Kobo Forma review

Large and in charge, the Kobo eReader lures you into your digital books

It’s pricey, but the Kobo Forma comes close to being the perfect ebook reader.
It’s pricey, but the Kobo Forma comes close to being the perfect ebook reader.
It’s pricey, but the Kobo Forma comes close to being the perfect ebook reader.

Highs

  • Crisp, large display
  • Display lighting adjusts to environment
  • Intuitive user interface with in-depth reading stats
  • Overdrive integration allows checking out books from local libraries

Lows

  • Build quality feels cheap
  • Home button is spongy and in awkward location

Over the past few years, indie bookstores have experienced a renaissance while eBook sales have declined significantly. While digital book sales still make up nearly a quarter of book sales, the ebook reader market is diminishing as a growing number of readers are downloading books to smartphones.

Can a fresh ebook reader from Kobo help? Likely not, because the Kobo Forma is quite pricey at $280,  but it manages to hold its own over Amazon’s second-gen Kindle Oasis.

Designed with comfort in mind

With a few exceptions, the Kobo Forma maintains the same design aesthetic as other Kobo ebook readers, with one major exception: It is remarkably thin. Coming in at 8.5mm at its thickest point, the Forma is slightly thinner than the Samsung Galaxy Note 9.

There’s an eight-inch E Ink display accompanied by a grip on one side. The grip curves slightly upward, making the Forma easy to hold with one hand. It doesn’t matter which way you hold the Forma, because there’s an accelerometer that will automatically change the screen orientation however you hold it, in whichever hand.

The grip is home to the Forma’s page turn buttons, power button, and MicroUSB charging port. The page turn buttons are responsive and easy to tap, but the power button is spongy and located in an awkward spot. And while It may be a minor quibble, we wish Rakuten — the company that manufactures the Kobo — would switch to the more universal USB-C charging port for its flagship ebook reader.

The 8-inch E Ink screen is larger than any other Kindle or Kobo ebook reader currently on the market.

Flip the Kobo Forma over and you’ll find a textured plastic back with a rubberized coating. The texture and finish make the Forma easy to hold, but it feels a bit cheap when compared to the less expensive second-generation Kindle Oasis. But the Forma has an IPX8 rating, meaning it can survive when submerged in up to a meter of water for an hour. That’s the same rating you’ll find on the Kindle Oasis as well as the 2018 Kindle Paperwhite.

Although you’re not going to be able to put the Kobo Forma in your pocket, it’s small enough to easily store in a bag without taking up too much space, and it’s lightweight so it never feels cumbersome.

Big screen

At eight-inches, the E Ink screen on the Kobo Forma is larger than any other Kindle or Kobo ebook reader currently on the market. It comes in an inch larger than the Kindle Oasis, and two inches larger than many other ebook readers. While those extra inches make the Forma less portable than its competitors, we think it’s a great trade off for a more immersive reading experience.

Koba Forma review
Steven Winkelman/Digital Trends

The Forma’s screen produces crisp text, and images are surprisingly sharp. Page transitions are almost instantaneous, and we didn’t notice any screen ghosting thanks to intermittent screen refreshes.

It’s also easy to customize the reading experience easily on the Forma. The ebook reader allows you to choose from nearly a dozen different fonts and 50 font size options. There’s also options to tweak font weight and sharpness as well.

Content on the Forma loads quickly and page turns are nearly instantaneous.

Like most E Ink devices, the Forma is easy to read in direct sunlight. Even in different situations and environments, the Forma does a superb job of keeping brightness and color temperature perfect for any scenario. We do think the automatic brightness doesn’t go low enough in dark environments, but you can easily make adjustments manually with the brightness slider.

You’ll find an excellent blue-light filter on the Kobo Forma called ComfortLight Pro. It uses your timezone and sleeping habits to determine when to minimize blue-light exposure. The screen turns more orange as it inches closer to your bedtime, to ensure you get a good night’s sleep. Blue-light exposure at night can have adverse effects on your health.

Snappy hardware, intuitive software

The hardware for the Forma doesn’t stray far from what you’d expect for a premium ebook reader. It has a 1GHz processor paired with 512MB of RAM. You should have no problems, as content loads quickly and page turns are nearly instantaneous.The 8GB of onboard storage also allows you to store about 6,000 ebooks.

Koba Forma review
Steven Winkelman/Digital Trends

These specs are nearly identical to the Kobo Aura H2O. They’re also very similar to what you’ll find on the Kindle Oasis and All New Kindle Paperwhite. The primary difference is Amazon now offers 32GB storage options for its newer ebook readers, which helps for readers that plan to store audiobooks on the device.

One feature that’s missing on the Forma is Bluetooth connectivity. Amazon added this feature to the Kindle Oasis in 2017, and more recently to the Kindle Paperwhite. Bluetooth connectivity allows readers to pair headphones to the ebook reader and listen to audiobooks. It’s surprising Rakuten Kobo didn’t add this feature to the Forma since it has been heavily pushing its audiobook store as an alternative to Audible.

With stats like overall read time and book completion percentage, Forma’s Activity feature is a fun glimpse into your reading habits .

The software side is where the Forma shines. For newcomers to the ebook reader space, you should have no problem setting up and using the Kobo Forma. The homepage shows your current book along with your personal library. There’s also an icon for the bookstore, with a best sellers carousel front and center. The menu bar at the top of the screen has a battery life indicator, a search bar, sync icon, brightness control, and a drop-down menu that allows you to quickly access ebook features.

While reading, you’ll still be able to access all the features in the top menu as well as a bottom bar that allows you to customize your reading experience. Simply tap the top of the screen and both menus will appear. In the bottom menu, you can quickly access a page slider and table of contents icon. You can also change screen settings, see your reading activity, change the font, and even see a selection of recommended books here.

But there are a few features that are hard to find worth mentioning. Overdrive allows you to easily check out digital titles from your local library. Once you’ve set up Overdrive, just search for a title in the Kobo store, tap the three dot icon and you’ll see an option to check out or reserve from your local library if the title is available.

Koba Forma review
Steven Winkelman/Digital Trends

Pocket is also available on the ebook reader. Pocket, which is also an Android or iPhone app, lets you send articles from your computer or phone to the Forma to read offline. Amazon offers a similar feature on its Kindle ebook readers with Instapaper, but charges $20 a year for it.

Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Activity. This feature provides in-depth stats about your reading, with data such as overall reading time, average reading time per session, how quickly you read, and percentage of books you’ve completed. It’s a fun and enlightening glimpse into your reading habits.

Kobo Store is a great alternative

It’s no secret Amazon has amassed the largest digital bookstore on earth, but don’t let that fool you into think Rakuten won’t have all the titles you want. It’s massive, with more than six million books. We didn’t have much trouble finding titles we wanted to read, however, be prepared for disappointment if you’re looking for digital magazines or newspapers as content is limited to ebooks and audiobooks.

In addition to the Kobo Store, you can also easily download books from other retailers in just about any format imaginable. And since the Kobo Forma also has Overdrive integration, you can also check out books from your local library.

Read for weeks on a single charge

A 1,200mAh battery powers the Kobo Forma. That’s slightly smaller than the battery on the Kobo Aura HD, but Rakuten Kobo claims you should get weeks of use between charges.

While we have not had the opportunity to fully drain the battery on the Kobo Forma just yet, we think you should have no problem getting at least two to three weeks per charge. If you turn off ComfortLight PRO expect to eek out another week. And while its not the best battery life we’ve seen on an ebook reader, it’s on par with the similarly priced second generation Kindle Oasis.

Price, availability, and warranty information

The Kobo Forma costs $280, and it’s available for purchase now from Rakuten’s website.

The Forma is covered by a one-year limited warranty that covers manufacturing defects. Warranty claims are made via the company’s return hotline and require an RMA from the manufacturer along with the original receipt. You’re responsible for shipping costs when sending in an item for repair or replacement.

Our Take

At $280, the Kobo Forma is on the expensive side of ebook readers. While we wish the build quality reflected its premium price point, it is still an excellent value for serious readers.

Is there a better alternative?

Possibly. If you’re a fan of self-published books, listen to lots of audio books, or are deeply entrenched in the Amazon ecosphere, you’ll probably want to check out the second generation Kindle Oasis. It has a smaller display, but you’ll have access to Amazon’s immense library of traditional ebook titles along with more than a million self-self-published titles. You can also store audiobooks on the Oasis and listen to them with Bluetooth headphones.

The Kobo Clara HD is also an option for readers who are looking for a less expensive option from Rakuten. It offers many of the same features you’ll find on the Kobo Forma, but has a smaller six-inch display, and is not waterproof.

How long will it last?

Given you take care of the Kobo Forma and don’t crack the display, we believe it should last four to five years. Ebook readers do not evolve as quickly as other mobile products, and we don’t expect to see a product that would render the Kobo Forma obsolete any time soon.

Should you buy it?

Yes. It may not feel as premium as we’d like, but the Kobo Forma ticks off all the boxes of what you’d want in the perfect ebook reader.

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