Friday, 11 October 2019

Kobo Forma review: A good premium e-reader with some flaws

Before the release of the Libra, the Forma was Kobo’s only a-symmetric e-reader. The Forma’s shape and feel are different than the Kindle Oasis. It also does not have a raised bump - the back is near flat but with a tapered wedge-side that feels like holding a book when folded back. It takes time to get used to the Forma but afterwards, I found the device’s ergonomics to be intuitive. In contrast, I never felt the same about the Oasis due to its unnatural bump. I will split the review into two sections: what I liked and disliked about the Forma. Overall, the Forma is a good e-reader that falls short.

What I like about the Forma 

Improved a-symmetric design 

As stated, Kobo has improved on the Oasis’s a-symmetric design with a tapered edge that feels natural when holding. The Forma’s plastic and robust Mobius substrate mean, unlike the Oasis, it doesn’t feel fragile in hand. Also, as there is no metallic casing, the Forma does not feel cold to hold in cold weather.

Mobius technology makes the Forma light. 

The Forma is an 8-inch e-reader but weighs only 197 grams due to its Mobius plastic substrate. The smaller seven-inch Kobo Libra, in comparison, is about the same weight at 192 grams and the 7-inch Oasis weighs 188 grams. The Forma’s larger size, however, makes it less convenient to hold for one-handed reading.

Pocket, OverDrive & Dropbox integration 

Pocket and OverDrive integration are two unique features. Pocket integration means it is possible to sync saved articles to read on the Forma. OverDrive allows the user to borrow library e-books and then have them synced on the Forma. Of course, the depth and quality of a book catalogue depend on the user’s local or regional library consortium.

Dropbox is a new feature, currently only supported on the Forma, that allows the user to upload documents wirelessly and then download these documents on the Forma. Further, documents are categorised by folders created in Dropbox.

Superior font rendering and reading settings 

In comparison to Amazon, Kobo’s software has sharper and clearer font rendering. Also, readers have greater reading settings options available.

Excellent screen 

As I posted before, larger Android e-readers released by less known vendors, e.g., Boyue and Onyx Boox, have lower-quality screens. The Forma does not match the power and versatility of Android e-readers, but its screen is superior (text appears clearer and less faded). The screen quality is one of the best I’ve seen on any e-reader. For many users - those that don’t need the benefits of an Android e-reader – the Forma is the better option.

What I disliked about the Forma 

Battery life 

I would estimate, for regular readers, the Forma’s 1200 mAh battery to last between four to five days. The lower battery capacity is not unique to the Forma – the problem similarly applies to the Kobo Libra and Kindle Oasis (possibly due to the slimmer profile of these devices). However, the Forma battery life is still better than most Android e-readers. I would say the Forma, in terms of battery life, is between the Kindle Paperwhite and Android e-readers.

Front light problems 

The Kobo Forma – considering it is a premium e-reader – doesn't have a good front light. The unit I own has uneven wedge-side lighting in which there is a bright light band followed by grey shadowing. Many Forma owners also report this issue with their e-readers.

Overall, the evenness of the Forma’s front light – again, considering the Forma is Kobo’s flagship e-reader – could be better. Amazon’s mid-range Kindle Paperwhite, in comparison, has a better front light (see picture below).

The Kindle Paperwhite (left), in comparison to the Forma (right), has a more even and warmer front light (click image to enlarge)

Nickel lacks key software features 

I’ve posted before on why Amazon’s software is superior to Kobo’s Nickel. Nevertheless, once again, I’ll highlight two key areas that Kobo needs to improve:
  1. Better support for personal documents: As stated above, the Forma recently received Dropbox support. The feature makes it possible to manage a library of personal documents wirelessly but doesn’t support the ability to sync this library between devices. Thus, there is no way to access let alone sync the page location and annotations of personal documents, for example, between the Forma and Kobo's Android application. 
  2. Poor PDF support: There is no way to interact with the text of a PDF and document rendering is slow. Of course, it is relatively easy to install Koreader for PDF documents. Nevertheless, readers shouldn't need to rely on third-party applications that are not optimised for Kobo’s hardware. 

The Kobo Forma is a good e-reader that falls short from being an excellent one. The front light problems are Forma specific and require a hardware upgrade. On the other hand, the noted missing key software features apply to other Kobo e-readers and should’ve been remedied before. The recent Dropbox support is a definite positive but doesn’t go far enough in supporting wireless cloud management of personal documents.

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