Let's face it: Kobo's last tablet — the Vox — was rubbish. It was a DOA tablet and not something worth our time, unfortunately. Now, though, Kobo has a new tablet called the Arc. We were excited when the Arc was announced, because it sounded like something that might actually be amazing enough to wash the Vox-taste out of our mouths. It has damn-near the same specs as crowd-favourite and defending champ, the Nexus 7, and it's nice and cheap to boot. Fight!
What Is It?
The Kobo Arc is a 7-inch tablet powered by Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, a 1.5GHz dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM. It comes in both 8GB and 16GB flavours with a 1280 x 800 pixel IPS screen.
We'd let you off for thinking that the Kobo Arc is just another 7-inch Android tablet. It's such a crowded space now on the store shelves that another 7-inch entrant can very easily blend in. The Arc stands out, however, because of the awesome way it presents your content on the home screen. Yes, it's a skin over Android — something that should be awful — but it's actually really clever.
It's called Tapestries, and it breaks down your content on the device into categories like books, music and social and puts it in folder-like shortcuts on your screen. When you activate a Tapestry folder, it takes you to another screen that is immediately filled with your books, video, or your social networks. It sounds simple, but it's such an interesting way to get at your content.
One of the most frustrating things for new Android users is where all their stuff is being stored on the device. Is it in Gallery? File Manager? Can I search for it? With Tapestries, those questions are rendered moot.
Speaking of content, there's a whole bunch to choose from on the Kobo market. Kobo books are more expensive than Amazon's however, so keep that in mind when you think about what the device will cost you over the lifetime of owning it.
There are a whole bunch of clever little software tweaks on the Arc that makes it different from any other Android tablet. It has a browser feature that will strip away ads for you to make content easier to read. It syncs your content across devices and keeps you in the same place you left off. It's built to withstand a 1.5-metre impact, and so on. It's constantly impressive.
One of the problems we had with the Arc's main competitor — the Kindle Fire HD (despite it being terrible for the Australian market) — is that it didn't really look like anything. It was just a black slab of rubber and plastic which actually made it tough to figure out which way to hold it. You won't have that problem with the Kobo Arc. It's a striking tablet with bold colours and a great looking grooved back that makes it easier to hold, too.
Those looks don't disappoint when it comes to the screen, either. It's slightly recessed into the tablet but it doesn't have a pane of glass over it so glare isn't an issue. It's also super-bright. Not crisp enough to dethrone something like an iPad, but it's leaps and bounds ahead of the slightly dulled panel on the Nexus 7.
Unlike an iPad, however, Kobo Arc won't hurt your hip pocket too much. You'll pay $249.99 for the 16GB, $299.99 for the 32GB and a fairly reasonable $349.99 for the 64GB model.
There's no denying it: the Arc is a heavy tablet. Sure it can fit in your jacket pocket, but will you really want to put it there when it weighs more than both the iPad mini and the Nexus 7?
While we're on size, the bezel on the Arc is socking enormous. I get that it's there so you can hold onto the device better, but you most certainly can have too much of a good thing.
The major problem with the Arc, however, is the battery life. Kobo promise 10 hours of life out of the Arc, but I'm only getting between 8 and 9 at the best of times. Furthermore, the standby time doesn't get anywhere near the 2 weeks offered. Try halving that and you're there. I don't know about you but I'd like my tablet to last a little longer than my smartphone.
This Is Weird
For some reason, the back cover pops off but the battery — as far as I can tell — isn't removable. What's the point?
Should You Buy It?
When the Kobo Arc was announced, we sat down with the local head of the company to chat about it, and something he said landed with me. I asked him about the Vox which, officially speaking, skipped Australia. Mostly because it was terrible as previously mentioned.
I said that with such a bad tablet reputation following it around, why should consumers buy the Arc over tablets like the Nexus 7 or even the Galaxy line of tablets? What he said was interesting:
"Users shouldn't have to pay the price for us learning lessons ever again."
The Vox was bad, that we all know, but the Arc is a stunning 360-degree turn that nobody saw coming. Kobo went from making the most bland and buggy tablet on the market to making something comparatively spectacular in the Arc.
If you're in the Kobo ecosystem and you're looking for a 7-inch tablet, this is the device for you. Even if you're a Google stalwart, the Arc runs Android so you'll get access to Play goodies, too. What's most interesting, however, is what this tablet means for Kindle users.
If you have a Kindle e-reader and want to upgrade to a tablet in Australia, you're left without a lot of options. The Kindle Fire HD is spectacularly forgettable and the Nexus 7 lacks the e-reader pedigree that the Kobo Arc sports, making our underdog contender more attractive in the long run for a reader.
The only downside to this whole rosy equation is that the Arc just doesn't have the build quality of the Nexus 7. If you can look beyond that, though, you'll love the Arc.