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Kobo Plus review: a Kindle Unlimited competitor with potentially more value
7:19 am | May 3, 2022

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets | Comments: Off

One-minute review

Kobo Plus is a relative newcomer to the ebook subscription market, following a similar model to Kindle Unlimited. It’s great for Kobo ereader users, although its availability is very limited at the time of writing. At present, it’s only available in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the US, UK, the Netherlands, Belgium and Portugal. There's no word yet on whether it will be rolled out to other markets, but if you live in any of the aforementioned countries and own a Bluetooth-enabled Kobo ereader, it's a more cost-effective way to scratch your reading itch than buying ebooks, particularly if you're a voracious reader.

There are some notable differences between Amazon's ebook subscription service and Rakuten's Kobo Plus. For starters, where Kindle Unlimited cycles through over a million titles as a ‘library’ of sorts, where you can ‘borrow’ up to 10 titles, Kobo Plus has no such limitations. You can download as many titles at once as you wish from the entire library, and you don’t need to ‘return’ any in order to add more at a future date. That said, you won't 'own' the ebooks as they're not being purchased outright. Meaning, if you cancel your Kobo Plus subscription, you will lose access to the titles you've downloaded.

Kobo Plus’ limitation, as compared to Kindle Unlimited, is in its catalog. When it launched in Australia and New Zealand in 2021, it had about 580,000 titles, but it seems to have grown a little since then... at least we're seeing a few more popular titles than when it first started. That said, it’s still a lot less than what’s available on Kindle Unlimited. 

When it first launched, there were no audiobooks available as part of Kobo Plus, but that's been rectified. In fact, Kobo Plus gives you the freedom to sign up for just reading ebooks or just listening to audiobooks. And if you want both, there's an option for that too, but these individual tiers are currently only available for subscribers in the US, UK and Canada. Either way, a Kobo Plus subscription is cheaper than Kindle Unlimited or Audible, making it better value.

Its other limitations aren’t unique to it: like Kindle Unlimited, you won’t see new releases on Kobo Plus and neither will you see a lot of mainstream authors. That said, we’ve seen the library improve since its launch – at least in Australia – and we’re hoping a few more of the bigger publishing houses (and their authors) sign up as we go along.

Dune graphic novel available on Kobo Plus

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Kobo Plus: price and availability

  • Three subscription tiers in some regions
  • Full Kobo Plus cost: monthly $9.99 / £11.99 / CA$12.99 / AU$13.99 / NZ$14.99
  • 30-day free trial

Where Kindle Unlimited has far more reach, Kobo Plus is only available in a few regions. It launched first in Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium and Portugal in 2020, then arrived in Australia and New Zealand in 2021. As of April 2023, it's now expanded to the US and the UK.

With this expansion, Kobo has divided its subscription service into three different tiers: Kobo Plus Read for just ebooks, Kobo Plus Listen if you want only audiobooks and the full Kobo Plus platform that gets you access to both.

These three tiers are only available in the US, UK and Canada for a monthly price of

• Kobo Plus Read: $7.99 / £8.99 / CA$9.99
• Kobo Plus Listen: $7.99 / £8.99 / CA$9.99
• Kobo Plus: $9.99 / £11.99 / CA$12.99

In Australia and New Zealand, Kobo Plus remains primarily an ebook-only subscription platform that will set you back AU$13.99 / NZ$14.99 a month. The audiobook-only option – not called Listen in the ANZ markets – will set you back AU$12.99 / NZ$13.99 and there is now way to opt in for a plan that offers both reading and listening.

While the individual Read and Listen plans are priced competitively, particularly in the US (with Kindle Unlimited costing $9.99 / £7.99 / AU$13.99), we think it's the full-fat Kobo Plus that's cost effective when compared to other subscriptions. Considering you're getting both ebooks and audiobooks together in the US, UK and Canada, it easily beats out having to get both a Kindle Unlimited and Audible subscription to satisfy your need for good stories.

In comparison, Scribd might be better value if you don't own an ereader of any kind, giving you plenty of ebooks, audiobooks, recipes, sheet music and so much more for $9.99 / £10.99 / AU$14.99.

All Kobo Plus plans come with a 30-day trial and you can sign up for the service via the Kobo website, app or an ereader. If you live in Australia or New Zealand, you can also do so via the Booktopia app.

Adding an ebook on the Kobo Plus iOS app

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Kobo Plus library

  • Limited catalogue of ebooks and audiobooks
  • No magazines

The Kobo Plus ebook library is going to vary from country to country. In Australia, for example, where we reviewed the service, there were no more 600,000 titles available at launch, but that does seem to be improving slowly but steadily.

While that really is very limited as compared to Kindle Unlimited, which has over a million ebooks (and some audiobooks of some of those titles), Kobo Plus has one major advantage over its rival. Unlike Kindle Unlimited, which cycles through selections of its one million titles, every single ebook on the Kobo Plus platform is available to you to download. And where the Amazon alternative limits you to borrowing only up to 10 titles at a time, there's no such restriction on Kobo Plus.

Titles are spread across every genre, but browsing these are best done on a web browser or the Kobo mobile app, both of which offer a list of genres that you can use to filter the catalogue. If you’re trying to browse via a Kobo ereader, you’re limited to five categories of ‘most popular’, ‘new’, ‘page turners’, ‘hidden gems’ and ‘crime, mystery and thrillers’, each with just 20 titles listed. 

If you’re looking for something specific, you can use the Kobo Store’s search bar on the ereader under the Discover tab and then filter by ‘Kobo Plus’ from the dropdown menu. During our testing of the service, we used the Kobo smartphone app to add books to our Kobo Plus library and then read on the Libra H2O and the Kobo Sage tablets. This issue is not limited to Kobo’s platform; we had a similar problem with Kindle Unlimited, where it was easier to peruse the full library on a desktop web browser than on a Kindle ereader.

Browsing Kobo Plus bestsellers on a Kobo Sage

(Image credit: TechRadar)

When we first started using Kobo Plus in 2021, we found the platform flooded with romance and erotica, just like Kindle Unlimited. While that hasn’t changed, we’ve started seeing more well-known authors appearing on the catalog. 

For example, fantasy fans will be glad to see some Terry Goodkind and SA Chakraborty’s The Daevabad Trilogy available, alongside Lady Colin Campbell’s Meghan And Harry and The Real Diana in the biography section for fans of the royal family. You’ll also find James SA Corey’s The Expanse books, Jeff Kinney’s Diary Of A Wimpy Kid plus a few more popular titles like that.

There’s a decent collection of history books, plus an impressive selection of manga too, including Attack On Titan.

Anyone fond of the classics will enjoy Kobo Plus. From George Orwell’s 1984 to lots of CS Lewis, plus Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Aldous Huxley and so much more, there really is plenty to keep you occupied for a long time.

Kobo Plus on mobile and a Kobo ereader

(Image credit: TechRadar)

From what we can tell, the platform seems to be growing. We’ve been keeping an eye on it for a few months and the library is certainly looking better than what it was in 2021 – specifically, we can see more mainstream/popular authors listed now but they are still few and far between. That said, Kobo can't add any title to its subscription service unless the publishing house allows it.

Which explains the significant overlap on popular titles available on both Kindle Unlimited and Kobo Plus, but the latter trumps Amazon's ebook subscription service by offering all books in an entire series on Kobo Plus. For example, all three books in Liu Cixin's Remembrance of Earth's Past (of The Three-Body Problem fame) are available on Kobo Plus (in fact, the extended series is), while Kindle Unlimited just offered two when we tested Amazon's platform... at least in Australia. 

As mentioned, audiobooks are also part of the service and, like Audible, you get a credit each month to put towards any of the titles on offer. Kobo says there are about 100,000 audiobooks in its catalog and we can see all the popular ones up for grabs. Fantasy fanatics will find the likes of Terry Pratchett to Brandon Sanderson, while fans of the actor Sam Neill will find his memoir Did I Ever Tell You This? narrated by himself, for example.

While you lose access to the ebooks if you cancel your subscription (like Kindle Unlimited), you get to hold on to the audiobooks you 'purchase' with your monthly credit (again, like Audible) even after you decide to stop paying for Kobo Plus.

Kobo Plus on a Kobo ereader

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Kobo Plus user experience

  • Ereader support
  • Well designed Kobo app

Kobo Plus is remarkably easy to sign up for on desktop, via the mobile app or on a Kobo ereader. During our testing, the best overall experience of using Kobo Plus was via the app, but that was only because of how limiting it is to find your next read on a Kobo ereader. But the fact that you can use it on Kobo hardware makes it a lot more tempting than Scribd (which has no ereader support). The flipside to that is that the latter has a truly vast and varied library that includes podcasts, audiobooks, sheet music and more, something you won’t get on any other ebook subscription service.

For anyone using the Kobo app on a smartphone or tablet, the subscription service is easily accessible as a tab on the homepage itself, as is the case on the Kobo website. On a Kobo ereader, on the other hand, you’ll find it under the Discover tab on the homescreen. 

If you’re switching devices while reading or listening, say from a phone to your ereader or vice versa, your library is synced almost instantly, as do pages of ebooks. When we read a little on the iOS app and then moved on to the Kobo Sage, we got a popup on the ereader letting us know the correct page to start from, which is very handy indeed.

Our only negative user experience was when browsing Kobo Plus. While there are several genres to check out, book categorization under each is very mixed up. You’ll find a whole load of fiction sitting under nonfiction subgenres, and this is particularly evident under History, where a lot of historical fiction and romance can be found. We found erotica listed under Comics, Graphics Novels and Manga, which also had The Expanse listed as well. It really does require some patience when browsing.

OverDrive setup screen on Kobo Sage

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Kobo Plus vs OverDrive

Amazon Kindle users in the US are able to borrow ebooks from a local library, but this option isn't available anywhere else. For those living elsewhere, Kobo's ereaders could be the better, more cost effective tablet – as long as your local public library has OverDrive support, you can borrow ebooks as you would a physical one, and from the comfort of your own home.

Every single Kobo ereader comes with OverDrive baked in, so if you aren't too fussed about owning the titles you read, then borrowing them from a local library is a great way to save some cash. It should be noted that while the OverDrive app is being retired to make Libby the main go-to mobile platform for borrowing library books, OverDrive support will remain on Kobo's devices... at least for the foreseeable future.

Joining a public library is usually free (or subsidised in some countries) and setting it up on a Kobo ereader costs nothing. Borrowing also costs nothing... you get where we're going with this.

Not only is OverDrive a free alternative, it might also be a better option in the choice of titles. It's likely that your local library has a better collection of digital books that you would like to read as compared to the unknown authors you'll find on Kobo Plus. 

That said, the catalog on the subscription platform is a treasure trove of undiscovered gems, so the choice between OverDrive and Kobo Plus will depend on what your personal reading preferences are.

If, however, your local library also offers audiobooks, these won't play on Kobo's own Bluetooth-enabled devices. This is because Kobo has closed off this bit of its rather open ecosystem and only those purchased from the Kobo Store will play.

Should I subscribe to Kobo Plus?

Kobo Plus sign-up page on Kobo Sage

(Image credit: TechRadar)

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[First reviewed May 2022]