Kobo Finally Introduces a Sideload Mode for Using Its E-Readers Without Internet or an Account

Kobo Finally Introduces a Sideload Mode for Using Its E-Readers Without Internet or an Account
Photo: Andrew Liszewski - Gizmodo

Although countless companies make devices with E Ink electronic paper screens, most consumers opt for either an Amazon Kindle or a Kobo when choosing an e-reader. But for those who don’t source their reading materials from an online store, the Kobo is finally playing catch-up with the Kindle by removing the need for an online account to actually use the device.

Both the Amazon Kindle and the Rakuten Kobo provide access to millions of electronic books through each company’s respective online stores that can be purchased and downloaded directly from the e-readers themselves, but both Kindles and Kobos also allow electronic books and documents to be uploaded directly to the device by connecting them to a computer. For the Kindle, this can be done without the need for creating or logging into an Amazon account, but the Kobo has long required users to create or log into a Kobo account before the device can be used at all. The requirement isn’t a dealbreaker — the company’s e-readers obviously still sell well enough — but for those with serious concerns over their online privacy, or who don’t have immediate access to wifi, the Kobo is essentially unusable.

That’s about to change, depending on when a Kobo device receives the latest 4.31.19086 firmware update that’s slowly rolling out. The release notes for the update mention a handful of bug fixes as well as expanded Chinese language support, but an added feature that isn’t mentioned in the notes, according to users on the MobileRead forums, is a new “Sideloaded Mode” that allows the Kobo to be finally used without signing in first.

Without a Kobo account, users of a Kobo e-reader can’t purchase ebooks through the device and lose some of the other features associated with having an online presence through the company, like tracking reading progress or collecting reward points. But otherwise in Sideloaded Mode, a Kobo can still connect to a wifi network for downloading dictionary data, using the device’s rudimentary web browser, downloading future firmware updates, and even signing into separate reading services like Pocket.

There’s currently no indication whether or not Sideloaded Mode is a permanent option or a temporary solution until a user gains wifi access later, at which point the Kobo e-reader may eventually demand a user sign into an account for continued access to their content — but hopefully that’s not the case. Current users who eventually get the 4.31.19086 firmware update on their device can apparently switch to Sideloaded Mode by signing out of their Kobo account and then ensuring the device can no longer connect to a wireless network before starting the setup process once again.