Kobo’s cheap e-reader coming soon

Pre-orders have begun for the Kobo e-reader, which drives a hard bargain at $150. The device will be available on June 17.

Kobo’s reader does one thing — read digital books — and aims to do it well. Like Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook, it’s a lightweight slab with an E-Ink display, which tries to mimic the look of real paper. Supported book formats include ePub, PDF and Adobe DRM.

Unlike the Kindle and Nook, the Kobo e-reader is completely bereft of extra features. There’s no music player, no Web browser and no games. And with no 3G or Wi-Fi support, you have to load books onto the device from a computer via USB. But with those sacrifices comes a $110 cost savings over the competition.

Other specs for the Kobo e-reader include 1 GB of memory plus SD storage, up to two weeks or 8,000 page turns of battery life, and the ability to sync the reader wirelessly with select smartphones via Bluetooth, letting you pick up from where you left off on forthcoming Kobo smartphone apps.

It looks like Kobo’s e-book strategy has progressed nicely since we last covered the device. For Kobo, the book store is more important than the hardware, and the company’s plan is to use its large catalog of e-books to create branded stores for big-name clients. In the United States, for example, Kobo is working with national chain Borders, which will launch its own digital book store with over 1 million titles, powered by Kobo. Borders will also sell the Kobo e-reader at its stores.

Borders also plans to sell other e-readers in the future — perhaps the more feature-rich Alex — and Kobo’s okay with that, because it’s still powering the book store, and presumably taking a cut of the profits.

The idea is for Kobo and Borders to be platform-agnostic, and so far they’re doing a good job with apps for iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry and PC. My only wish is that some day you’ll be able to read Kobo’s titles in iBooks, Kindle books in Kobo, iBooks offerings in Kindle so on. But that would require everyone to adopt a standard file format and DRM, and that would just be too easy.