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The E-Reader


For a while now I've been reading some internet fiction, mostly SF/F on Royal Road, and for a more pleasant reading experience I thought I should get an e-reader rather than using my phone. So about a month ago, after some helpful recommendations from people on the fediverse (thanks!), I got myself a Kobo Glo HD from ebay.


Royal Road

Fediverse thread


I chose the Glo HD for a few reasons:


Although I like the idea of a fully open hardware+software device, I wanted something I knew would work and I could get quite easily and quickly.

I didn't want to buy something new when there are perfectly good second-hand devices around.

It wasn't too expensive at £45.

It's not a Kindle.

It's got a 300 ppi e-ink display.

It is the last of the Kobo devices to have a micro-SD slot, although the card is used for all the devices is storage and not intended for removal.

Apparently it can boot PostmarketOS.



Hardware


I'm very happy with it from a hardware perspective. I like that it fits in my pocket, unlike a lot of physical books (depending on book and pocket size). It's a good size and weight to hold comfortably, and the battery lasts well (I think I've charged it twice). The screen looks great and the refreshes don't bother me as much as I thought they would. What I would like is some grip on the bottom so it doesn't slip when I lean against something on the table, but that can probably be done with an elastic band and some glue. The frontlight works, but I don't use it because it feels a bit glare-y and kinda spoils the advantage of an e-ink display.



Software


The first thing I did was to bypass signing into a Kobo account using this tutorial:


Hacking the Kobo Clara HD – 2: Bypassing registration/sign in


There are some other good Kobo hacking tutorials on that blog, which I recommend checking out if you're a Kobo user.


Then I installed KOReader, a document viewer for multiple families of e-ink devices which supports lots of formats and has a load of functionality in general. Maybe too much functionality. The number of different menus is a bit ridiculous.


KOReader


To get reading material onto it I first tried KOReader's RSS/Atom downloader, but that complained about improperly formatted feeds and didn't work. Then I tried FTPing to my VPS, but KOReader doesn't support SFTP and setting up an FTP server was a pain so I gave up. WebDAV with Nextcloud worked, but webDAV doesn't sync a directory like I wanted, just downloads individual files when you ask. Finally I settled on using KOReader's ssh server (I think it's dropbear), and SFTPing into it.


I wrote some shell scripts to run on my desktop or phone (through Termux) to download stuff from Gemini and Royal Road, which I can then send to the Kobo.


The Gemini one fetches a gmisub aggregate and downloads all posts from a given date to a directory. It optionally saves them as .txt so I can read them in KOReader. Plain text is alright given that raw Gemtext is easy to read, but the font is monospace and I can't figure out how to switch it. Maybe I should try adding Gemtext support to KOReader...


Ideally I would have a full Gemini browser on the Kobo. I think ~bagel of breadpunk.club made a start on a Go client, but after a very half-hearted look I can't find it right now. I also had a go cross-compiling gmni (the Kobo doesn't have a compiler), but was thwarted by different glibc versions.


~bagel's Kobo eReader development notes


The Royal Road script initially used RSS feeds and mozilla's readability.js, but I really didn't like using nodejs. In the end I wrote a shell script which scrapes Royal Road directly using POSIX tools, so I can run it directly on the Kobo! Yay!



Final Thoughts


I'm pleased I got it. Although I still prefer paper books, an e-reader is much more enjoyable to use than I thought. E-paper is so cool :-)



---------------------------

Callum Brown, 2021-06-05

Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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