Ever since the Google Nexus 7 by Asus set the 7-inch tablet market afire back in mid-2012, we haven’t seen much heat from other small-screen slates, barring the late-2012 debut of the Apple iPad Mini and the separate-but-parallel path taken by Amazon’s Kindle Fire and “bookseller-centric” slates. Unfortunately for most tablet makers, the conflagration was mostly confined to those three families—the Google slate because it set the bar so high, the iPad Mini because of its lineage, and Amazon because of its massive content clout. They have become the target products to beat and dethrone, in order for other tablet makers to gain a foothold in the compact-tablet market.
Hence, when evaluating competing models, one of the primary questions we set out to answer is: Does this slate bring anything new beyond the models already out there? In other words, why would a potential buyer choose this model over one of those? When a new tablet offers a nearly identical feature set for the same price, our job becomes a little more difficult. When most things—performance, display quality, connectivity options, and so on—are equal or close, we find ourselves looking for smaller, less-significant features to give our readers reasons for buying one device over the other.
That’s the case with Kobo’s Arc, the Canadian e-reader maker and e-content provider’s latest contribution to the market for 7-inch tablets. On the surface, our Kobo Arc review unit looked and behaved much like the Nexus 7, but when we dug a little deeper, we found some notable differences. Partly, it’s because the Arc has a bent toward e-reading, though it’s also a full-fledged Android tablet; it’s part of Kobo’s e-reader line (populated by monochrome models such as the Kobo Mini and Kobo Glo), and a portion of its custom interface is dedicated to new-reading discovery. Most of the differences, though—notably, the Arc’s somewhat slower dual-core processor, versus the Nexus 7’s more powerful and efficient quad-core, as well as the Kobo slate’s lack of GPS and Bluetooth radios—make the case for the Google slate.
Still, we found quite a few reasons to like the Kobo Arc as a tablet, and we also see it as a viable color e-reader alternate if you don’t want to commit to the Amazon empire and its proprietary e-reading format. (Kobo’s content ecosystem is no slouch, either; for more on it, see our reviews, linked above, of the Kobo Mini and Glo.) On the hardware side, despite the Arc’s slower CPU, it has a souped-up graphics processing unit (GPU) that processes high-end 3D graphics faster than the quad-core Nexus 7 does. (We’ll discuss graphics processing and overall performance in the Performance section a little later on.) In addition, the bundled Kobo e-reader app provides some interesting features, and Kobo has made some significant modifications to the Android user interface (UI) that some users may find preferable to stock Android, notably in a feature called “Tapestries.” We’ll discuss the e-reader and the UI in the Features & Apps section of this review.
You can buy the Kobo Arc in either black or white, and it comes in three different storage capacities: 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB. Here, we looked at the 16GB model, which lists for $199.99—the same price as the 16GB versions of the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD. The 32GB Kobo Arc rings up for the same $249.99 as the 32GB models of those two slates. One place where the Arc trumps them both is in its $299.99 64GB version; you can’t buy a 64GB Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire HD.
Now granted, no tablet—even a recipient of our Editors’ Choice award, such as the Nexus 7—is perfect. Interestingly, we have some of the same primary complaints about the Kobo Arc that we had about the Google slate last year. Neither slate, for instance, provides a way to expand storage capacity; nor does either have an HDMI-out port for connecting to an HD monitor or an HDTV.
Overall, though, from a user-experience perspective, these two tablets are quite similar. On paper, with its quad-core processor, a more recent version of Android, and a few other specs, the Nexus 7 looks like a superior general-purpose tablet. But we think that after reading our review, some would-be buyers will find a reason or two to choose the Kobo Arc instead.
And as an alternative to the e-reader elephant in the room, Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD, the Kobo is a bit more flexible and less locked down, especially as it supports full access to Google Play—Android’s official app and content repository—versus Amazon’s more limited subset. It’s also more of a general-purpose slate apart from its e-reading functions, which is why we see the Arc’s competition more as the Nexus 7 than the Kindle Fires.
See full review at Computer Shopper.