Lumpen design and an off-colour display leave the Arc trailing the best tablets.
In today’s tablet market, your product must be ultra-cheap or ultra-high-quality. Tt seems Kobo didn’t get the memo.
The Kobo Arc 10HD arrives at a time when Apple has just raised the quality bar with the Apple iPad Air (web ID: 385255) and compact tablet makers are driving prices through the floor. The Kobo Arc 10HD is keenly priced for a full-sized device, but only a round of beers cheaper than the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9in (web ID: 385594).
Alas, it’s a good deal heavier than both Apple and Amazon’s new devices. At 627g, it’s almost twice the weight of the Wi-Fi version of the 369g HDX 8.9in, and significantly portlier than the 469g Air. It’s no design classic, either: the sharp-angled frame digs into your palms, and the matte-black plastic casing doesn’t exactly scream luxury. The power switch is too fiddly for our liking, too, although we’re glad Kobo hasn’t followed Amazon’s example by placing the volume switch on the rear casing – it’s on the side.
Like Amazon, Kobo has customised the Android 4.2.2 installation with its own user interface, which is designed primarily to push you towards content sold in the Kobo Store. Kobo’s customisations are more elegant than Amazon’s, however: we particularly like the bookshelf screen that provides quick access to books, magazines, articles saved in the online bookmarking service Pocket, and more.
Serious thought has gone in to the features of the reading apps, in particular the option to tap from one column of text to the next in digital magazines, which cuts out a lot of manual panning and zooming. The Reading Mode, meanwhile, silences the device and hides notifications while you’re tucking into an ebook, which considerably minimises unwanted distractions.
Most importantly of all, Kobo gives you full access to the Google Play store, trumping Amazon’s Appstore lock-in for flexibility. However, with only 16GB of storage to play with – 12.9GB of which is usable – and no means of expanding it, you can’t go mad in Google’s app emporium.
Reading should be a joy on a device with a 2,560 x 1,600 resolution spread across its 10.1 in display (resulting in a pixel density of 300ppi). While we have no complaints about its sharpness, something seems to have gone horribly wrong with the colour calibration. The screen has a permanent sepia tinge, while reds and oranges absolutely burst from the screen, as if someone passed it through an appalling Instagram filter before it left the
factory. You can change the colour balance – by switching from sRGB to Native colour correction in the Display settings – but this merely shifts the muddy hues to blues. It’s a terrible shame, since otherwise the screen wants for nothing, with a respectable maximum brightness of 440cd/m2 and a contrast ratio of 800:1.
It isn’t blessed with sparkling audio, either. Music sounds brittle and tinny compared to the full-throated output of the much skinnier Kindle Fire HDX 8.9in, and the maximum volume output is only just acceptable – you may well find yourself craning your neck closer to hear whispered dialogue in films.
Performance-wise, the Kobo is inconsistent. With a quad-core 1.8GHz Tegra 4 and 2GB of RAM onboard, it shouldn’t be troubled by anything, yet it occasionally stutters when you swipe through the graphics-laden homescreens. Flicking between web pages isn’t the near-instantaneous experience it is on the iPad Air, either. However, in the latest games, such as Asphalt 8: Airborne, the Kobo performs admirably.
This erratic 3D performance is echoed in benchmark tests: the
O The Arc 10HD is rather heavy, and the sharp-edged design makes it uncomfortable to hold
Arc 10HD recorded a score of 3,742 in Geekbench 2 – a country mile ahead of the Air, and slightly better than the HDX 8.9in – yet scored llfps in GFXBench, less than both its rivals.
The battery life isn’t a reason to add the Kobo to your shopping list, either. It lasted 9hrs 13mins in our looping video test, which is acceptable at best, and a long way behind the 16-hour result of the HDX 8.9in. Taken in isolation, the Kobo Arc 10HD isn’t an unappealing Android tablet. The design is inoffensive, the customised OS is one of the best Android resprays we’ve seen, and there’s plenty of power lurking behind the off- colour screen. Yet, compared with the impeccable iPad Air and the lightweight Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9in, there’s no good reason to consider the Kobo – unless it benefits from a sizeable price cut.