Rakuten Kobo Forma e-reader review: Refined experience, flawed package

The Rakuten Kobo Forma is a poster child for the tug-of-war behind the design of every device you own. Companies strive to find the right balance of size, weight and features based on market research and what’s worked well for them in the past. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes things go awry.

Rakuten Kobo’s done well recently with large-format E-Ink devices like the Kobo Aura One. With the Forma, Kobo tried to give digital book lovers more of the same: It’s larger, and lighter than the Aura One, and comes packing more features.

Unfortunately, when you go larger and lighter at the same time, something’s got to give. Our experience with the Forma was marred by build quality issues and a number of technical missteps. Compared to Amazon’s most recent Kindles, it’s not a good look.

Design

Measuring 6.29 x 6.97 x 0.33 inches, the Rakuten Kobo Forma is currently the largest e-reader offered by a well-known brand in North America. While Onyx, Sony and Remarkable all sell larger E-Ink slabs that offer a rudimentary e-reading experience, they’re geared more toward electronic note-taking than they are for maintaining a digital library.

In its base configuration, the Forma is available with 8GB of non-expandable storage for $280. So long as you’re not stuffing it full of chunky Manga, comic books or PDF files, this is more than enough storage to contain thousands of books. A 32GB iteration of the device is also available for a whopping $330—the same price as a 32GB iPad.

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The Forma’s power and page turn buttons can all be found on the device’s bezel, similar to the design of the Amazon Oasis 2.

One of the first things you may notice about the Kobo Forma is how much it resembles an Amazon All-New Kindle Oasis. Both devices boast large displays with an oblong bezel on one side, which hosts a pair of page -urn buttons. Pick up an Oasis or a Forma, however, and you’ll immediately understand that the similarities are shallow, at best. Where the Oasis sports a battery hump on one side of its chassis, the Forma is flat, both front and back. One would think this means that the Forma packs a smaller battery. Not so: where the Oasis contains a 1,000mAh battery, the Kobo device is equipped with a 1,200mAh battery. In either case, depending on on your habits, you’ll be able to enjoy weeks of reading, on either device, with a single charge.

Happily, thanks to the Forma’s IPX8 rating, you’ll be able to burn through a lot of the this time reading in a hot tub or at the beach. The Kobo Forma can be completely submerged in up to two meters of fresh water for two hours at a time and continue to work just fine. You should know, however, that unlike Amazon’s Oasis 2, it’s not possible to deactivate the Forma’s touch controls before exposing it to water. This could mean that the device will mistake the liquid on its display for input from your fingers. It makes for a frustrating reading experience.

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With the amount of screen real estate that the Forma offers readers, Kobo had a tough choice to make: If they’d opted to provide the device with premium feel, through the use of heavier, more resilient materials, its large size and heavier weight would have made it unwieldy and uncomfortable to use one-handed for extended periods of time. Instead, Kobo opted for lightweight materials. The result of this decision is that the Forma is comfortable to hold and is light enough that it’s easy to forget it’s there when tossed in a backpack or purse. But it feels flimsy compared to Kobo’s excellent Aura One, and positively cheap when held up against Amazon’s aluminum-bodied Oasis 2. During testing, I discovered that going light instead of resilient might not have been the best idea.

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