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Warning This article was written over six months ago, and may contain outdated information.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