Review: Kobo Aura HD

Review: Kobo Aura HD

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A couple of weeks ago Kobo announced a new reading device, the Aura HD. The Aura brings something new to the table when it comes to eInk readers, a little bit larger screen with a higher resolution than ever before. While the most common size for eInk readers has for years been the 6 inch device the Aura’s screen in 6.8 inches. Not only is this screen a bit larger its resolution is higher, 1440×1080 (265 ppi) when compared to other flagship devices such as the Kindle Paperwhite and Kobo Glo which come in at 1024×768 (212 ppi) or the Nook Glow and Sony T2′s 800×600 (167 ppi). The Aura also incorporates the front lighting that has become popular in the past year or so. For right now the Aura is available in Canada, the US, and the UK. In the US it’s only available directly from Kobo at this point. From what I’ve been able to glean around the Internet it should be available in other countries soon.

Having had some issues with Kobo’s customer service in the past I was a bit leery of giving Kobo another chance, but I found the device compelling enough that my gadget lover side gave in and picked one up. This device runs pretty much the same software as the Kobo Mini and the Kobo Glo which were released back in October of last year. I like that Kobo appears to have decided on a path where their readers will be more or less consistent from device to device (the home screens are a bit different). I also bought a Kindle Paperwhite when they were released, but returned it to Amazon as I decided it wasn’t the device for me. I went back to my Kindle Touch. I had it long enough however that I will comment on some of the differences throughout this review.

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What’s in the box:

The Aura comes packaged in a nice minimal box that contains the device, a short getting started booklet and a micro USB cable. There is no power adapter for charging from a wall outlet included, but I had no problems using a couple of different USB power adapters I have from various phones. You can, of course, also charge from your computers USB port; and you can read from the device while charging via a computer.

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Hardware:

The Aura HD has a nice clean design and looks much like any of today’s crop of touch screen readers. The only buttons are along the top edge, a slider to put the device to sleep and wake it, and a flush fitting button that turns the light on and off. Along the bottom edge are a small reset hole, a micro USB port and a microSD card slot which supports cards up to 32GB. I’ve seen one report of someone having no problems using a 64GB card, but Kobo officially lists 32GB as the max. The device housing is, like most other devices, plastic and is available in three colors, Ivory (white), Onyx (black) and Espresso (a dark brown). It feels nice in the hand and has a matte/satin finish which produces no glare although I find mine (in Espresso) to be a bit of a fingerprint magnet, not as bad as my Paperwhite was. The device’s back has a unique shape to it that I find comfortable to hold although it is the same smooth plastic as the front, not rubberized or quilted like earlier Kobo’s. I’m still not 100% used to the device and sometimes wonder if the back is too smooth, but so far it’s been fine.

The display is simply stunning. The higher ppi stands out nicely against older screens like the Nook and Sony still use (and previous generations of other brands) and it’s a big improvement. For me it especially stands out with the clarity at smaller text sizes and I love it. When compared to the Kindle Paperwhite and Kobo Glo the ppi differences aren’t as significant or noticeable. I found the IR touchscreen to be very responsive with no delays or missed touches.

Like most of the readers that have come out this generation the Aura features a front light. Here Kobo has done a wonderful job of providing even lighting with no shadowing as I saw at the bottom of the Paperwhite screen or color blotches which have been an issue for some Paperwhite owners. Kobo has dubbed this light the ‘ComfortLight’ and it really is a nice comfortable light to read by with a warm feel to it. Unlike the Paperwhite this light can be completely turned off by a physical button. The light’s intensity is easily controlled via a percentage slider control that goes from 1% to 100%.

 

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Software:

Overall I like the Kobo’s software quite a bit, with a couple of reservations.

The home screen has a search bar and links for the Library, Bookstore and Reading Life at the top and bottom of the screen. In the middle is a widget that shows some of your most recent activity. It’s not bad, but I’d like the option of hiding it and having the Library shown as my home screen instead.

The Library screen is really nice. You can view all books, which shows both books on the device and also books you’ve bought from Kobo with the option of downloading a book if it’s not already on the device or you can have it show just the book which are on the reader (my preference). You can sort your books by Recently Read, Title, Author, File Size or File Type. Books can be viewed as a list or as a cover view. In list view you also have the option to have a tiny cover image beside the title and author name. From library view you can also tell the device to download all titles in your online Kobo library at once and you can also have the device archive all of the title at one time (for titles from Kobo only). Besides Books there are also options to view your News & Magazines, Previews and any Shelves you’ve created. Shelves are similar to collections on a Kindle or Sony device and to shelves on the Nook. Books that are on shelves also still show in the main library list which I’m having to get used to since they can be hidden on the Kindle.

Reading Life has two aspects on the Aura. The first is Reading Stats which shows you stats for the current book like hours spent reading, page turns, average pages per minute, and the entire library like number of books finished and total hours reading. The other aspect is Awards where you earn badges for things like turning 10,000 pages, Reading all night long, reading during specific time periods and other things. For me it’s a novelty I might peek at on rare occasion, but it nothing I’ll use regularly.

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Reading a book on the Kobo is generally pleasant. Page turns are quick and smooth and the screen looks great. You can tweak things so the screen refreshes anywhere between every 1 and 6 pages and there are three options to adjust the ‘zones’ for where you tap for page forward, back and menu. Besides a few oddities mentioned below (that are personal preference things) I can say that reading on the Aura is just great.

There are two main reading engines on the Kobo. One for books you download directly from Kobo (kePub) either using their desktop software or over WiFi and a totally separate one for ePub books that you’ve side-loaded using Adobe Digital Editions, Calibre, a direct drag and drop or using the devices web browser. This causes your books to have a slightly different look depending on which type you’re reading.

For books downloaded directly from Kobo, often referred to as kePub’s or Kobo ePub’s (you can also usually download a standard ePub from Kobo), every page has a header that shows the title of the book and a footer that has a progress/page counter for the current chapter.

For side-loaded ePub’s there is no header and the footer shows a progress/page counter for the entire book (as opposed to per chapter).

With regular ePub’s, on some pages I had the text stopping a couple of inches up the screen leaving a lot of room that could hold more text. The space can be minimized to about half an inch by tweaking the ePub, but like most readers I want to spend my time reading not tweaking my book files. I don’t want to over-blow things as it’s possible that this won’t bug you and it’s also possible that it’s something I’ll get used to in time, but coming from the Kindle Touch (which displays the same as the Paperwhite) it’s quite different. The space at the bottom of kePub’s doesn’t seem as bad to me partly because it’s balanced by the header shown when reading those files.

With both types of files you have options to choose your font face, font size, line spacing, margins and justification. With ePub’s sometimes publishers lock some of theses settings by hard coding them and sometimes they’re locked if you’ve done a Calibre conversion. There are ten different fonts to choose from plus you can add your own. You can also tweak the font by adjusting it’s weight and sharpness (not available with all fonts). Kobo has really tried to make it so you can customize things to your own preferences which is great.

Long pressing on a word will have the Aura doing a dictionary look-up. You can also highlight, make notes and search for selected words/phases throughout the book.

The device also reads PDF and drm free Mobi files. For Mobi I’d say convert to ePub as the Mobi reader isn’t great overall, but it does work in a pinch. The PDF reader seemed OK unless you need to zoom. Zooming works OK in itself, but there is horrible ghosting if you try panning around while zoomed in. With the few PDF’s I tried the little bit of extra screen size and the higher resolution meant I could comfortably read a PDF without zooming although things were on the small size. This is something I couldn’t really do on the smaller 6” devices.

The Aura has no audio capability, so there is no text-to-speech available.

When the device is put to sleep the cover of the book is displayed as your ‘screen saver’ or you can turn that off and just have a blank screen that says ‘Sleeping’. Also, Kobo offers a sleep cover that makes the device automatically sleep/wake when opened and closed.

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Extras:

In the Aura’s settings menu you’ll find a menu item for Extras. The Extras are some games (Chess, Solitaire, Word Scramble & Sudoku), a Sketch Pad (for drawing or taking notes) and a Web Browser. Like the web browser on most eInk devices it works OK, but isn’t really for extended browsing. I did use it to log on to the Dropbox mobile site and download an ePub just fine.

 

Conclusions:

Overall I really like this reader. It has it’s quirks like any other device and coming from using Kindle’s for the last three generations I’m still getting used to the differences in the way the Kobo and Kindle display things. I don’t necessarily think one is better than the other, they’re just different.

I don’t have a huge need for the light, but I do like that it’s there if I need it and that when I don’t I can just switch it off.

If I had been happy with my Paperwhite I doubt I’d even have considered this device, but since I was still on an older device this is a pretty nice upgrade. If you already have a Kobo Glo or Kindle Paperwhite the upgrade isn’t as significant, although the little bit of extra size and resolution will make it tempting. I definitely like the slightly larger size of the Aura when compared to 6” devices. Especially since it doesn’t make the overall device much bigger or heavier.

I think Kobo has a winner with this device and I’m looking forward to using it more.

 

Technical Details:

Size: 175.7 x 128.3 x 11.7 mm (6.91 x 5.05 x 0.46 in)

Weight: 240 g (8.4658 oz)

Processor: 1 GHz; 20% faster processor than other leading eReaders

Display: 6.8” WXGA+ Pearl eInk Screen, ClarityScreen+: 265dpi, 1440x 1080 resolution

Light: Built-in ComfortLight technology with micro-thin coating for durability and even light distribution.

Buttons: Power on/off, Light on/off

Connectivity: WiFi 802.11 b/g/n and Micro USB

Storage: 4GB, expandable up to 32 GB with a Micro SD card

Battery: Up to 2 months (reading 30 min. a day)

Colors: Espresso, Ivory and Onyx

File Types: eBooks; ePub (drm free & with Adobe DRM), PDF and Mobi – Images; jpeg, gif, png and tiff – Text; txt, html, xhtml and rtf – Comic Books: cbz and cbr

Dictionary: Built-in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate dictionary

(full specs at http://www.kobo.com/koboaurahd/techspecs/ )