By Harry McCracken | Friday, May 7, 2010 at 11:33 am
The most intriguing thing about the Kobo has nothing to do with its hardware, software, or service. It’s the price–at $149.99, it’s the cheapest e-reader yet that’s backed by a big brand. (Sony has been selling its Reader Pocket Edition for the same price, but it’s a sale that’s scheduled to end on Sunday.)
Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook both go for $259. Both sport 3G wireless and other features that the Kobo skips in order to hit a low price point. (The Kobo doesn’t even have Wi-Fi–you buy books on a computer, then download them to the e-reader via USB.) But you gotta think that if Borders promotes the Kobo energetically enough, it’ll still put pressure on Amazon and B&N’s fancier rivals. There are already rumors of a cheaper, simpler “Nook Lite,” and I’d be startled if Amazon doesn’t do something to make the Kindle more affordable.
Then again, it’s not a given that Kobo will be a hit. Borders has sold Sony’s Readers in its stores for years, but hasn’t exactly pulled out all the stops–they’re displayed at kiosks which usually look pretty lonely when I wander by them. Kobo gives the bookseller a second chance to get serious about the future of reading, and it’ll be interesting to see if it invests more energy in the idea this time around.