Kobo eReader Touch Edition could push e-reader prices low, low, low

Kobo's new eReader Touch Edition – the smallest, lightest, and cheapest touchscreen e-reader yet – is getting rave reviews.

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    Reviewers are praising the Kobo eReader Touch Edition for its clean, simple design – intended to fit into the pocket of your jeans.
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At last, budget-conscious bookies have an e-reader.

Kobo’s e-Reader Touch Edition hit shelves June 10 and at $129.99, it’s the cheapest touchscreen e-reader (besting Barnes & Noble’s Nook by $10), and the smallest and lightest to boot.

Early reviews suggest the Canadian e-book retailer is vying for the No. 3 spot in e-readers, behind Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook.

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The paperback-sized eReader Touch (Kobo says it’s designed to fit in a jeans pocket) has a clean, simple design – mostly screen with only one physical button. It uses e-ink, like a Kindle; can be read in bright light; and best of all, works like a touchscreen so readers can turn a page with the swipe of a finger.

The eReader Touch has 32 GB of storage, a micro-USB port for charging, and a battery life of up to one month, according to Kobo. It offers wireless access, but no 3G.

And at just 7.05 ounces (0.44 pounds), Kobo’s new e-reader is 0.33 ounces lighter than the second-generation Nook and 1.45 ounces lighter than the third-generation Kindle, “a noticeable difference,” writes PC World.

For now, Kobo’s eReader Touch is available at Borders, Best Buy, and Walmart.

So far, reviewers have (mostly) raved.

“The Kobo e-Reader Touch Edition is an excellent and easy to use device,” writes Publishers Weekly. It lauded the e-reader's “clean, simple design,” e-ink screen, and extended battery life, but said Kobo’s page loading speed and clarity of graphics leave room for improvement.

“While Kobo claims the device is more powerful than its older version, it can still feel a bit underpowered and at times there’s a bit of lag bringing up titles – especially graphic heavy works like comics – and while navigating online at the Kobo e-book store.... [W]hile the device’s ability to display photos and graphic work like comics, isn’t bad, it’s still an e-ink device and graphics could be better.”

On the technical front, PC World says the new Kobo reader offers excellent value, though it’s still a step behind its top competitors. “It's rare to find an inexpensive product that also introduces innovation into its category,” writes PC World. “And yet that's exactly what Kobo Books' Kobo eReader Touch Edition does…. The Kobo eReader Touch Edition lacks the finesse of the Nook and the Amazon Kindle Wi-Fi, but it still has much to offer value-conscious book lovers.”

More good news for bibliophiles on a budget: Kobo’s e-reader is propelling e-book prices on a downward trend, with some analysts saying e-reader prices could be as low as $99 or even $50 by year’s end.

“We'll see $99 e-readers from the major players by the holidays, if not sooner," market intelligence company International Data Corporation’s Tom Mainelli told PC World.

Allen Weiner, of information tech research company Gartner, predicts prices will plummet further: “Two things make sense: one is that the price drops to around the $50 mark and is marketed to those whose only aim is to read trade fiction and the like (perhaps an older demographic). Second, is [e-readers] are given away by book publishers to customers who sign up for book clubs that carry a monthly purchase commitment,” Mr. Weiner wrote in a recent blog post.

Right now, Kobo’s is the cheapest touchscreen reader (its earlier edition is now available for $99), and Crunch Gear calls it the perfect choice for an e-reading purist. “It’s a close race, but if you’re just going to be using this device for plain old reading, the Kobo is in my opinion the best bet right now," advises Crunch Gear. "[T]he totally uncluttered and ultra-simple operation of the Kobo eReader Touch Edition makes it a perfectly good choice for an e-reading novice or purist.”

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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