Review: Kobo Aura eBook reader

Diminutive and thin reader gives good .epub, PDF support (December 18th, 2013)

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Product Manufacturer: Kobo

Price: $150

The Good

  • Light
    - Good hand feel
    - Little glare off screen
    - Genuinely dedicated reader

The Bad

  • Poor "lending" support
    - Slow detailed-content page turns
    - Smaller e-bookstore than its main rivals

Five years ago, we thought that by the end of 2013 there'd be a bigger market for e-book readers. Then, along came the tablet that Jobs built and a slew of followers-on. Just as the iPod did away with most of the competition, the tablet market seems to be having much the same effect on the ebook reader segment. Kobo, a big player in the international market, has a well-received line of e-readers, and we got a chance to spend a month with the Kobo Aura, one of its latest devices.

The Kobo had its largest exposure in the US at the now-defunct Borders brick and mortar stores. Since Borders' departure from the market, Kobo sells directly online and in some electronics retailers with limited success in the US, but enough to stay in the market. The Kobo store, as when it was on sale at Borders, provides content for the device through an e-bookstore. The device also supports PDF files and the ePub format, which are commonly found on other non-DRM stores and platforms.

The Kobo Aura has a six-inch, 1014x758 touchscreen, similar to other e-paper offerings from other manufacturers. The device is 150mm long x 114mm wide x 8.1mm thick at its thickest and tips the scales at 174 grams. For comparison, the iPhone 5c pictured is 124.4mm long, 59.2mm wide, and 9mm thick and weighs 132 grams. A lot has been made of Kobo's ComfortLight front-light technology. We do like the ComfortLight for longer reading sessions, and the magnitude of the illumination didn't cause a vision problem, as the very bright iPhone and Kindle Fire HDX tablets can.

Overall, we liked the reading experience. The Kobo bookstore isn't supplied to the level of the Amazon store, but the open nature of the ePub format gave us a lot of content we've freely (and legally) harvested off the Internet to use without delving into the bookstore that often. Library support is lacking as compared to other devices. Our local library interfaces fine with a Kindle Fire HDX we have, as well as the appropriate iOS app, but refused to provide content compatible with the Kobo Aura.

The processor is a 1GHz Freescale i.MX507, supported by 4GB of internal storage. Additional storage can be added with a microSD slot, which can boost the total by up to 32GB. We liked the smooth page turns on the device, but graphical heavy work like perusing a copy of The Walking Dead graphic novel that was provided on our device pushed the processor to its limits, stalling the device for so long on a few occasions we wondered if we had crashed it. Our patience was rewarded with a page turn of the detailed content, but we really can't recommend the Kobo Aura for comic or graphic novel use.

Consumer electronics buying choices come down to price. The Kobo Aura costs $150, with a similar offering from Amazon running $120 with "special offers" (read: advertisements), and still less than the Aura if users pay to remove the ads ($139). Both Amazon's Kindle line and Apple's iOS ecosystem offer better lending compatibility with physical libraries, and Amazon's own Amazon Prime service (at an additional $80 per year cost) additionally offers the user an additional large library of free "borrowed" books.

Tragically, Amazon and Apple dominate the reader market, the former with dedicated devices, the latter with ubiquity. The choice of a Kobo in any form is a hard one, and may be dictated almost exclusively by what source most of the intended content is acquired from, either purchased from Amazon or various DRM-free ePub sources, with Amazon obviously being the victor of the first, and iOS devices and the Kobo line driving the latter. The Kobo Aura is a good reader with little added functionality, but that may be the intended point of it. There's no web browser, scant few games, and little distraction from the task at hand -- reading.

by Mike Wuerthele


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