Cherry blossom, footy finals and new gadgets: it’s September!

It’s handy being a geek and a September baby. Launches from Sony, Amazon, Kobo and Apple all land around about this month each year, well timed for birthday gift requests, even if some involve long term contracts (the new iPhone) international wrangling (Kindle) and long waits (Kobo).

Last year, my birthday meant a crimson Sony Reader. The year before, a white Kindle. In 2012 … maybe, if the rumours are true, a 7- to 8-inch iPad (dubbed the Mini by the media).

I have a back-up plan, though. If the rumoured smaller format iPad fails to materialize alongside the latest iPhone launch this week, my money’s going on the already announced Kobo Mini 5-inch e-ink ereader. The Canadian ebook specialist’s 134g Mini is pitched as the world’s smallest and lightest ereader. It looks cute, and slender enough to hold in one hand while juggling a baby, which is essential given what’s happening in our house in coming months. It comes in black or white, with a choice of three snap-on coloured backs. Kobo Reading Life is available on the device (but not Kobo Pulse), meaning users can highlight text and type comments then share them via Facebook and Twitter.

The Mini is one of four new devices Kobo announced last week (but not yet available for purchase). Its bigger new siblings are the Kobo Glo (front-lit e-ink) and Kobo Arc full-colour Android tablet, with existing models the Kobo Touch and Vox still on sale too. See the range on the Kobo site here.

Kobo jumped in with its launch just ahead of Amazon, which made a series of ereader announcements last week too. As usual, for Australians, there was much to see but very little to do. We can’t even order the original Kindle Fire tablet in Australia, much less dream of getting our hands on one of the new models any time soon. Even if we could, without a US credit card, we’d be unable to download apps or music for the device. Movies and television are only available to those physically present in the US. For Australian film and television content, an iPad remains the best solution.

The Fire has other flaws. While it is based on the Android operating system, Amazon has tweaked it to the extent that ordinary Android apps are not necessarily compatible (or even available).

Oh yes, and immediately after the launch, there was outrage at the news that the Kindle Fire HD would display ads on the devices lock screen, whether users wanted them or not. Amazon has since backed down, offering a $15 opt-out option on the ads.

I do like the look of the new Kindle Paperwhite e-ink device, but not enough to bug my friends in the US to send me one, particularly given Amazon’s proprietary system means I wouldn’t easily be able to read my Booku books on it (unlike Kobo, which chooses to use industry standard ePub). Amazon says the Paperwhite adds 62 per cent more pixels and increases contrast by 25 per cent. Like the Kobo Glo, it incorporates front lighting.

I’m afraid the new Sony Reader is no match for all of these developments, though in good news for Booku customers, it features an integrated OverDrive service now. It doesn’t look any different to last year’s model, and can’t compete with Kobo on social sharing, nor Amazon on screen advances. One free Harry Potter book won’t change my mind on this one.

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Charlotte Harper

Charlotte Harper is a Canberra journalist, blogger, editor and publisher who has worked in newspapers, magazines, books and online. She runs digital-first non-fiction publisher Editia and covered book industry developments at before joining A former literary editor of The South China Morning Post, Charlotte has also written about books and technology for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times. She once edited a mobile phone and gadget magazine, and is a published author, of a book about digital publishing – Weird Wild Web (Penguin Australia 1999).