Let’s face it: getting into the tablet game now is no mean feat. Trying to build and sell a 10-inch slate is much harder than putting one into electronic stores and waiting for people to buy it. If you’re not an iPad, you’d better be cheap, and if you’re not cheap, you had better have a couple of Aces hidden up your sleeves.
Kobo takes the latter approach with the Arch 10HD, but is it enough to chisel out a corner of the market for Kobo?
In several ways, Kobo break a number of keys rules in tablet design in putting together what is a serviceable device in the Arc 10HD. This tablet is heavy at 627grams, positioning it weight-wise between the original iPad and the iPad 2.
The Arc’s various buttons and switches are laid out comfortably, but this doesn’t help with the extra heft when you’re trying to lie in bed at night and read with the device — one of this tablet’s core purposes.
Worst still, the Arc 10HD is a particularly drab-looking tablet. Like a black-coloured bread board, Kobo doesn’t show its design chops in a way that a tablet like this is crying out for, especially when you consider the market it is trying to appeal to. Kobo’s eBook readers are so cute, with faux-stitching and pastel colours on the backs of some of the early models. This is the direction Kobo should have taken the Arc 10HD, and it is a real shame it hasn’t.
One nice bonus is the inclusion of a micro-HDMI port next to the charging socket. Connections to external displays are becoming less prevalent in smartphones and tablets of late, but they can be a very handy addition in the hands of someone who knows what to do with one.
Designed with readers in mind, Kobo takes a bold step and chooses a super high-resolution LCD screen, with 2560x1600 pixels — significantly higher than the 1920x1080 pixels screens many of its competitors are using.
Despite the pixels, the screen isn’t particularly attention-grabbing, though. Text looks sharp and clear, but the colours aren’t spot on. Colours appear slightly washed out, and the blacks are noticeably grey. The viewing angles are passable, but you definitely lose clarity on angles over roughly 30-degrees.
To differentiate its tablet, Kobo is making a play for the customers who already use its eBook readers. Though this tablet is more than capable of playing HD movies and 3D games, it is pretty obvious that Kobo is hoping you will use it to read books, and then share the books you love, and collect inspiration to read some more.
Based on Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean), the system software installed on the Arc 10HD is extended with some neat reading features, and a whole home screen panel dedicated to what you are reading know, what you are interested in, and what you plan on reading next.
Kobo calls this ‘Reading Life’ and though it is in essence just a collection of well-presented folders and clipboards, there is something genuinely attractive, in both the design and the way you use it.
When you first switch on the tablet there is six ‘collections’ already established, There is a folder for all the books you have installed on the device, there is a separate place for Magazines and another for what you plan to read next. There is yet another for articles you collect using the web-clipping service ‘Pocket’ (which is recommended by the tutorials on the tablet) and there is a placeholder offering you a slot to add your own unique folders.
Options to add content to these folders are found in many of the core applications, like the web browser, and Kobo does a good job of creating interactive tutorials to guide you through the process.
You might not assume, given its bookish aesthetic, that the Kobo Arc 10HD would be a particularly powerful tablet, but it actually has one of the latest chipsets available at this time. Powered by the Nvidia Tegra 4, it has the same hardware as Microsoft’s new Surface 2 RT tablets, and it handles Android like a dream.
It really is a nice tablet to use, power-wise, with all animations gliding smoothly across the screen, and apps opening and closing promptly on command.
Battery life is solid, but not spectacular, with the high-resolution screen probably to blame for the deficit. In a continuous web browsing test on Wi-Fi, the 10HD last just over 4-and-a-half hours, and managed 5-hours 15-minutes playing a looping 720p video.
Kobo adds its own flavour to Android with some success, creating an attractive and useful software layer that book readers will love. The physical design of the tablet is less successful, with Kobo packing best-in-class hardware into a pretty ugly, uninspiring shell.
The price of the Arc 10HD will put off a number of potential customers too, we think. At about $500, this tablet is priced in line with Apple’s iPads and is noticeably more expensive than a number of its competitors on the Android platform. You’d really have to love your books to pay this price.