History in the Making

Kobo vs. Kindle vs. Google Play Books: A Guide to eBooks

The eBook and eReader market is a vast and somewhat overwhelming place these days; it seems like everyone has an eReader and an app and something that apparently sets them apart but probably doesn’t. Today I’m here to wade through the three main competitors in the eReading game: Kobo, Kindle, and Google Play Books. (I don’t own any Apple devices, and from what I can tell, Apple isn’t strong here, so iBooks isn’t included.) Whether you are looking for your first eReader to get yourself started, or you are trying to find the best deals on your favourite authors, or just trying to figure out what the difference is between them, I am here to help!
A Guide to eBooks

Side note, because this always seems to come up: I completely respect and understand people who want to stick solely with physical books. For some people, reading on an eReader and reading a physical book is a different experience, and some prefer one over the other. If you aren’t interested in eReading, I have many other book posts to enjoy! Also, this is from a Canadian perspective. Other countries may have differing experiences!
Now, for the basics on each company:
Country of Origin: Canada (2009)
Parent Company: Rakuten Kobo
eReader Available: Yes; currently offers the Aura, Aura One, and Aura H2O.
App Available: Yes; for Android, iOS, Blackberry, Windows, Desktop
Services Available: eBooks, Audiobooks
Country of Origin: United States (2007)
Parent Company: Amazon
eReader Available: Yes; currently offers the Kindle, Kindle Paperwhite, Kind Voyage, 7″ Kindle Oasis
App Available: Yes; for Android, iOS, Blackberry, Windows, Desktop
Services Available: eBooks
Play Logo
Google Play Books
Country of Origin: United States (2010)
Parent Company: Google
eReader Available: No
App Available: Yes; for Android, iOS, Blackberry, Windows, Desktop
Services Available: eBooks

The Actual Reading 
As you can see, Kobo and Kindle both offer a dedicated eReader, while Play Books is an app for one of your other devices! Most eReaders are made of an eInk screen, meaning that it is a low power, paper-like display that is meant to be easier for longer periods of reading than a computer, tablet, or phone screen. However, reading through an app on your phone or tablet eliminates the need for an extra device. On both the eReader and the app, you can adjust the font itself, font size, line spacing, and margins, to create the best reading experience for you! When you are looking for the best option for you, consider where you do most of your reading; if you largely read outside, an eReader would most likely be a better choice, as it eliminates the glare that accompanies a phone or tablet screen. If you mostly read on your couch or in bed, an app on your tablet could be perfect!
Things to Remember:
-If you read books with pictures/images that you need to see in colour (ie graphic novels, comics, patterns), check to see if your device has that capability.
-If you read for long periods of time, check your battery life. A phone or tablet will not have anywhere close to the battery life of an eReader (which is typically 2-4 weeks between charges, even with heavy reading.)

Different tabs for Kobo eBooks and Audiobooks

Each eReader has a book format that it concentrates on- Kobo and Google Play use .epub, and Kindle uses .mobi. They all support .pdf, though reading a PDF on an eReader is rather like looking at pictures of a page of a book. (Meaning that you have to zoom in on a page, rather than adjust the text.) You cannot read a Kobo book on a Kindle, and vice versa. Newer Kobos do work with the Overdrive app used by many libraries, meaning that you can borrow books on your Kobo!
Things to Remember:
-Check your format before buying from an independent publisher! (Meaning not from your Kobo/Kindle/Play store.)

Kindle eBookKindle Home Screen

Once upon a time, there wasn’t a ton of competition as Apple apparently set up a price-fixing scheme with five major US publishers. (Thanks, Apple………) Now, there is some more competition, but not tons. Kobo and Kindle are pretty much identical for prices within a dollar. One might have a different daily deal than the other, but overall, prices are the same! Kobo does have a VIP membership plan where you save 10% off the title price on most books, which tips it a little bit in their favour, but Kindle does have Kindle deals for Prime members. Play Books is the exception to this, though- I have found several books on the Google Play Store for less than half of the price on Kobo and Kindle! This may be because Play Books is still relatively new on the eBook scene, but if you are going strictly by price, Play Books is currently a great deal. Kobo offers deals and coupons for specific lists and books, but 80-90% of the time, it is the same books that were only $3 to start with anyways. Google offers coupons fairly regularly, though; I’ve had several $5 off any book over $5 in the past three months! (I’ve never seen a Kindle coupon.)
I should mention that Kobo does have a price matching service- if you have purchased a book from Kobo within the last 7 days and you can find it cheaper elsewhere online, they will credit you the difference and 10% of the price.
Things to Remember:
-To get better prices, you may have to sign up for a membership service. In my case, it has been worth it, but you have to do the math to see if it’s best for you!
-If you can wait, you can often get coupons by not buying books for a while. (They want you to come back!)

Google Play Books
Google Play Books Home Screen

I understand that audiobooks aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but to me they fall in the same category as eReaders- I use technology to enjoy them. Of the three companies here, only Kobo offers their own audiobook service! (I discuss it here.) As of this weekend, news that Google will be offering audiobooks very soon is floating around! You can find limited audiobooks in the Google Play Music store, but this will see a dedicated tab in the Play Books app allowing you to listen to audiobooks, much like you do with Kobo. Kindle does not offer it’s own audiobooks, it has paired with Audible. This is Kindle’s biggest failing in my opinion, because Audible took years to come to Canada, and their plans are more than Kobo’s. (There are also still a large number of books that are available to US Audible listeners but not Canadian…) So far, I love my Kobo audiobooks. It’s an affordable monthly price, there is a wonderful selection, and I’m earning even more VIP points. I will also be trying the Google Play audiobooks, as well!
Things to Remember:
-A dedicated eReader most likely won’t play your audiobooks, that will be limited to your phone and tablet.
-You may very well be able to get audiobooks through your library, from apps like Overdrive and Hoopla for free!
eReader vs Tablet
As I’ve mentioned throughout, this really comes down to you and your reading habits! If you read for longer periods, you may kill your tablet’s battery and your eyes. If you routinely buy books from all three stores, a tablet will allow you to read whatever you want! A waterproof eReader would allow you to read on the beach while a tablet gives you more options on looking things up.
eReader fans, what is your favourite part about your eReader/app? 
Until tomorrow,
The Historian!
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22 thoughts on “Kobo vs. Kindle vs. Google Play Books: A Guide to eBooks”

  • Great comparison! I’m thinking about starting a digital library, so I’m also evaluating my options.
    I’m hesitant about Kobo because, even though I love their service, after I bought a book I discovered that I can’t share it with my wife, so it would be impossible for us to start a family library under Kobo’s system.
    For what I can see, Amazon does not offer that option in Canada either. Apparently, Amazon Households only exists in the US (at least as of July 2018).
    Google Play does offer the possibility of sharing books with family members, so I believe this to be our best bet. The only downside is that they don’t offer any e-reader… I’m tempted to buy a Kobo e-reader and use it for my Google Play books, but I don’t think I’ll be able to sync between devices if I do that.
    I wish Kobo would allow family libraries. But since then don’t, I’ll have to go with Google Play.

    • I know a lot of families that just have one family account, and just use that account for all of their devices! The only downfall is that you couldn’t have two people reading the same e-book at the same time, but otherwise works fantastically!
      One of the biggest frustrations I have by digital files (be it television, ebook, or music) is that the different availabilities and capabilities WILDLY vary from one country to another due to laws. That is not made clear or explained by any provider though, you have to dig to find that info. They really need to be more upfront with why service X is available in one country but not another.

  • I love my kindle because just about the only time I have to read is in bed, where having a reading light on would mess with my sleep too much.
    I’ve always hated audiobooks and couldn’t quite articulate why until Offspring pointed out, “I like to read, I don’t like to be read to.” That was it, the lightbulb moment for me: when I’m reading, I’m absorbed in a private moment; having a stranger’s voice intrude on that moment ruins it for me. It’s very, “who are you and why are you in my book?!”

    • That is fair, and a great way at explaining it! I’m quite particular about the books I will listen to- I usually listen to biography and history audiobooks where it is very much someone’s story, and it’s quite often their own voice reading it. My commute also jumped from 10 minutes one way to 35 and I lost a good chunk of my reading time, so I had to make it up haha.
      How do you find the backlight on your Kindle on your eyes??

  • I LOVED my kindle! It used to be in my handbag all the time, so I easliy read by way through 50+ books a year. Then, it was stolen out of my hand when I was walking/reading in London. 🙁
    My brother in law gave me his old kindle, but it won’t connect to the internet, so I have been e-bookless for a while now. Urgh. I do really miss it.

    • Okay, I’m entirely bamboozled that someone would steal it out of your hands- WHO DOES THAT?! Put it on your birthday/Christmas list now!! They periodically go one sale for pretty cheap! Can you load your kindle through a USB cord/desktop app??

      • Yep, but that means I can’t get hold of the books that I downloaded on my previous kindle. 🙁
        I need to connect it to sign in as me…

  • I use the basic kindle. I like that I can sync it and then pick up the story from my android phone app if required. My only gripe is the grey background, it was a gift and I would have prepared paperwhite, but it works just as well in sunlight, however in a lamp-lit bedroom it can be difficult to see unless the lamp is nearby. That’s when I would prefer one that’s back-lit. I have just made use of Amazon’s 99p offers for 3 novels for my trip abroad. ?

  • Hey! Thanks for this! I consume books in all three formats—paper, device, audio. I LOVE my e-ink screen, though I have to admit the “basic” Kindle is not very durable and battery on my SECOND one has permanently died (they replaced my first one though so customer service is good). I feel ripped off for being an Audible member for over a year now, but I will check out Kobo audiobooks and switch over if the selection is good. Right now, Audible has introduced their $14.99 CAD deal, so it’s only $2 cheaper than Kobo, but for months and months I had to pay ~$20. XO

    • Thank you for stopping by! I’ve not used a Kindle but my Kobo Touch and Kobo Mini batteries are tanks. I only had to replace the first one because I may have accidentally put it in the washing machine… they have replaced the basic Touch with the Aura, which I am definitely going to have to play with before buying whenever I need to replace it. Kobo’s monthly 1 credit plan is only $12.99, so it’s actually cheaper than Audible! I may actually upgrade to the 2 credit/month plan with Kobo, it’s only $19.99!

  • I’m an avid reader and of course love a proper book but I love my kindle. It was a birthday present quite a few years ago and I use it almost every day. Would be lost without it.

  • I’ve recently found a new appreciation for my kindle. It was really good for when I was away last week as it took up no space in my bag and I knew that if I finished the book I was reading, there were a few others there for me to start reading too. I think I may now take a closer look at kindle book prices Vs (used) paperbacks, but for series of books I’ve already got I’ll probably stick to buying physical books.
    This is a really good comparison though! I didn’t realise how much difference in price there was with google play books, and you’re right, I’ve never once had a kindle ebook voucher. I’ve had ones for money off a new kindle, but never for money off books! But I do tend to keep an eye on the Amazon kindle deals of the day to see if there are any new books I fancy for 99p.

    • It wasn’t until I started comparing across the providers about a month ago that I realised the discrepancy in prices!! And it’s quite odd how all three have VERY different approaches to drawing people in- I personally dislike Amazon’s approach, as I rarely need to buy a new device…. I do love the recommendation aspect of ereaders, though- I love that it will recommend books that other readers liked, because sometimes I’m left wondering what would be similar but the Goodreads app crashes a LOT. This eliminates that problem!… As I sit and eye the Rubbermaid bins full of paperbacks I have to donate, I still have to wait to buy more 🙁

  • I love my Kindle Paperwhite, It’s light, portable and I can read while being in a bed at night without straining my eyes. Plus mine is manga version so I can read manga too.
    x Rasya

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