No one ever said taking on Amazon was going to be easy. If titans of industry like Sony and Barnes & Noble can't hang on, what hope is there for a plucky little Canadian hardware maker?
Yet somehow Kobo has hung on in spite of it all. In recent years, the phenomenon no doubts owes something to the fact that the company has been folded into Japanese retail giant Rakuten, but the true secret to Kobo's success is far simpler: creative, competitive and innovative products.
Over the years, the company has pushed the envelope in the generally staid category of devoted e-readers, experimenting with various screen sizes, high-resolution screens, and waterproof designs among others. The budget market, however, has been a tough one for the competition to crack. After all, Amazon has always treated its e-reader hardware as a lossleader, a content delivery device aimed at moving ebooks.
It's a hard model to compete with when you don't have the scale of an Amazon. What Kobo does have at its disposal is several generations of e-reader manufacturing experience. The result is the Kobo Touch 2.0, a solid but not exceptional reader that's all about getting a device in readers' hands for the lowest price possible.
Not a whole heck of a lot here, honestly. Kobo didn't really offer much in the way of pomp and/or circumstance around the release of the second-gen Kobo Touch; in fact, the company didn't really talk about it all - and for good reason, really. "Incremental" is the key word here. The 2.0 is a somewhat souped up update to a four-year-old device, breaking more storage, a bumped-up battery and an ever-so-slightly tweaked design.
Kobo's industrial design is pretty solidified at this point. And it's not too surprising that both it and Amazon landed on a design through convergent evolution that is virtually indistinguishable from five paces. The basic plastic frame remains largely untouched. Unlike the more premium units, the display isn't flush with the bezel, causing a noticeable ledge between the two.
Kobo did remove the white logo from the bottom bezel a while ago, opting for a far subtler dark version that doesn't distract the eye while reading. The reader sports a physical signal button, a big silver power key right smack dab on top. On the bottom is the microUSB port for syncing and charging.
Around back, the more intricate pattern is gone in favor of a simple textured design to add a bit of friction when gripping the device. The sides angle slightly inward to conform better to the user's hand,In the center is an indented Kobo logo, with Rakuten's name added to the bottom, to let you know who's boss.
Users who have played around with just about any recent e-reader know what they're in for here, and from the looks of the industry, there likely won't be any major shakeups to the devoted e-reader for the foreseeable future. From a design standpoint, the Touch 2.0 is a purely utilitarian product, and for the vast majority of users, that's a perfectly acceptable thing to be.
Speaking of industry standards - we've got a six-inch Peal E Ink here. The resolution clocks in at 800 × 600 (167 PPI). That's the same resolution at the 1.0 version. It's also a notable step down from the Kobo Glo's considerably sharper 1024 x 758 screen. But once again, for most readers, that'll be good enough.
There likely won't be too many occasions when 167 PPI won't get the job done. I did, however, notice a fair bit of ghosting while reading, with text from previous pages bleeding through like a book printed on onion skin or an unshaken Etch-A-Sketch.
The biggest issue with the display, however, is the lack of illumination. Kobo has long offered some of the best front-lighting in the business - and has, in fact, not released a new reader without the technology in around three years.
Keeping the price tag low was no doubt the prime motivation for keeping the technology off of the device, but in 2015 it's pretty tough to justify releasing an e-reader that can't be read in the dark. Depending on when and where you do your reading, that functionality may well be worth the extra $30 alone.
Here's where most of those upgrades come into play. Granted, you can't actually see any of them, but they're nice to have nonetheless. For starters, there's a 1GHz processor on-board, which makes for speed page turns. In fact, I didn't detect any noticeable lag while reading.
Storage has also been doubled from 2- to 4GB - though there's an important caveat. No more expandable memory. Once again, this probably won't matter for most users, between the built-in storage and Kobo's cloud options, but it's never really a good thing to see a product lose functionality in its latest iteration - especially as expandable memory was something Kobo could boast that Amazon never could.
The battery, too, has gotten a boost, from one month of estimated life to two. I certainly won't look a battery bump in the mouth, but frequent charging has never really been much of a complaint among e-reader users.
Not much change in the software department - which is perfectly fine. Kobo's spent the last several years refining its UI and it does the trick. The layout is less cluttered than the Kindle - particularly when looking out the "Special Offers" Amazon devices, which bring ads into the equation.
Kobo's still got its Reading Life awards component on-board, that's tucked away where it belongs. Reading Stats are more useful and interesting anywhere, letting you know how much time you've spent reading, the number of pages read, and total reading time, among others. That's about it for extras - Amazon's certainly got Kobo beat on this front, thanks to features like the contextual X-Ray offering.
Once place Kobo's got Amazon perpetually beat is with file formats and side-loading. The Touch displays EPUB, EPUB3, PDF, and MOBI. And adding files is a simple process of dragging and dropping them onto the reader when it's plugged in and syncing to your computer.
There's probably a reason Kobo didn't hype the release of the Touch 2.0 - there's not really a lot here to get excited about. There are some welcome internal upgrades, but what's most notable about the product is what it doesn't have - namely an illuminated display, waterproofing, or any of the other interesting features Kobo has introduced over the years.
All are overlooked in favor of a price drop. At $90, the Touch 2.0 is priced the same as the cheapest touchscreen Kindle (with those aforementioned "Special Offers" ads). It's a pretty reasonable price for a pretty decent piece of hardware, but unless saving $30 means that much, interested parties should take a long look at the front-lit, higher-res Glo HD.