As far as the digital books market is concerned, the top three players are Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the Canadian-based Kobo – each tries to appeal to the bookworm side of people with a range of e-reader devices, and each with its own ecosystem. It wasn’t long before the three started releasing full-fledged tablets for customers who seek more out of their monochrome e-readers.
Amazon’s Kindle Fire jumpstarted the affordable Android tablet race last year, as it pushed the price barrier down to a low $199. Fast forward to a year later, it’s safe to say that the original Kindle Fire, despite the price advantage, can no longer hold a candle to other fresh offerings in the market that have taken a leaf out of Amazon’s aggressive pricing. Cue last week’s introduction of the new Kindle Fire, which is selling at an even lower $159 price point.
The first Fire managed to burn the chart during the first several months of its availability. Does the successor pack enough zings to lure buyers the second time around with its slightly better specs and slashed price? More on this later.
Mere hours before Jeff Bezos brought the house down during the Kindle Fire press event, Kobo eked out several new e-readers and a tablet of its own, with the Kobo Arc being the one we’re most looking forward to dissect. The Kobo Arc is a definite improvement over the Kobo Vox, which had a tough time battling it out with its rivals, no thanks to the tablet’s lackluster specs. But does the Arc have what it takes to compete with other big fishes in the tablet pond?
The battle between the 2012 Kindle Fire and Kobo Arc starts right here.
You’ll find no cosmetic changes in the new Kindle Fire, as Amazon has only tweaked the internals. Hence, we have a tablet whose looks seemingly stuck in 2011. There’s nothing too overly exciting about the Fire, but we don’t see anything that may distract the overall user experience – except that it’s a bit on the lumpy side.
On the plus side, customers who are looking to upgrade to the latest Kindle Fire from the original one won’t have any trouble adjusting to its aesthetics and form-factor.
The Kobo Arc, on the other hand, has received a major makeover in the looks department. While it’s not as unique as, let’s say, the design of B&N’s Nook Tablet, the Arc bucks the trend by featuring dual front-facing speakers, which might just end up becoming the company’s signature look. We kind of dig the colorful quilted-back plates that you can get for the Arc in case you get tired of the white and black color options.
Unlike the Kindle Fire, which has been kept pretty bare from any buttons, save for the one that powers up the device, the Kobo Arc has both a power and volume control button, with the latter being placed on the right side of the tablet.
For those wondering how the two slates measure in millimeters and grams, here are their dimensions:
- New Kindle Fire: 190 x 120 x 11.4mm – 400 grams
- Kobo Arc: 189 x 120 x 12.4mm – 364 grams
The numbers above tell us that although the Arc is slightly thicker than the new Fire, it’s noticeably lighter.
Winner: Kobo Arc. We’re not completely sold on its look, but the Arc takes the slight edge in this round for bringing something audibly fresh to the design table. The fact that it’s not as heavy as the Fire and comes with a volume button also helps.
Design and looks can only go so far if they’re not complemented by a set of specs to take the tablet all the way to the finish line. Fortunately, Kindle Fire part deux hasn’t been spared from receiving a boost in that all-important department, as it now boasts a dual-core 1.2GHz TI OMAP 4430 processor which Amazon claims will run 40% faster from its predecessor. The RAM size has also been doubled to 1GB.
But this is where the list of internal improvement ends. Customers won’t find anything new about the upgraded Kindle Fire when they look at the paltry 1,024 x 600 display (169 ppi). Likewise, the tablet’s still stuck on 8GB of internal memory (with no expandable storage option), single-band WiFi, and 2-point multi-touch. You have to look elsewhere if you want features like camera, Bluetooth, and GPS. Considering its price, we don’t think you can complain much.
Moving on to its rival, Kobo has definitely upped its game by equipping the Arc with some serious arsenal. Behind the 7-inch IPS HD display (215 ppi) that the tablet sports, you’ll find a dual-core 1.5GHz TI OMAP 4470 processor, which apparently is a better performer than NVIDIA’s quad-core Tegra 3 SoC. The Arc also packs 1GB of RAM, and a 1.3MP HD front-facing camera.
Similar to the Nexus 7, the Arc comes in two flavors: 8GB ($199) and 16GB ($249). Unfortunately, the similarity extends to the lack of microSD card slot , an omitted feature that’s once the saving grace of the old Kobo Vox.
Winner: Kobo Arc. Those who use the tablets strictly for reading e-books won’t notice the speed difference, but we think it’s more apt to classify them as a media consumption device now.
Software & Ecosystem
The new Kindle Fire runs atop the Android operating system. Since it’s a forked one, Google’s owned Play Store and its core apps are off-limits for owners of the tablet. The interface certainly gets the job done for those who want to quickly dive into their newly purchased e-books and magazines or watch movies.
But when you purchase an Amazon device, such as the refreshed Kindle Fire, understand that you will be locked in to its ecosystem, which isn’t that bad of a place to spend your money in. In fact, it now offers 120,000 hit movies and TV shows, over 1.2 million of books, 500 magazines, and 20 million songs. Although the number of apps available on its app store is less than what you’ll find on Google Play, you’ll have no problem getting ahold of the most popular ones. You just have to deal with the fact that you can’t get your source of amusement elsewhere. It’s Amazon way or the highway.
Like the Fire, the Kobo Arc also has its own unique interface that runs on top of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Named Tapestries, the overlay lets you pin favorite contents (books, movies, music, and more) on the home screen, and group them by category.
One of the coolest things about it is that Kobo will automatically pull information from the Internet – that’s related to the content you have – and push it to your screen. We’re talking about Wikipedia articles, pictures, videos, podcasts and others – so this isn’t meant to be a commercial feature, but rather one that will save you the hassle from looking up additional information about a certain book or its subject.
And to really set itself apart from Amazon’s offering, the second generation Kobo tablet is a fully functioning Android tablet in the sense that that it can access Google Play and run all of Google apps out of the box. What Kobo is lacking in its ecosystem of books and multimedia contents (that are actually available in more international markets compared to Amazon’s), there’s Google Play to make up for it. It’s an awesome combo we must say.
The pot is even sweeter with Kobo promising that an upgrade to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean for the Arc will be made available.
Winner: Kobo Arc. A better Android experience that is not tied to one ecosystem.
Kobo has successfully created a worthy competitor with the Kobo Arc. But at the end of the day, the two tablets do have their strong points.
Amazon has comfortably relegated the new Kindle Fire status to its second-tier tablet, which is good news for customers. The coming holiday season will be filled with buyers frantically looking for a tablet to stuff their stockings with. At a mere $159, this is where the competitively priced new Kindle Fire will shine. There’s no question that the Fire will probably end up selling infinitely more than the Arc.
Those outside the U.S. will find more to like about the Arc and the fact that it’s a full-fledged Android tablet. After all, despite Amazon’s effort to expand its tablet reach to foreign soils, it is still very much a U.S.-centric device and service.
The new Kindle Fire will be released on September 14, while the Kobo Arc won’t be available until mid November.
So, what do you like/dislike most about the new Kindle Fire and Kobo Arc? Which out of the two do you recommend more? Sound off below please.