Kobo Forma Frontlight Flicker and Dark Strip Issues (Video)


Kobo Forma

The new 8-inch Kobo Forma was released last week, and unfortunately it looks like it’s suffering from some quality control issues in regards to the frontlight.

In the Kobo Forma vs Kindle Oasis comparison review, I mentioned how the frontlight on the Kobo Forma has a gradient issue where it appears brighter on one side of the screen than the other. The side with the buttons has a dark strip that runs down the screen.

To me it’s not nearly as noticeable in landscape mode because then the dark strip is hidden away in the footer instead of at the end of every line.

LED frontlights are usually at the bottom of the screen instead of the side where it makes imperfections seem more noticeable.

Frontlight shadows and subtle color gradients aren’t at all unusual when it comes to frontlights, but the Kobo Forma’s frontlight is suffering from a flickering issue as well.

You can’t see the frontlight flicker with the naked eye (not unless you’re really sensitive it), but you can see it in videos.

The flickering might cause headaches and eye strain for some people that are sensitive to that kind of thing.

I noticed the unusual flickering when I was doing the video reviews for the Kobo Forma, and then I saw the YouTube video posted below talking about the issue as well, which is referred to as pulse width modulation. The video was taken using slow motion to capture the flickering effect, but I can see it without using slow motion at times in my Kobo Forma video review (which I’ll be posting tomorrow).

In addition to the screen flickering, you can see the dark strip issue in the video as well, especially toward the end of the video when the brightness is turned up. The side with the buttons clearly has a darker area that goes down the side of the screen, and the frontlight is noticeably brighter on the opposite side. That gives it a gradient look that goes across the screen that can be distracting to the eye while reading.

Hopefully Kobo gets these frontlight issues figured out because the Kobo Forma is a really nice larger-screen ereader otherwise, but at $279 for a dedicated ebook reader you’d expect it not to have these problems.

Kobo Forma Frontlight Flicker Issue

19 Responses to “Kobo Forma Frontlight Flicker and Dark Strip Issues (Video)”

  1. Wow, I’m not a picky person with small imperfections but I couldn’t stand the flickering in that video for even a page. It would kill my eyes and concentration.

  2. Never buy first generation anything. Don’t they test this stuff?

  3. my kobo forma has the same issue kobo will send a new one out once they get this one back a bit worried that the new one will have the same issue

  4. I could not stand to read on something that flickers like that. Maybe if this was Kobo’s very first attempt at a lighted screen you could excuse it and say they’ll get better at it but it isn’t their first. My order of the Forma was ”lost”on its way to UPS and I received a refund from Kobo. After seeing this video and hearing of some of the issues people are having – I am glad it never arrived. What a disappointment.

  5. Can someone please tell me if the flickering is there when the light is completely off? This doesn’t sound like something Kobo can fix overnight or with a patch. Too bad because Kobo Forma has everything I want in an e-reader.

    • Again, to be clear, you can’t see the flickering with the naked eye, but it’s there either way and some people get bothered by that type of thing. Regardless, there is no flicker with the light off or with it at 100% brightness with the yellow light turned all the way up.

  6. Make sure you’re all watching Nathan’s own video too. This slow-mo video greatly exaggerates the issue. Granted, the issue shouldn’t exist at all and shame on Kobo, but if the above video is all you see, you’re not getting the full picture.

    • I think part of the problem is that we cannot see an actual Kobo Forma at Walmart or play with it. Physical models are not available. So we rely on videos and comments. If nothing else, Kobo has to improve the connection between Walmart and customers for its products.

      • Agreed. I’d like to see for myself how bad it is. Based on comments and videos, I’ll stick with my Kindle.

      • Agree. The worst business decision on Kobo’s part is to not have the devices in all Walmart stores for customers to see, handle and play with.

      • Yeah, you want me to buy something, have a product for my to try first. It’s $100 and up, that’s not “I’m sure I will get used to it” money. Also get more outlets than Wal-mart; I can’t even get to one if I want to.

  7. This is why I could not buy the iPhone X/XS – Pulse width modulation flicker. Causes headaches, eyestrain and migraines in certain people. The screen flickers, not visible to the naked eye but the brain sees it. I am afraid that this may be built in. No Forma for me.

  8. This isn’t the first time Kobo has had issues with the frontlight. The Clara HD had problems with side light bleed. To me, this shows a lack of attention to detail. A shame because Kobo is innovative in so many ways. They better sort this out or forever remain a distant second to Amazon.

  9. I just bought the Kobo Forma because I love the size but the issue with the front light is so distracting I can’t read! I am returning it! Very disappointed because I love the size!

  10. After reading Nathan’s review and user’s comments, I just canceled my WalMart ship to store Forma order. I am disappointed, but perhaps Kobo will get enough complains and returned devices that they will quickly introduce a Forma 2 with “Analog” dimming. I believe that this is a hardware choice and there can’t be a software update to fix this. Some (not all) research shows that PWM dimming can be damaging to eyesight even if the user doesn’t seem to have any side effects. Even it IEEE, a professional society for electrical engineers, indicates in a paper (http://www.ece.neu.edu/groups/power/lehman/Publications/Pub2010/2010_9_Wilkins.pdf) that health problems are a risk at least for some.

    Let’s hope Rakuten Kobo sees the flickering light and fixes this quickly.

    • If they went for PWM control of the LEDs, that’s definitely a baked-in hardware choice, at both the PCB and PCBA levels. I agree with you, David – unless they laid the traces & pads for a backup analog solution already, this is a board revision that Kobo almost certainly won’t try until the next gen Forma.

  11. I’m having the same issue, the dark bar on the right side of the screen and the right side of the screen is brighter (maybe seemingly brighter because of the dark bar). I actually got a little physically ill after reading a few pages. I’ll be sending mine back to Chapters Indigo in Canada after I’m done fighting with them over return shipping. I saved a nice chunk of money because of the exchange rate, but now I’ll probably pay for it.

  12. What I find so annoying, and damaging to credibility, is Kobo’s response to the issue. I’ve been going back and forth one too many times with Kobo support (I purchased it from Kobo), and not yet can I get an answer to the question: have you fixed the problem with the dark strip? I simply am repeatedly told that I can return it, or send it back for an exchange. And obviously, my response is that there’s no point in exchanging it if they haven’t fixed the problem. Their response? See above. It’s really shameless, and they haven’t learned the first lesson — get AHEAD of the issue.

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