Kobo Arc 10HD review

Pros

  • Sterling build quality
  • Sharp HD screen
  • Excellent performance
  • Bargain price point

Cons

  • Screen has yellow tint
  • No microSD slot

Well, this throws a cat amongst the tablet pigeons. Just as it seemed nothing bar a new Nexus 10 would unseat the old Nexus 10 as the king of 10in Android tablets, Kobo comes out of nowhere with the Arc 10HD. It’s the 10in sibling of the old Kobo Arc and new Kobo Arc 7HD, bearing a killer combination of a great HD screen, high-end performance and strong physical design, all for a bargain-busting £299. The Arc 10HD can’t compete with the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 or iPad Air on the new battlefront of thin-and-light, but if you like a lot of tablet for not a lot of money, it’s a very exciting new contender.

Design

It’s funny we should mention the Kindle Fire, because the Arc 10HD has an angular look and feel that isn’t miles away from Amazon’s latest creations, though it also ties in with Kobo’s Aura eBook readers. The front is plain with a slim black frame around the 10.1in screen, while the back appears to be a rubberised plastic over a strong magnesium chassis, with the corners and edges tapering sharply away. At 9.9mm thick and 627 grams, the Arc 10HD is a little on the heavy side, particularly in comparison to lightweight marvels like the Sony Xperia Tablet Z, Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 or iPad Air, but it’s fine for everyday use. The construction, meanwhile, is as solid as it comes.

The power switch is a sliding toggle, the same as you’ll find on Kobo’s eBook readers, and there’s an LED indicator next door to tell you when the tablet is on standby. Otherwise, the only things spoiling the clean lines are a volume rocker on the right-hand side, and microUSB, microHDMI and headphone sockets on the left.

Note that the Arc 10HD has no microSD card slot for expansion, which, with only 16GB of storage on board, is its biggest downfall. If you like to stream your music and movies and install a few apps then you won’t have any problems. If you like to store and play everything locally, you might have issues here.

Screen and sound

This time last year 1280 x 800 was the baseline resolution for mid-range tablets, with just a few outliers like the Google Nexus 10 pushing things further. 1920 x 1200 has become the new standard, and that’s what I expected to find on the Arc 10HD. Yet Kobo has gone one better, fitting its tablet with a 2560 x 1600 resolution display to match that of its Google rival. It’s a very clean and clear display, rendering beautifully crisp, black text and detailed images, and it’s very bright.

If it’s not quite as good as the HD displays we’ve seen on the Nexus 10 or the Fire HDX, it’s because these tablets offer slightly better whites – those on the Kobo have a distinct yellow-ish tint. You can try to fix this by changing the Display options to disable the preset SRGB colour profile, but all this does is swap the yellow tint for a blue one. It’s not something that spoils your viewing of HD movies or your reading of digital magazines, though, and we’d take the Arc 10HD’s clarity over a lower resolution screen with whiter whites any day.

Audio isn’t exactly the Arc 10HD’s strong suit. There’s more of a stereo effect than on some other tablets, but there’s not much power, while the tone is dominated by a nasty, honky mid-range. It’s just about adequate for playing games or watching movies, but you’ll get a lot more out of both if you don some headphones.

Software

Unlike Amazon’s Kindle, the Arc 10HD comes running a stock version of Android 4.2.2, but with a few enhancements that reflect Kobo’s focus on the written word. On the right-hand side of the screen in landscape mode, or the bottom in portrait, you’ll find a semi-translucent bar with your Google account photo plus links to the Kobo store, Gmail, the Google Play store (though the icon is different and labelled Get Apps), the stock Android browser and Facebook. Drag this to the right and you pull out a Kobo-specific reading view, with all the books and magazines you’ve recently read waiting for you. Tap on one of these and it instantly opens in Kobo’s eBook reader app.

It’s an interesting choice that puts reading at the heart of the Arc experience without shutting you away from a wider world of content, as Amazon’s approach tends to do. You can still buy your books and use the eBook reader apps from Google or even Amazon, use the full range of streaming music and video services, and ready magazines using Google Play’s new Newsstand feature. This is fortunate, because while Kobo is pushing the Arc 10HD as the perfect tablet for reading digital magazines, the special guided features seem to only work with the magazines available in the US, and no UK magazines – or any other magazines – can be found on Kobo’s UK store.

You can set the Arc 10HD to go into reading mode when you’re reading books, where it reduces brightness levels, and turns off wireless, sounds and notifications. You can alter all these options if you wish, but they help make this tablet one of the best we’ve found for easy reading.

Beyond this, Kobo pre-installs a few apps, including Pinterest, the stylish newsreader Feedly, and the ingenious save-for-later website reader, Pocket, which it also supports on its eBook readers. There’s also an app for Wuaki.tv – which is owned, like Kobo, by Ratuken – and provides a mix of subscription TV and movies with premium rental titles. Kobo gets credit for making these services accessible without cutting off others or ramming them down your throat, which is more than we can say for some other tablet manufacturers we could mention.

Performance

HD tablets need processing power, and we’ve seen a few recently where a lack of the aforementioned has been the weakest link. This isn’t a problem for the Arc 10HD. It comes packing Nvidia’s latest Tegra 4 SoC with a quad-core ARM A15 CPU and a 72-core custom GPU, running at 1.8GHz. Throw in 2GB of DDR3 RAM and the Arc 10HD can cope with any app you care to throw at it, and this slate runs HD video without a stutter, also dealing with any transitions and animations in the Android interface with no sweat. The Geekbench 3 score of 818 single-core and 2303 multi-core makes mincemeat of the previously mighty Nexus 10, and should help the Arc 10HD compete with the new crop of Snapdragon 800-based big hitters.

Tegra 4 is, of course, a graphics powerhouse, and if you like a spot of gaming while you’re busy travelling, the Arc 10HD is an excellent choice. With a performance of 18 fps offscreen and 11 fps onscreen in the demanding GFXBench T-Rex HD test, it’s much, much faster than the Atom-powered Asus MeMO Pad FHD10, although we’re seeing benchmark results for Snapdragon 800-based devices that are slightly faster. Even the most ambitious Android games, like Dead Trigger 2, run with all effects on without a hint of judder.

Camera

With the focus on media, the Arc 10HD hasn’t got a rear-facing camera, which is either a shortfall or just a sensible saving, depending on your point of view. There is a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera for video chat, but performance isn’t brilliant with a little too much noise unless you’re in a brightly lit environment.

Battery life

Kobo quotes a battery life of “up to 9.5 hours” from the 6550 mAh capacity battery. As always, actual usage will depend on what you’re doing. With HD video streaming, games and a lot of browsing we’ve been getting figures closer to seven or eight hours, which is below the level of more premium Android tablets, not to mention the MeMO Pad FHD10.

Verdict

The Arc 10HD is Kobo’s strongest tablet to date, and while there are areas where it falls short, it’s still a great budget option. True, we’d love to see whiter whites from the screen, a microSD card reader and a slightly longer battery life, but when you look at what you’re getting for your £300 – the supra-full HD screen, the excellent build quality, the Tegra 4 processor – it’s an absolute bargain. This might not be the thinnest, lightest or most desirable big-screen tablet, but when it comes to value for money the Arc 10HD is just about unbeatable.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

Kobo Arc 10HD

Processor

1.8GHz Nvidia Tegra 4

RAM

2GB

Memory

16GB

Memory Expansion

None

Display

10.1in 2560 x 1600 HD+ Display

Connectors

MicroUSB, headphone, microHDMI

Main Camera

n/a

Front-facing camera

1.3 megapixel

Wi-Fi

802.11b/g/n

Battery

6550mAh

Size and weight

253 x 172 x 9.9mm, 627g