When WHSmith had a sale on the standard Kobo Touch for £30, I found it hard to resist not to impulse buy one especially as I found out that Android 2.3.x could be installed on it not too long before.
Before then, I had owned a 3G enabled version of the Kindle Keyboard (3rd gen) for several years and I really liked it for reading books but more recently been finding it a little clunky and large to carry around. I toyed with getting a Nook as it is possible to install Android on it as well and again, the size and weight of it always put me off when the sales were on for it.
The actual install of Android for the Kobo was really straightforward and this video also shows a step by step guide on the process including prying open the back cover and providing download links for the software and disk image for the install.
On the disk image provided, there are several apps installed including:
- Smart Launcher – Streamlined app launcher with customisable home screen.
- Button Saviour – Soft key widget for functions like ‘home’, ‘back’ and ‘menu’.
- Moon+ Reader – Popular eBook reader.
- Al Reader – Another eBook reader.
- A few games: Crossword and Son of Hunky Punk
- Total Commander – File explorer.
- Google Play Store
- Kobo Rotate
So how is it? It’s was actually a lot more responsive then what I thought it would be and feels as quick as my old ZTE Blade/Orange San Francisco that I brought several years ago and battery life is reasonable, lasting a week or two of eBook reading.
The included Button Saviour and Smart Launcher apps really does help as the home screen since the Kobo only has the one button which is used for the function ‘back’ having a streamlined launcher just makes it more usable with the slow refresh rate screen.
I also installed the following additional apps from the Google Play Store:
Kindle (v126.96.36.199) from Freeware Lovers – The link was found from Lifehacker’s article on installing Android on a Nook so I assume it is safe. I used this particular version as the latest from the Play Store just wouldn’t start on the Kobo and got stuck on the splash screen. After a bit of Googling, I found out from reviews that the app got more and more bloated and sluggish as Amazon were adding more features. (It is worth mentioning that the download link from Freeware Lovers doesn’t work 90% of the time and took me several dozen attempts to actually download the .apk file).
The version linked above is the ‘latest’ of the older versions that I could find which supported PDF and it still works pretty well so far. I did have to side load the .apk install file by popping it on another micro-SD card and using the card slot on the Kobo but that’s a relatively minor complaint.
Instapaper – Great for downloading articles for offline reading and also supports pagination of articles so they can be read like a book with page turning instead of scrolling so there are less screen refreshes for the e-Ink display.
Manga+ Reader – Works well but looking for another app as it doesn’t support displaying of pages fully so I have to scroll down a bit to read the bottom of the page. Other then that, it works well for the e-Ink display and support offline reading.
Games – I wanted to test a few simple games to see how the Kobo would cope especially with a display that could only show 16 different shades of grey. For that reason, I chose games that had large contrasting graphics with minimalistic user interfaces. These were:
Drop Down Status Bar – So far, I have not been able to pull down the notifications via the standard swipe gesture so this allowed me to this via button press.
Wifi Toggle – The Kobo turns off the wifi when it is slept for some time and going through the settings menu and back out is a bit of a hassle to do. This app allows me to toggle the wifi quickly from the home screen of the launcher.
The Android install for the Kobo isn’t without faults and I believe this is because it is still running on top of the Tolino software which was the basis for the hack (see Mobiread thread for more details) and therefore most of the device settings such as when to sleep are on the Tolino side, in German and also didn’t fit on the screen. You can imagine the fun I had there trying to change some of the settings.
My biggest problem with the install is that I have yet been able to find a way to lock the device which is incredibly important since the Kindle app is linked to my Amazon account and allows users to buy books from the app without prompting for a password by default and the Android OS is linked to my Google account which includes access to Gmail.
Amazon do not have an option anywhere to force the user to reenter the password when a book is purchased but does allow the user to revoke access of a device from their Amazon account remotely which is enough of a compromise but I am disappointed with Amazon as they should have provided the option to require a password prompt.
I also managed to work around the Google account issue as I have two step verification which allows me to create application specific passwords that can be revoked remotely. Therefore, after installing all the apps I wanted from the Play store, I revoked the password and made sure that GMail never sync’ed my email during the process. If I didn’t have two step verification, I would have temporary changed my password, installed the apps to the Kobo and then change the password back.
The e-Ink display also never fully refreshes apart from sleeping and waking from sleep so after continuos use in a single session, the display can look ‘dirty’ as you can still see traces of what was displayed before. It hasn’t been enough to annoy me but YYMV.
Overall, I pretty much got what I wanted; a cheap, small upgrade to my Kindle and also provides more functionality beyond just reading books. It doesn’t stop me from lusting over the Kindle Paperwhite display however as it is pretty incredible but the price always put me off it. With recent price drops in the Kindle lineup, if there is one for Paperwhite I would be seriously tempted to get one pending on the price. For now, despite not being perfect, the Kobo has been far more then good enough for my current needs and I hope the hack can be further improved.