Mention the name "Kobo" in a room full of mainstream tablet consumers and you'll probably be met with a phalanx of blank stares. Kobo's not the most well-known tablet maker in the world, but it is one of the more prolific.
This is evidenced by its three newly announced tablets coming later this year, each of which looks to continue the Kobo tradition of offering good specs at reasonable prices. Separately, Kobo also announced the Aura, a new $149 e-ink reader.
The high end
At the high end is the Kobo Arc 10HD. A 10-inch tablet with a Nexus 10/Excite Pro-matching 2,560x1,600-pixel-resolution screen. Like the Excite Pro, the Arc 10HD ships with 2GB of RAM, Android 4.2.2, includes dual-band Wi-Fi support, and runs on a 1.8GHz Tegra 4 processor. It also features both Miracast and Bluetooth 4.0 support. There's a single 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, no back camera, and no built-in storage expansion option.
There's only one 16GB SKU, however, and while the price seems reasonable at $400, it's the same price Google has charged for the similarly specced Nexus 10 since November 2012 and $100 less than the Excite Pro, which comes with 32GB of storage and a microSD card slot.
So, on paper at least, the Arc HD10 seems to exist in that dubious limbo-like netherworld where you can easily make a completely cogent case to either buy or not buy. Of course this is nothing more than conjecture on my part. We'll have to see how it actually performs and feels like and how long its battery lasts. Kobo claims it will last up to 9.5 hours while reading or watching a movie with Wi-Fi off, which is pretty promising.
The Arc 7HD features a 7-inch screen with a 1,920x1,200-pixel resolution and is currently the only small tablet to match the newly refreshed Nexus 7's high 323 ppi (pixels per inch) screen density. It comes in 16GB and 32GB varieties, and houses Micro-USB, Micro-HDMI, and a 1.3-megapixel front camera, as well as 802.11 b/g/n dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.
That's the good news. The less than awesome news is that Kobo went with an older 1.7GHz Tegra 3 for the 7HD's brains. Not a bad processor, just obviously not cutting-edge. Also, the 7-inch tablet includes only 1GB of RAM -- unlike the Nexus 7's 2GB. At $200 for 16GB and $250 for 32GB, the price is still appealing, but the 2012-like specs kind of put a damper on my enthusiasm.
Cheap, but cheap enough?
Finally, at $150 for 8GB of storage, the Arc 7 is the cheapo of the bunch. It features a 1.2GHz MTK8125 CPU, 1GB of RAM and a 1,024x600-pixel screen resolution. Unlike its more advanced brethren, the Arc 7 includes microSD, as well as Micro-USB and Micro-HDMI. The front camera is a low 0.3-megapixel job.
Despite its modest pricing, my gut tells me Kobo should have gone lower. The Asus Memo Pad HD 7 is also $149, but includes a high-resolution screen, dual cameras, and starts at 16GB of built-in storage. Again, we'll wait until we've spent ample time with each of Kobo's newly announced tablets before passing judgment.
Look for the tablets to be available to purchase later this year.