After years of consolidation (I still miss Sony), there are currently two main contenders when it comes to e-readers: Amazon and Kobo. Anyone who spends a lot of time reading digital books knows tablets and smartphones simply can’t compare to a good e-reader. And while Barnes & Noble still has the Nook GlowLight 3, when it comes to hardware aimed at true digital reading geeks, it really comes down to Amazon and Kobo at this point. While Amazon’s Kindle line dominates in terms of market share, Kobo has always impressed me with devices that are clearly aimed at reading geeks. And its latest—the Kobo Forma—makes a strong case for being the best e-reader you can buy.
Continuing a Trend of Catering to Hardcore Readers
What I have always appreciated about Kobo has been its constant pushing of the envelope to cater to reading geeks like myself. Looking slick is nice, but Kobo keeps bringing the features readers have been asking for. Going back a few years through my reviews on GeekDad (including the Kobo Aura HD in 2013 and Kobo Aura H2O in 2014), there has been a pattern of pushing the envelope in ways that people who spend a lot of time reading digital books appreciate: side-lighting, bigger displays, advanced typesetting customization, and water resistance.
Amazon’s Kindle e-readers have picked up many of these features, but more often than not, Kobo has been the one leading the way.
The new Kobo Forma takes some visual cues from the Amazon Kindle Oasis, but after spending the past month testing the Forma, I feel it’s easily the best e-reader I’ve ever used.
Leapfrogging the Kindle Oasis
Amazon’s latest iteration of the Kindle Oasis is a very nice, premium e-reader. It now has features first introduced by Kobo including a big, 7-inch display and IPX8 water resistance, so you can read by the pool.
However, the all-new Forma has upped Kobo’s game once again. The big new feature is a 300 ppi E Ink Carta Display (1440 x 1920 resolution) that measures 8-inches. A one-inch difference doesn’t sound like much, but in practice, it’s a game-changer. Reading e-books on the Kobo Forma means a display that’s the same size as a standard paperback page. There’s no need to shrink text or play with margins in order to get the same amount of print on a page—although Kobo’s Type Genius feature continues to offer an unmatched degree of customization, should you choose to do so. That big display can also be used in landscape mode.
The Forma resembles the Kindle Oasis at first glance, adopting an ultra-thin form factor, with one oversized and thicker bezel that accommodates a pair of physical page turn buttons while offering a “handle.” While the Oasis is flat, Kobo chose to add a curve to that handle, making it more comfortable to hold in one hand. Kobo also went with plastic instead of aluminum. As a result, the Oasis looks sleeker, but the larger Forma has virtually the same weight, and the combination of the curved edge and textured back makes it easier to hold.
Other key specs are identical between the two competing premium e-readers, including 8GB of standard onboard storage (32GB is optional), IPX 8 water resistance, standard Wi-Fi connectivity, weeks-long battery life, touchscreen support, and optional sleep covers.
The Kindle has advantages like Bluetooth support (although I’m not sure why you’d use an e-reader for audiobooks), optional lower pricing through Special Offers, and access to Kindle Unlimited.
Countering those Kindle advantages, the Kobo Forma has some of its own. There’s the previously mentioned TypeGenius. Overdrive support is integrated so owners can borrow e-books from public libraries directly from the device. Because Kobo uses EPUB instead of the proprietary Kindle e-book format, e-books purchased from other sources including Google Play are compatible. And I’ve really been enjoying the latest ComfortLight PRO lighting system. Forma is equipped with both white and red LEDs, for lighting with an adjustable color temperature. I’ve been using it on automatic, so through the day it slowly adjusts the LED color temperature, reaching an amber orange late at night. This means less blue light eye stress, while my wife reports the warmer light doesn’t bother her when I’m reading in bed—she found the white light of my other e-readers to be better than a nightlight, but still distracting.
If you’re heavily invested in Amazon Kindle-ebooks, the Kindle Oasis is absolutely the best e-reader for your digital book collection.
But if you’re a digital reading geek and aren’t weighed down by a Kindle investment, the new Forma now offers the best e-reading experience available.
It’s priced at $279.99, which is more than most people would be willing to pay for casual reading, but if you spend a lot of time with digital books, the Kobo Forma is the ultimate way to enjoy your library.
Disclosure: Kobo provided a Forma e-reader for evaluation but had no input into this review.