Look and feel
The Kobo Arc has a chunky old-school design, with a wide bezel and slightly sunken screen. That said, it's solidly built and the textured back makes it comfortable to hold.
Ease of Use
Unlike other tablets in its class, the Arc veers closer to a true Android experience (customisable homepage, access to the Google Play store) and is all the better for it.
The Kobo has a brilliantly sharp screen, and the Pinterest-like tapestries feature perfectly complements the Android Ice Cream Sandwich OS. The Kobo store is great for books and the inbuilt Press Reader app pulls in newspaper content seamlessly.
There was never any hint of slowdown, thanks to the Arc's dual-core processor. The device did run into problems when playing video, both on the device, and streamed from online services.
We got just over five hours of media playback, streaming HD video at full brightness - slightly above average when compared to rival tablets. General use will give just over a day; more if you turn off Wi-Fi and reduce brightness where possible.
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,1/24/2013 1:52:40 PM
Ease of use
Front-facing speakers; headphone jack on right-hand side; gorgeous screen; tapestries feature
Uninspiring design; no SD card support; no HDMI port; some video apps not supported; laggy keyboard
On first impression, Kobo's first major multimedia tablet is not terribly inspiring. Let’s be blunt, in a world of iPad minis and Nexus 7’s, the Arc is not much of a looker.
The sunken screen and grandma’s mattress effect on the rear give it an old-fashioned air, and the whole design feels rather utilitarian - although the back panel can be removed and replaced with something a bit more attractive if you wish.
However, other elements of the design are well thought-out. Specifically, the two oblong speakers on the front of the unit (speakers pointing at the user’s head, what a novel idea!) which deliver a powerful SRS sound, and the position of the headphone jack on the right side of the unit. Kobo seems to be unique among tablet manufacturers in realising that we watch video in landscape mode, so has put the headphone socket in a more natural place.
The smart design elements don't just extend to the exterior; one of the Arc's best features is only found once it is switched on.
While tablets from rival ereader-turned-tablet manufacturers Nook and Amazon use heavily customised versions of Android, Kobo has opted to keep the operating system as familiar as possible. As such, the few elements it has added are useful flourishes to the stock Ice Cream Sandwich, rather than massive obstacles sitting on top of the OS, barring users from enjoying the device the way they want.
The best and most obvious example of this is the Arc's tapestries feature, which collates apps, files, and links together and presents them on the homescreen in a way reminiscent of Pinterest. Each tapestry can act as a folder, or you can pin favourite webpages direct to the desktop. It's a neat and genuinely useful way of keeping things tidy and for Kobo to put its own stamp on Android. Leaving Ice Cream Sandwich alone for the most part automatically makes the Arc more accessible to anyone with previous Android experience.
The seven-inch IPS 1280 x 800 display matches the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD for sharpness and outstrips the iPad mini's 1024 x 768, although is slightly less crisp than the Nook HD's stunning 1440 x 900 panel. The excellent screen also has a fantastic viewing angle, so content is still visible no matter how far to the side you are sat.
The 1.5GHz dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM means the Arc handled demanding games with ease. In fact, everything is swift and fuss-free until it comes to video playback. The Kobo Arc plays 1080p video, and when it works it looks excellent. However, we came across a number of instances where the image was jerky, or simply refused to play altogether.
The first issue lies with streaming. The BBC iPlayer app will not work. Kobo is aware of this problem and is working to remedy it. However, Netflix suffers the same issue.
Secondly, files playing directly from our device caused problems too. In the interest of fairness, we use the same video files for all our reviews, but the Arc's native player was picky about if and when it would play them. Downloading apps such as VLC and MX Player yielded slightly better results, but there was still stuttering. Hopefully these issues are handled in the same firmware update that solves the iPlayer and Netflix problems.
Another quirk is the keyboard, which lags and has an unusual approach to button ordering. The bottom row - normally home to common punctuation points like the full stop and comma - houses the apostrophe and hyphen keys. And where's the return/enter button? Well, that's two rows above where it should be - in its place is a key for voice input. It's a weird decision, but thankfully can be remedied by trialling different keyboards from the Google Play store.
Like an increasing number of seven-inch tabs, the Arc's memory is not expandable, but the 16GB, 32GB or 64GB of built-in storage should be sufficient for most users.
Like its competitors - the Kindle Fire HD and the Nook HD - the Arc is Kobo's progression from a simple e-reading device, and like its competitors, it wants you to buy content from its store.
However, unlike those devices, the imperative to buy is much more subtle. The Arc's shop window is called Discover. Running across the bottom of the homescreen, it is unobtrusive and actually quite useful. The more you pin on the tapestries, the more it learns about your likes. It needs refinement and the ability to understand that once you reject something, that doesn’t mean ‘put it to the end of the list’, but if Kobo can get it right, it will be a very helpful, and powerful feature. However, the option to get rid of it altogether would still be nice.
While the Arc can play music, movies and games, it hasn't forgotten its roots, and is still most concerned with books. While the presentation of its bookstore isn’t quite as intuitive as the Kindle’s, it’s still very good, and we particularly liked the useful collections (best sellers, horror, non-fiction, etc...)
Like some Kindles, it offers useful reading data (estimated reading time remaining), and reading is massively customisable with plenty of font, size and brightness options. Page turns are also very smooth. As ever, reading on a dedicated e-reader is preferable, but as LCD screens go, the Arc’s is very comfortable and the light not too oppressive.
Build quality is solid (the Arc weighs 364g - more than the Nexus 7 but less than the Kindle Fire HD), and there don't appear to be any weak points. Be careful about sticking it in a bag when out and about, though - after just a couple of days of being carried around in a bag, the Kobo Arc’s black finish was already starting to rub off, leaving shiny patches akin to those on a pair of trousers that have been ironed too many times.
The Kobo Arc comes preloaded with Rdio and 7digital apps, but you can add others too, such as Google Music and Amazon Cloud Player. The beauty of having an open Android experience means you can even add the Kindle reader app if you are so inclined. Like drinking Pepsi from a Coca-Cola -branded glass, it might feel a bit wrong, but if you can keep a clear conscience, the option is there.
With a firmware update this can be a contender among other affordable seven-inch tablets, but at the moment, there are too many issues to recommend the Kobo Arc over its rivals. Underneath that drab exterior there’s a star waiting to come out, but it needs to polish its performance before it's ready for the big stage.