Kobo Vox, Social-Reading Android Competitor to the Kindle Fire [PICS]

Kobo Vox, a competitor to the Amazon Kindle Fire, will go on sale Friday. We got our hands on the seven-inch ereader tablet, and here are our first impressions.
LIke the Kindle Fire, the Kobo Vox will retail for a relatively low price of $199 and does not come with 3G, a camera or an external microphone.
But Vox’s approach to the affordable tablet — which costs $300 less than the cheapest iPad 2 — differs from Amazon’s in that it sticks closer to the traditional tablet script.
Vox runs Android. And it looks like it runs Android. While the Kindle Fire’s Android interface looks like a bookshelf, Vox’s has the familiar app-icon layout. The home screen highlights books that have been read most recently, but when you swipe to other screens you might confuse Vox with any other Android tablet.
Borders-backed Kobo doesn’t vend non-book content like Amazon does, so the apps that come loaded on the device to provide media such as periodicals and music are from third parties. Newsstand apps Zinio and PressReader provide access to newspapers and magazines. Rdio provides the tunes.
In regard to hardware, Vox has three distinctions among other tablets: It is slightly lighter than most (14.2 ounces vs. Kindle Fire’s 14.6), allows you to add digital storage with an SD card, and its screen uses a different type of anti-reflective tech. While most screens have an anti-reflective coating, says Welch, Vox’s screen has anti-reflective properties baked in. It’s the same material used for screens in airplane cockpits, and it should make the device easier to read outdoors.
But, as usual, Kobo’s biggest departures from other ereading devices are in its software. One of these departures is that Kobo allows readers to take their content away from Kobo readers and apps.
“When you buy your first Kindle, you are marrying Jeff Bezos,” says Kobo General Manager Matt Welch.
The other departure has been a focus on social reading. In December 2010, Kobo became the first major ebook vendor to introduce a social reading app, Reading Life. The app adds statistics and badges to ebooks. On Vox, Kobo takes the “social reading” concept a step further with a product it announced at F8 called Pulse.
While Reading Life’s social features were largely contained within a separate dashboard of the Kobo app, Kobo Pulse inserts them right into books’ pages.
On each page of an ebook, there’s a button (“a pulse”) that glows stronger when there is a lot of social activity on the page. Tapping it pulls up a bar that shows how many of Kobo’s 5 million users are reading and discussing the book, how many have liked it, and how many comments the page has. Dragging it upward pulls up a dashboard that keeps track of the conversation happening throughout the book, displays reader reviews and recommends new books.
The feature will soon be available as part of the Kobo apps on iPhone and iPad. As far as I can tell, the Kobo Vox‘s biggest feat — and if it isn’t planning to get into the business of selling other types of media, Kobo’s motive behind it — is to make its social reading features accessible on a tablet device that is more affordable than an iPad.
Kobo Vox Hands On
The Kobo Vox comes in four colors: Hot Pink, Lime Green, Ice Blue, Jet Black. It has a 7-inch screen and weighs 14.2 ounces, and stores 8GB of data. Its storage can be expanded with a 32GB micro SD card.

Kobo Vox Back
No matter what color, the Kobo Vox has a black quilted back.

Kobo Vox Bookshelf
The Home screen of the Kobo Box displays books you've recently read. You can tap on a book to enter it.

Kobo Vox Android Interface
Kobo Vox runs Android 2.3. Unlike the Kindle Fire's customized interface, the Vox looks like Android.

Kobo Vox "Pulse"
Kobo's new app update allows readers to interact within the book. A button on the bottom of each page ("a pulse") grows stronger when there's more activity on that page.

Kobo Vox "Pulse"
Dragging the "Pulse" button upward pulls up a dashboard that keeps track of the conversation happening throughout the book, displays reader reviews and recommends new books.

Kobo Vox "Pulse"
Users who hit the "pulse" button can see comments other readers made at that point in the book.

Kobo Vox
A "read along" feature reads childrens books aloud.

Kobo Vox Periodicals
Kobo hasn't built its own newsstand. Instead, it comes loaded with two newsstand apps: Zinio andPressReader.

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