total hours of reading’ go up.

There are also ‘awards’ you can unlock, sort of like badges to gamify your reading. This feature leaves much to be desired: the badges aren’t very interesting and most can be earned easily if you read a lot. The descriptions are vague, which means that if you want to earn a certain badge, you need to look up its actual objective online to know what to do in order to earn the badge. In my opinion, this makes it more of a thing that you accidentally unlock, rather than actually challenging yourself to, say, read 5 separate times between 12 AM and 1 AM.

I would like this feature to be extended by adding a daily reading goal, and getting to see how many days in the year I reach the goal. It would also be fun to see which genres I read the most. All that stuff I now track in my reading spreadsheet, but I imagine it’s a fun feature for other Kobo users who don’t do spreadsheets.

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