Browser review: Kobo Touch

Warning This article was written over six months ago, and may contain outdated information.

Inspired by Anna Deben­ham’s report on the Nin­ten­do DSi brows­er, I thought I’d write a short review of the brows­er on my Kobo Touch eRead­er. The brows­er is hid­den away under Set­tings > Extras, below a big bold note that says it’s not offi­cial­ly sup­port­ed; but as it’s there, let’s review it.

Before I get onto the tech­ni­cal details, a lit­tle about how it feels. The Touch has a greyscale Liq­uid Paper screen, which is quite slow to update. This makes it great for read­ing web­site con­tent, but not as good for inter­ac­tion. Pages flick­er and refresh many times as they’re load­ing, which isn’t ter­ri­ble but means you can’t start to read a page until it’s ful­ly loaded.

Inputting text is the biggest pain. There’s a notice­able delay between tap­ping the onscreen key­board and the let­ter appear­ing in the input field. The key­board has two views: one for let­ters, and one for num­bers and punc­tu­a­tion. Switch­ing between the two caus­es a sig­nif­i­cant delay. This makes inputting URLs a pain; I even­tu­al­ly set­tled on a method where I wrote all of the let­ters first, then went back and added the dots and slash­es. You have to type the http:// pro­to­col or it won’t recog­nise the URL, and there’s no feed­back if a URL is invalid or not found. Also, there’s no copy and paste functionality.

Most web­sites work pret­ty well, although when I loaded up Twit­ter (redi­rect­ed to the Mobile view) I was able to send and inter­act with tweets with­out dif­fi­cul­ty, but none of the exter­nal links worked. BBC News worked nice­ly, and dis­played well in the mobile view. You can change the zoom lev­el of pages which comes in very use­ful as the default font size is quite small. 

Okay, onto the nuts and bolts. The screen res­o­lu­tion of the device is 600x800, but it can only be used in the por­trait posi­tion; ori­en­ta­tion changes are not detect­ed. The brows­er iden­ti­fies itself as an Android 2.0 brows­er, run­ning WebKit 533.1. The full UA string is:

Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; U; Android 2.0; en-us;) AppleWebKit/533.1 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/4.0 Mobile Safari/533.1 (Kobo Touch)

As soon as I ran it through HTML5test.com, how­ev­er, it became clear that this has capa­bil­i­ties beyond what the Android 2.* brows­er pro­vides, includ­ing WebGL, Serv­er-sent Events, and Web Sock­ets — although, I haven’t test­ed those fea­tures myself, and when I tried run­ning a very sim­ple WebGL demo it crashed the whole device. It seems to be a cus­tom build of WebKit, with some fea­tures removed — audio, video, local stor­age — but with a mis­re­port­ed UA string.

As far as CSS3 sup­port goes, it’s actu­al­ly pret­ty good, scor­ing 48% on CSS3test.com. It has quite com­plete media query sup­port, although despite sup­port­ing the mono­chrome and col­or media fea­tures, it does­n’t actu­al­ly report itself as mono­chrome. It sup­ports 2D & 3D trans­for­ma­tions, and even tran­si­tions and ani­ma­tions — although these have a very low frame rate and look quite awful, so may have bet­ter been left out.

Although this is quite a capa­ble brows­er, it feels like a very quick cus­tom build of WebKit with­out much con­sid­er­a­tion for the capa­bil­i­ties of the device. I can’t imag­ine many peo­ple want­i­ng to use this as a pri­ma­ry brows­er, but it’s good to know that if you fol­low a hyper­link from an eBook, the des­ti­na­tion page will dis­play well.

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