Kindle vs Kobo: The Epic E-Reader Battle

Apr 8 • Product Reviews • 50123 Views • 30 Comments on Kindle vs Kobo: The Epic E-Reader Battle

I was once one of the resistors. I hate reading for any length of time on a computer screen, so why would I want to read an entire book on one? I like to hold a book in my hands! Somehow, reading on an e-reader just felt like… cheating!


The Kindle is still the biggest player in the e-reader market by far.

Then one night I was out with some friends, and my friend Kim pulled out her new Kindle and explained how it worked. I immediately noticed something: it didn’t look like a computer screen! She showed me how to increase or decrease the font; how to change from one book to another; how easy it was to download something new to read. I was shocked to realize that I was jealous. I WANTED ONE!!!

But, this was several years ago, and Kindles were still hard to come by in Canada, and quite expensive. It wasn’t likely going to happen. Then I found out that Chapters/Indigo had come out with their own e-reader: the Kobo, and it was considerably more economical, and easier to locate here. I was absolutely thrilled when my loving in-laws gave me one for Christmas.

I’m going to say it right now: just because I got an e-reader did NOT mean that I stopped reading “real” books. I loved reading both ways. The one thing I found an e-reader extremely convenient for, though, was my commute. When I was taking the train back and forth to work every day, with a lot of time for reading, it was SO nice to be able to just put my e-reader into my bag and go. I took to reading some fairly heavy hardcover library books for a while, and it’s amazing how much they weighed, carrying them around all of the time. In contrast, my Kobo fit into my purse.

I really liked the quilted back on my Kobo. Made it easy to hang on to, even without a cover.

I really liked the quilted back on my Kobo. Made it easy to hang on to, even without a cover.

But What Kind of E-Reader Should I Get?

There are a lot of options out there now. Kindles are still the most popular overall, but Kobo is still the top-seller in Canada. The major difference between the two is the file format that they use. Kindle uses its proprietary file: the .mobi, while Kobo (as well as Sony, and most “no-name” e-readers) use .epub.

What the heck does THAT mean?

OK, in English, .epub files are much more universal, and so you can buy a book from Kobo’s online store, and still read it on a Nook (Barnes & Noble’s e-reader) or a Sony, or one of the off-brand e-readers. Kindle files (.mobi) can only be read on Kindles. Basically, Amazon is trying to make sure that once you buy their e-reader, you’ll only be buying books from them. Actually, you CAN convert .epub files to read on a Kindle and vice-versa, through programs like Calibre, but it’s kind of a pain.

The other good thing about .epub files is that most libraries now will allow you to “borrow” e-books, but – in Canada at least – they only have .epub files. So Kindle owners are out of luck in that regard.

That being said, Kindle does have a very large library of free e-books, especially through its “Kindle Select” program which allows authors to have a certain number of promotional days where they can give away copies of their book. A lot of indie authors have taken advantage of the program, and so you can discover some great books of which you might not otherwise hear. Amazon also has its “Prime” member program which allows members to borrow one book per month for free, and this can include a lot – if not all – of the bestsellers.

My one true “con” with the Kobo was that my beloved e-reader died a horrible, blurred screen death after only about 18 months. The warranty on a Kobo is for 12 months, so I was officially out of luck. After the fact, a few people told me (and this is strictly anecdotal evidence, so please don’t take it as fact) that this is a fairly common occurrence with Kobos. If this is true, it makes me very sad, because overall I was thrilled with how user-friendly my Kobo was, and I still do want another one.

In terms of the more “tablet-y” e-readers, such as the Kindle Fire or Kobo Arc, I have little experience with them. In my opinion, the reason I liked just a straight e-reader is that for someone as easily distracted as I am, it was better to have as few bells and whistles as possible, so that I had less temptation to do anything other than reading.

Still have questions about whether you’d prefer a Kobo or Kindle? Leave them in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer them.

PS – If this is your first time here, and you’d like to know more about my books, you can click here!

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30 Responses to Kindle vs Kobo: The Epic E-Reader Battle

  1. Patricia says:

    I too felt the same way about reading from an e-reader vs. paper books. I still love reading books and would feel very sad to not be able to visit a book store anymore.
    What you said about the Kobo is true. My died. I took it into Geek Squad at Best Buy and their computer did not see the Kobo. After trying a new connector to no avail, I ended up pitching it in the recycle bin on the way out of the store. I have an I-Pad I just bought, but it is hard to read on it in the daylight. So, I want another E-reader. Which one??? My friend swears by her Kobo Glo. I was thinking about getting the “Glo”, but since I got my I-Pad, I am getting free books everyday from two different websites and they are for the Kindle. I get a choice of Fiction and non-fiction, so I can download 2 free books everyday, if I so desired. Since I am not into spending a lot of money, I am semi-retired, I will probably go with the Kindle for that reason alone. Even though I would probably like the Kobo Glo better. It is a shame that everything is so proprietary.

    • Cynthia says:

      The Kindle is really the only format that is truly proprietary, since they use a different format than everyone else. I’ve been reading on my phone since my Kobo died (although I’ve mostly stuck to paperbacks) and you’re right: I have both apps on it, so I can easily go from one format to the other. It’s not ideal, but it works for now. To be honest, I haven’t exactly decided what to get next time, but I suspect I’ll end up going with the Kobo, if only for the .epub format. However, I really wish that Kobo would do something about the lifespan of their products. Not likely, though, since it just forces readers to buy a new one. I would think that they lose quite a few readers, though, who are frustrated with their Kobo dying so quickly, and switch to Kindle instead.

      • Wanda says:

        I purchased the 1st edition Kobo ereader and was delighted with it. No bells and whistles just books. Loved it and it lasted for 4 years. July 2013 I purchased a Kobo Aura HD. More money then what I wanted to pay for a reader. But of course, it does everything but wash the dishes! It only lasted 8 months before it died. Frozen book cover on the screen, Sleeping. They replaced it , not sure if that was a new or refurbished replacement. Four months later it died too. Same thing, frozen book cover on the screen, its says Sleeping. I tried everything they told me to do and nothing worked. It was just a few days past the one year warranty was up. Two Kobos in 12 months. Sorry out of luck. Really upset with Kobo. Completed a Customer Satisfaction Survey, so they know how I feel about their bad service, crappy broken down reader and warranty. Make something you can be proud of. Stand by your product and give better customer service. Frustrated!

        • sandy says:

          I have the same problem with my Kobo Aura HD. It has frozen on me 4 months times within the year. One guys I talked to said that I would get another on if this happened again. Guess what it happened again today. I phoned about it and the person that I talked today said that I had to take a picture of it front and back and also send the bill of sale. The guy before this said that if I had any problem they would send me another one. Scared that it might be a refurbished one and I would have trouble with it again. I have called twice today and still have no reply. This is very poor service. I agree with what you have said make something that you can proud and stand behind your service and product.

  2. Patricia says:

    I just purchased an I-Pad mini. I can read both formats on it. I think if I just learn to control the lighting and make it read white letters on black background, I might be able to get by with just using the tablet. I will try it and see how it works. My friend loves her Kobo Glo.

  3. jessie says:

    If converting files is too much of a hassle for you, you should probably just give up now:D seriously two seconds of work.

  4. Bev says:

    I have had my Kobo reader for more than two years and, touch wood, I have had no problems with it so far and I use it a lot. I would definitely get another one – very easy to use and I really like the option of being able to borrow library books. I have a base model and will likely get the touch screen version next time around. Thanks for the article, Cynthia – very informative.

    • Cynthia says:

      Thank you! I actually just bought the Kobo Mini, because it was on a really good sale, and it is the touch edition. It’s taken some getting used to, but I like it 🙂

  5. Adele says:

    Thanks for your article.
    My Kindle just died. It was my first e-book. I had it for exactly 2 years. I am beginning to realise that 18-24 months not an unusual life span for e-readers. Sad, really.

  6. Meghan says:

    Can you read books from Amazon on the Kobo?

  7. Tricia says:

    I am looking to get my first e-reader but really unsure which one to get. Right now I can get a kindle on Kijiji for $40 which is a great price. Any thoughts?? I am not good with electronics so unsure which one is the most user friendly

    • Cynthia says:

      I think as far as being user friendly, they’re all pretty easy, although personally the only Kindle I have is an app on my phone. If you’re only downloading books from the propietary site (ie Amazon for Kindle, Kobobooks for Kobo) then it’s very simple, and the books are directly delivered to your device. If you use other sites, like Smashwords, you will need to learn how to add the books, but I know that on Kobo, it’s literally just a matter of “dragging and dropping” the files like you would when moving a file on your computer. $40 for a Kindle is a good price, but I would check to see how old it is, and which generation, first. As someone mentioned in a previous comment, the lifespan on these devices is typically only about 18-24 months (although I know many people have had them longer than that) so you don’t want to buy something that’s coming close to that age, and have it die on you in the first few months.

  8. RC says:

    Thank you for this informative post. I am considering whether I should finally take the plunge and buy an ereader and I just have two questions:

    1) Is the screen quality comparable between the Kindle and Kobo?
    2) I was really disheartened to see that the cost of purchasing books and newspaper/magazine subscriptions is about the same as buying them in paper-format. Once a book is downloaded, if the e-readers die in 18 months, can one redownload the same books for free with a receipt, or does one need to buy all the books again? Is there a way of backing them up?

    • Cynthia says:

      Thank you for reading! I’ll do my best to answer:

      1) Yes, from my observation, the screen quality seems to be the same. Of course, it totally depends on the type of e-reader you’re looking for. The traditional type of e-reader uses an “e-ink” screen, which is my preference, as it has less glare and is easier on the eyes. However, when you get into readers that are more like tablets, the screen changes to be more like a tablet or smart phone-type screen, so that you can surf the net and watch streaming content, etc.

      2) First off, the cost of buying books definitely depends on what you’re looking for. Bestsellers do tend to be close in price, although there has been some consumer outrage on this, and things are hopefully changing. However, you can get a lot of books by independent authors (such as myself – shameless self-promo LOL) or older books for lower prices, or even free. Also, don’t forget that if you buy an e-reader that uses .epub files (Kobo, Nook, Sony, etc.) then you can “borrow” books from libraries.

      But to answer the actual question, yes, your books will be backed up. Kobo, for example, installs a desktop app on your computer, and you can see your library there. When my original Kobo died I thought my books were lost, but as soon as I connected my new one, and input my user information, all of my books that I had had in my library before were back again. However, especially if you get books through other means than through Kobobooks, it’s a good idea to back up your books in a file on the computer. The great thing is, it’s just like attaching a flash drive or memory card: you can just copy the files from the e-reader and paste them into a file on the computer.

      I don’t have personal experience backing up a Kindle, but I believe it works essentially the same way. I hope that helps!

  9. Pat says:

    Been reading comments and I’m looking to get one for my daughter this Christmas, your posts stopped at September. It would seem that Kobo is better to have since it is easier to share with other users and stick with a basic unit since it looks like both Kindle and Kobo have a short lifespan. What do you think? I do not own one and am not familiar with this stuff.

    • Cynthia says:

      I ended up buying another Kobo, mainly for the reason you said: that it’s more flexible in terms of the books you can get. I haven’t tried any of the fancier models (Kobo Arc, etc) partly because I just can’t afford it, and partly because I’m so easily distracted that if I had the capability to do anything other than read on it, I would, and then I wouldn’t get any reading done! So, I can’t really comment on the lifespan of the newer, fancier models (HINT HINT Kobo people!!!) but I would decide based on your budget, too. You can get a Kobo Mini right now (which is the version I have) for about $50. I believe basic Kindles start at around $80, but there may be pre-Christmas sales of which I’m not aware. They go upwards of $200 for more bells & whistles. I hope I helped a bit!

  10. greg n says:

    Hearing 18 months as a life span makes me shudder. I work to hard for my money to blow it on crap. My books last years, guess I’ll stick with the old faithful, paper. Greg

    • Cynthia says:

      I know, it is kind of depressing. That being said, I haven’t ever owned a Kindle, so although I knew one friend whose Kindle died after about 18 months, that may not always be the case. And I’m only on my second Kobo now (not quite a year old) so maybe they are actually improving. We can hope, anyway.

  11. Carol says:

    I have both a Kindle keyboard and a Kobo touch. (Both for over 2 years and problem-free.) When I first got the Kobo, I was delighted with the touch screen and the smaller size (compared to the Kindle keyboard), but I have found that Kobo frequently updates the software and changes their menus. Very frustrating when you just want to read a book. Kindle seems to have got it right the first time and overall, I prefer reading on the Kindle. That said, I still use my Kobo for library books.

  12. Kelly says:

    Where do you find the free .epub books from independent authors?

    • Cynthia says:

      There are lots of ways to get free books for your e-reader. Smashwords is a site where many independent authors publish their books, and you can filter books by price, including free. You can also search free books on Amazon, if you have a Kindle. Kobo doesn’t seem to have that filter. There’s also a site called Scribd, which I’ll be posting about soon, which is sort of like Netflix for books. You pay a monthly fee, and then can read as many books as you want from their site.

  13. Sandie says:

    I heard about the whisper sync with the Kindle Paperwhite–You can be reading a book on your ereader and stop then you can start listening to the same book from where you left off. I think this is a great feature – I have a Kobo Touch is the whisper sync available with any kobo device as well?

  14. Cheryl-Lynn says:

    I had my kobo for 3 years, guess I was lucky…I leaned on it getting out of bed and crashed the screen…but it was the first ones …no touch screen. Love books too but for commute it is so much lighter. I am noticed many books on wordpress from new authors do not always download well and Kindle seems to have more books. But I originally got Kobo for e-pub capability…so may get back to Kobo. Mini seems to be out and I wanted that one.

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