Kobo Gets Touchy with $130 E-Reader

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Kobo, the perpetual e-reader underdog, is back in action with the $130 Kobo Touch.

The Kobo Touch has a 6-inch Pearl E-Ink display, and uses the same kind of touch screen technology found in Sony’s latest Reader Touch Edition, according to The Digital Reader. Infrared sensors around the edges of the screen detect the users’ fingers without the use of a touch-sensitive display panel, allowing for a clearer image on the screen.

Of course, the touch screen also reduces the need for physical buttons, and so the Kobo Touch has nothing but a single home button on the front panel. Gone is the bulky directional pad that occupied a chunk of the non-touch Kobo e-reader.

Otherwise, the specs are similar to the old Kobo Wi-Fi, with 1 GB of built-in storage (enough for 1,000 books), a microSD card slot for expandable storage and built-in Wi-Fi for downloading books. In the past, Kobo devices have been free of frills, with no web browser, music player or games. I’m guessing the same will be true with the Kobo Touch.

Kobo’s not an unknown player in the e-reader game. Its software is pre-loaded on Samsung’s Galaxy Tab and Research in Motion’s Blackberry Playbook, and also available for iOS, Android and Blackberry. Kobo relies on e-book sales, rather than hardware, for profits. But selling hardware is still important, and the company unfortunately aligned its hardware strategy with Borders, a bookseller that has filed for bankruptcy and closed a third of its stores. Amazon and Barnes & Noble, meanwhile, have made e-readers a featured attraction of their respective retail operations.

Still, Kobo’s a scrappy competitor that always manages to land on the low end of the pricing spectrum. The Kobo Touch will likely be the cheapest touch screen E-Ink device available — Sony’s Reader Touch costs $229 — when it goes on sale in June. Meanwhile, the non-touch Kobo will get a price drop to $99.

But it might not be long before Kobo is overshadowed again. Barnes & Noble is expected to announce its own revamped e-reader on Tuesday.

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