Kobo Fail!

For Christmas, my dad received a Kobo ereader.  While it now appears to be working correctly, apparently the people the produce the device are stupid on top of being clueless and having failed both Marketing 101 and Customer Service 101. Read on for more.

For those not in the know, the Kobo ereader is the Chapters/Indigo offering to compete with the Kindle. Various models of the Kobo have been around for a few years now so one would reasonably expect the device to work reasonably easily out of the box. One would, however, be wrong. The particular model is the Kobo Glo and it was purchased in December, just weeks before Christmas.

What Happened

In the box, one finds the Kobo itself, a USB cable, a quick start guide, and various other paraphernalia. In all, the contents of the box is quite reasonable and pretty much what one would expect. The quick start guide is clear enough, containing four steps. First, one is directed to connect the Kobo to a computer, then to navigate to the Kobo web site, then to download and install the Kobo software, and then launch the software. In general, a reasonable set of steps to configure a device that does not come preconfigured from the factory.

This would be the end of the story if the instructions worked. But they didn’t. Instead, the device got itself into a state where it was attempting to do something but gave no indication what. It eventually required a hard reboot to get things ticking along. But that’s getting ahead of things.

It turns out that one MUST NOT connect the Kobo to the computer without first installing the Kobo software and one must turn the device on before connecting it. Additionally, one must connect the Kobo at the correct moment during installation.

To further complicate matters, once the software and the Kobo decided they had found each other, the Kobo went into date/time setup screen and then froze hard when anything was attempted. This is clearly not correct behaviour.

Eventually, the configuration got completed after much use of Google-fu and Mad Skillz™. As I understand it, more than one hard restart of the device was required.


So, here is what is wrong with the Kobo and how they could easily be solved.

  1. Hard Lockups. Hard lockups of the device should not happen. Period. However, given that it is not possible to make either software or hardware completely perfect, there should be obvious information on how to recover from such a situation. A simple insert in the box with troubleshooting information would be enough. It would simply need to say how to detect a hard lockup and what to do if it happens. For newer versions of the hardware, a watchdog timer could be implemented to force restart the device if the software ever stops indicating it is alive.
  2. Mysterious Indicator Screens. Any screen indicating that the device is doing something should at least say what it is trying to do somewhere. A bit of text on the screen, say at the bottom, would not make the interface more complicated. If that text said what to do if the screen got stuck, even better.
  3. No Timeouts. All processes must time out eventually if they fail. Attempting to do something indefinitely is stupid. Throw an error if something hasn’t completed in a reasonable time. For instance, if the device fails to synch with the computer, time out after a while and show a message saying what went wrong and how to fix it.
  4. Incorrect Setup Instructions. The quick start instructions must actually be correct. Do not include instructions that have not been tested with real devices in the retail packaging. If a device needs proper activation, the instructions must specify the correct set of steps in the correct order. It must also specify what to do if the steps do not work.
  5. Missing User Manual. There is no obvious user manual for the device. There is none in the box. There is no reference to one in the quick start guide. And the manual is not present in the device itself. While packaging the manual with it might not be reasonable, the other two would be trivial to accomplish!
  6. Not Functional Out of the Box. Why does the device need special configuration to be functional? Why can it not operate directly out of the box? Is there any reason it can’t be pre-activated with a simple setup utility built into it? It could then come with a welcome screen that contained proper instructions on how to configure the device. It could also contain the user manual preloaded. Sure, it wouldn’t be able to access a Kobo account or the like without additional configuration, but there’s no reason it shouldn’t be able to charge from a USB connection, appear as a standard device to the host computer (mass storage, for instance), and allow access to some simple preloaded content such as a user manual, marketing literature, and so on.

Compared to the Kindle which Just Works™ out of the box, the new Kobo experience is terrible. A customer encountering even a fraction of the trouble detailed above would be perfectly justified in taking the device back to the store and demanding a cash refund. I know if I had such an experience, I would likely not be happy with a store credit even though I buy physical books from the same store. I know most places will not give cash refunds for any merchandise at all, but as far as I know those policies have not been tested in court.

My advice to anyone considering purchasing a Kobo is as follows. Don’t. Until the Kobo comes pre-activated and works out of the box, it is simply not worth it. There is no excuse for the current state of affairs. Some simple quality assurance on the part of the manufacturers would have prevented it.

My advice to anyone who has a Kobo that they have not got working is to complain to the customer service representatives. Complain in writing. Send physical letters. Copy those complaints to every level of management at Chapters/Indigo. Copy those complaints to the manufacturer. Copy those complaints to any consumer watchdog group. Copy your local media outlets. Also return the device and demand a cash refund. Do not accept a store credit. Explain calmly and firmly that they are selling merchandise that is defective by design. If needed, insist on talking to a manager. If needed, insist that you talk to the general manager of the store. Throughout all of this, remember that there is absolutely no excuse for selling products that do not work properly. None whatsoever, no matter what anyone tells you.

If enough people make enough noise and make it loudly, the situation will change.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *