Kobo Arc 10HD review

Kobo's Arc 10HD tablet has power to spare, but its heavy build and cumbersome Android customizations make it a tough sell at $400.
Photo of Kobo Arc 10HD

I wanted to love the Kobo Arc 10HD ($399.99 direct). With its high-res display and quad-core muscle, it has all the requisite parts to compete at the high-end for tablets. But after spending some time with the 10-inch tablet, it’s obvious that the Canadian company’s slate isn’t up for the challenge. The Arc 10HD is a physically impressive device, well-built with an impeccably sharp display, but that’s pretty much true of any of the top tablet options out there these days. It’s missing the polish and snappiness you’d expect given its robust specs, and it’s simply too heavy at a time when lightweight tablets rule the day. Our Editors’ Choice remains the Apple iPad Air for its design and ecosystem, while the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9″ also bests the Arc 10HD in nearly every respect.

Design and Features
The Arc 10HD shares some design cues with Kobo’s Aura HD e-reader, with a boxy silhouette and angular accents along its soft-touch plastic back. It’s a handsome tablet with an airtight build, but it feels substantial to a fault—at 1.38 pounds, the Arc 10HD is 9 ounces heavier than the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9″. It’s just plain big overall, too, at 9.96 by 6.77 by 0.39 inches (HWD), and the boxy corners can dig into your palms, making it a bit unwieldy. This is all the more surprising considering its billing as a reader’s tablet. It’s not outrageously large or heavy, but I’d much rather have the HDX for longer reading sessions.  

Along the left edge are micro USB and micro HDMI ports, as well as a 3.5mm headphone jack. There’s a volume rocker on the right edge, while a red sliding switch along the top powers the Arc 10HD on or off. I actually don’t mind the switch here, as it cuts down on accidentally turning the device on in your bag, but there was a frustrating delay between when I moved the slider and when the Arc 10HD powered on or off. Kobo is aware of the problem and promises a firmware update to fix it, but it was a minor bug that became a major annoyance throughout the course of my review.

The 10.1-inch 2,560-by-1,600-pixel display looks crystal clear, with colors that pop without going overboard on the saturation. Viewing angle is also excellent, and the screen gets plenty bright. Unfortunately, it feels like Kobo omitted oleophobic coating—the glass display is a fingerprint and grease magnet.

The Wi-Fi only tablet that connects to 802.11b/g/n networks on the 2.4 and 5GHz bands. I saw solid download speeds over a corporate 5GHz network, but while Kobo touts its 2×2 MIMO antennas, I found reception to be merely average. Also onboard are Bluetooth 4.0 and Miracast, the latter of which you can use to wirelessly mirror your tablet display onto compatible HDTVs. 

Performance and Android
Powering the Arc 10HD is a quad-core 1.8GHz Nvidia Tegra 4 processor and 2GB RAM, which should provide plenty of punch for running through any Android app. Synthetic benchmarks confirm that the Arc 10HD is on similar footing as tablets like the Asus Transformer Pad TF701. Most of the time, the Arc 10HD felt as spry as the aforementioned Asus and other high-powered tablets, but I noticed some stutters and system slowdowns. Launching a recently read book from the home screen, for instance, would often hang for a moment before taking any action. Graphically intensive games, on the other hand, look incredible on the Arc 10HD.

Like Amazon and its content-focused Fire OS, Kobo has made many tweaks and customizations to Android 4.2.2 here. The company’s all about reading and the Android skin reflects that focus, with book and library themed interfaces. Swipe to the left and you’ll see Kobo Collections, which are stacked horizontally like books on a shelf. Each Collection is like a little Pinterest board—you can add images, passages from books, and Web links or apps. The main home screen houses a strip of five customizable app shortcuts and a large white rectangle dubbed the Kobo Library. Your Library is populated by recently read content from the Kobo book store, as well as suggestions for future reading or supplementary content. For example, our Arc 10HD came preloaded with The White Queen by Philippa Gregory, and the library had an entry for the book itself, as well as a tile with more info about the author. Clicking that tile popped up a short bio and related works. Curiously, an ‘Add to Library’ button within the tile doesn’t actually add that information to the Library—instead it sends a clipping to the default Kobo Collection without giving you a choice of which collection you want it sorted into. All of this is convoluted, adding little value in my mind. If anything, it feels like the heavy skin does all it can to slow down the Arc 10HD.

Kobo also baked in a Reading Mode option for the Arc 10HD. You can customize exactly what the Reading Mode enables and disables, but its primary purpose is to strip down all the distractions (like Wi-Fi, audio, and notifications) that come with a modern tablet experience to put reading at the forefront. Android apps tend to find a way to sneakily enable push notifications (I’m looking at you Asphalt 8 and Dead Trigger 2), so this is definitely a welcome addition. You can also set specific screen brightness levels and schedule times to put the tablet into Reading Mode automatically.

The Arc 10HD also has something onbaord that Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets are missing: the Google Play app store. That means unfettered access to hundreds of thousands of apps. Every app I tried worked great on the Arc 10HD, but while Android’s tablet optimized app selection has improved, it’s still not up to Apple’s level. The Yahoo Fantasy Football app, for instance, still looks awful on a big, high-resolution Android tablet.

Out of the box, you get 13GB of internal storage for apps and media. File support is pretty poor here, as the Arc 10HD couldn’t play DivX, Xvid, or AVI video files. That’s easily remedied, though, using a third-party video player app. There’s no rear-facing camera, but a 1.3-megapixel front-facing shooter suffices for video chats.

In our battery rundown test, which loops a video with screen brightness set to maximum and Wi-Fi on, the Arc 10HD lasted only 4 hours, 30 minutes. You’ll definitely get better results with screen brightness set to a more moderate level, but this is still well short of the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9″, which turned in 7 hours, 44 minutes on the same test.

Conclusions
I respect Kobo’s continued efforts to create an ideal Android tablet, and the company has made definite strides since the ill-fated Vox. The Arc 10HD has power to spare, but it’s too big and heavy and the aggressive Android skin does all it can to slow the tablet down. Then there’s the price: At $400, the Arc 10HD is more expensive than the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9″, which offers a more polished overall experience. And for those focused on reading? Well, the Barnes and Noble Nook HD+ is selling for around $150, weighs considerably less than the Arc 10HD, still packs a high-res screen, and has access to Google Play. The Arc 10HD isn’t a bad tablet, it just doesn’t offer enough for the price. The iPad Air is $100 more, but offers a more refined hardware and software experience. 

Specifications
Wi-Fi (802.11x) Compatibility 2.4GHz/5GHz
Screen Resolution 2560 x 1600 pixels
Operating System Google Android 4.2.2
Dimensions 9.96 x 6.77 x 0.39 inches
Weight 1.38 lb
Screen Type IPS LCD
RAM 2 GB
Camera Resolution 1.3 MP Front-Facing
Storage Capacity (as Tested) 16 GB
Screen Pixels Per Inch 300 ppi
Processor Speed 1.8 GHz
GPS No
Screen Size 10.1 inches
CPU Nvidia Tegra 4
Ports micro HDMI, micro USB
Bluetooth Version 4.0

Verdict
Kobo's Arc 10HD tablet has power to spare, but its heavy build and cumbersome Android customizations make it a tough sell at $400.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc