Made by ebook seller Kobo, the Vox is better viewed as a cheap tablet rather than a straight e-reader -- it doesn't have an E-Ink screen like the Amazon Kindle.
Available now from WH Smiths for £150, this low-priced slate, which runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread and integrates with Kobo's ebook service, aims to challenge Amazon -- especially while the latter drags its heels over releasing the Kindle Fire in the UK.
But does the Kobo Vox offer enough to keep British bookworms happy?
Design and build quality
You wouldn't want to hold up a big 10-inch slate for hours on end as you made your way through Lady Chatterley's Lover, so thankfully the Vox has been given a manageable 7-inch screen. That should please those of you wanting to get elbow deep in an ebook.
Whether a 7-inch display on a tablet is a good thing or not depends on what you want to use it for. On the one hand, it's just about small enough to fit into a large jeans pocket or a small shoulder bag, but on the other, it isn't the best tablet for sofa-surfers kicking back and scrolling around the web.
At 13.4mm thick, it's a pretty chunky beast, especially compared to the 9mm of Apple's iPad 2. With a heft of 402g, it's not exactly lightweight. But svelte design usually comes with a premium, and there's certainly a lot of people who'd be happy to sacrifice millimetres in order to save a few tenners, so we're not going to complain too much.
The back of the tablet has been given a rubberised raised diamond effect that's quite attractive. The grippy coating makes holding the tablet in one hand much easier. However, the construction material does feel a little cheap and it offers a rather plasticky sound if you drum your fingers on it.
Around the edges are a volume rocker, a power button, a 3.5mm headphone jack, a micro-USB port and a microSD card slot. The latter is handy, given the meagre 8GB of internal storage, and it's something that isn't on offer on the Kindle Fire.
There's no camera around the back, but for the price, that's acceptable. Cameras on cheap tablets tend to be appalling pieces of tat that we could do without so we're not complaining about this omission. Those of you hoping to get in some video calling with a front-facing camera are out of luck too.
Kobo ebooks service
Kobo offers a very similar ebooks service to Amazon. Set up a free account and you can go about browsing the digital library. One of Kobo's biggest draws is the size of its collection. It offers over 2 million titles, of which 1 million are free to download. That's a sizeable chunk more than Amazon offers, so if you want free literature, then Kobo is worth checking out.
As far as prices go, JRR Tolkien's The Lord of The Rings is £12.99 on both Kobo and Kindle and Daniel Tammet's Born on a Blue Day (an excellent insight into high-functioning autism) is £4.99 on both. Professor Robert Winston's Human Instinct is slightly cheaper for Kindle at £6.44, undercutting Kobo's £7.49 price tag.
We found that prices were generally pretty similar, with Amazon having a slight edge over Kobo.
Using the service is very straightforward too -- create an account, browse the collection and start adding titles to your personal library. When you put your account information into the Vox tablet, your books will automatically download over Wi-Fi. We found the whole process to be hassle-free. It could be managed by even the most technologically impaired.
The Kobo service is open to anyone though -- as the Kobo app can be downloaded on any Android or iOS device, you don't need to have a Kobo tablet in order to buy books.
Android 2.3 Gingerbread
The Vox runs on Android 2.3 Gingerbread, which definitely adds to the 'this is a tablet, not an e-reader' argument. Gingerbread isn't the latest version of Android and it's not optimised for tablets, but we have to forgive that seeing as it's a budget model.
Most manufacturers put their own skin over the stock Android interface and Kobo is no exception. The most glaring change is the full-screen Kobo widget on the central screen, which shows a collection of your most recently read books. This makes it easier to get straight back into storyland without having to navigate through various menus.
Along the bottom of the screen is a static bar that contains icons for launching your ebook library or the Kobo store for more ebook shopping.
Although it's an Android device, you don't have access to the Android app store so don't get excited about the hundreds of thousands of apps that are keeping your mates happy. Instead, you can access GetJar, which is a third-party app store. It offers a few goodies such as Angry Birds Seasons, but it only stocks a tiny percentage of what's available on Android Market.
In the app menu you'll find icons for Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Sadly, these aren't official apps -- they're merely shortcuts that load the web browser. That won't please the hardcore social networkers among you. Don't worry though, you can still navigate to our totally awesome Facebook page.
The 7-inch screen uses technology called FFS+ which, apart from being hilarious, also apparently makes the screen easier to view under bright conditions.
While we agree it's pretty bright, we wouldn't say it's any better than other tablets we've used. In fact, the amount of reflections that crept in made it quite awkward to view at times. It wasn't too bad under our moderate office lighting, but we don't reckon it'll do so well in direct sunlight.
The Vox is certainly not as easy to read as the crisp, print-like E-Ink displays you'd find on the Kindle or Kobo's e-reader, but it still manages to display your books adequately.
It does a fair job of handling colours though. It's not as vivid as other screens we've seen but it will certainly cope with illustrations in kids books or playing YouTube clips. If you really want to settle back and enjoy a movie at its best though, this won't be the tablet for you.
Shoved inside that rubberised back is an 800MHz processor and 512MB of RAM, which is underwhelming. Those are the sort of specs we'd usually find in a budget smart phone like the Orange San Francisco 2. In a small phone, that's fine. But we didn't expect much in the way of performance on this bigger device.
Sadly, our fears were spot on. The Kobo Vox is seriously under-powered, which resulted in a rather unpleasant experience. Even swiping between the various home screens was laggy and jerky. Opening up menus and apps often resulted in a delay of several seconds between physically poking at the screen and the app running.
The touchscreen is also very unresponsive. We quickly found ourselves having to take extra care to ensure we pressed accurately and firmly. Swipes between screens often didn't register or would be treated as a single press, opening an app, rather than moving the page. This quickly became frustrating to the point of screaming.
Typing with the on-screen keyboard is manageable so long as you take your time and really pay attention to what you're doing. For short URLs, it's not too much of an issue, but if you're hoping to sit down and bash out a long email, then you're going to need the patience of a saint. With a cup of chamomile tea. In the bath. Listening to pan pipes.
There's just about enough power to launch the Kobo e-reading app although you should expect some long waits when you open different books and swipe between pages -- especially if each page has a load of pretty pictures.
Even worse -- at times when we tried to open the ebook library, the Kobo application would show an error and have to force close. When we tried to open it to take screenshots, the error came up repeatedly, even when we restarted the tablet.
We're used to the odd quirk in software, but bugs to this extent -- especially in one of the core programs -- is totally unforgivable.
The lack of access to Android Market isn't much of a problem then, as the tablet doesn't seem to have enough power to comfortably navigate around its own operating system, let alone download and play games.
The Kobo Vox may come with a bargain basement price tag, but it cuts some serious corners in terms of power, resulting in a tablet that's often frustrating to use. Its lack of Android app store won't please many.
While the Kobo ebook service is pretty good, it's available as an app on any Android or iOS device, so we'd strongly recommend simply using the service on a better tablet that won't make you want to claw your own eyes out.