Kobo Aura HD £139.99
2nd May 2013 | 14:03
An ereader 'reimagined', but not really
The Kobo Aura HD has landed on the ereader market as a direct rival to the better known, and more popular, Amazon Paperwhite, and, to a lesser extent, other tablet devices offering similar services such as the Nook Simple Touch Glowlight.
Kobo are positioning the Aura HD as a high-end ereading device that is built for people who love books and nothing else.
That does mean, however, that the e-ink Aura HD will only offer a reading experience and no multimedia functionality. You will be able to read newspapers and magazines with the 'Newstand' feature but, at the time of writing, this feature isn't available in the UK and it's not clear when it will be.
The ereader and tablet markets are slowly converging. American market research firm IHS iSuppli predict that shipments of ereaders will drop 36 percent this year to 14.9 million units and then drop another 27 percent next year to 10.9 million units.
They argue that this is largely to do with the rise in popularity of multimedia tablet devices that offer the same services as an ereader, with a plethora of extras too.
Kobo, who also sell tablet devices such as the Arc, are hedging their bets and believe that there is still a core and loyal market of book lovers who are only interested in the e-ink ereading experience.
This core market, Kobo hope, are generally more affluent and are likely to see reading as a serious hobby rather than something to do on holiday - and you'll need to have some cash knocking about as the Aura HD will command £139.99 ($169.99) of your hard earned bucks.
This puts the Aura HD above Amazon's and Nook's rival backlit ereaders in terms of price, and it's something which could seriously dent sales.
That's why Kobo have redesigned their premiere ereader to fit the profile of someone who loves books. This is obvious in the design, and, by CEO Michael Serbinis' own admission at the launch event, this is one of the device's two main attractions.
Michael said that the "Kobo Aura HD is designed for the most passionate booklovers – those who devour hundreds of stories each year – who asked us to create the ultimate ereading experience. Kobo Aura HD is our way of celebrating these customers."
Indeed, we're assured that "thousands" of customers were surveyed on what they want from their ereader and the Aura HD is the result of that collective opinion. Although it's hard to believe that the majority of those surveyed were against having multimedia functionality.
But, as mentioned before, the people surveyed may not often indulge in fruits of bright flashing things on YouTube. Although, there is a service on the Aura called 'reading life' which appears to be a last minute add-on and attempt to introduce social media into your reading experience.
Essentially it evaluates your reading 'statistics' (speed, hours read, amount of books read etc.) and gives you rewards for buying things from the Kobo store.
All of which, naturally, is publishable on Facebook. It seems like an odd addition to something that is generally considered a solitary affair and given the type of customer Kobo are aiming the Aura HD at, it doesn't quite tally.
There are two main attractions to the Aura HD that sets itself apart from Amazon's Paperwhite, the screen resolution and the ergonomic design. We'll come to the former later.
If you hold the Aura with both hands, Michael's claim to have surveyed thousands of book lovers is entirely believable. The ivory-like casing is visually striking but unassuming on touch, exactly what you would expect from a paperback.
The back of the device has an angular almost mountainous design, the idea being that your fingers rest in the shallow cove between the two raised areas, replicating the spine of a book. It looks and feels very sleek. If we were just reviewing the design, the Aura HD would be well worth its high price tag.
Apart from the power and backlight buttons, the Aura is entirely touch screen. It has a built in keyboard and you can swipe at leisure as if you're using your smartphone.
Much of the launch event for the Aura was about the quality of the screen, which measures in at 6.8 inches and has a resolution of 1440 x 1080, 265dpi – making it the highest resolution ereader on the market.
When you boot it up you can see the quality right away, it's exceptionally crisp. Although it does feel as if some of the sharpness is lost because of e-ink black and white screen.
If this was a full colour multimedia tablet, you'd be able to see the depth of the screen quality but in black and white, it's hard to truly enjoy the impressive specifications. It makes you wonder if the "highest resolution ereader on the market" is an accolade that actually means anything.
It is still very pretty to look at and smaller text doesn't look faded. The quality of the screen, however, is let down by its sluggishness on touch.
There will be times when you have to click a link a few times before it reacts and swiping up and down when scrolling through the bookstore is frustratingly delayed.
Although when doing a less processor heavy task, like flicking through the pages of a book, there's next to no delay and it feels quite natural, which is the most important aspect of an ereader to get right.
The home screen is uncluttered and simple enough to navigate. Book lovers who use tablets will be attracted to its simplicity, which is at the other end of the spectrum of a tablet device that has hundreds of apps and several pages of home screens.
You're greeted on boot-up with all the relevant information you need; what book you're currently reading, the last time you synced up to your PC, a link to the bookstore, a link to your library and a 'search Kobo' bar that is stretched across the top of the home screen.
From the Library you can select one of your books or magazines, which is in list format. You can also opt for previewing a book if you're unsure about buying it, every book on the Kobo store is available for a 4 page preview.
The Reading Life statistics and social media makes for fun reading if you're a statto, but for most it will be pointless. You'll be able to view how many hours you've spent reading, the average minutes per session, page turns, total hours reading and the number of books finished.
From the same menu you can also check how many 'awards' you've received for purchasing and reading books, similar the trophy or achievement system on the PS3 and Xbox 360 – and it's just as inane.
Awards include "pressed for details", which is awarded when you figure how to use the device and 'word up', which is awarded when you search for 10 or more word definitions.
Of course, this can all be published on Facebook. Why you would want to publish the fact that you have such a poor grasp of the English language is beyond us however.
It is curious though as to why the awards you receive can be published on Facebook but not the reading stats, also, why can you only publish on Facebook and not Twitter? It all seems a bit arbitrary and last minute.
Searching and buying books presents the Aura HD's biggest flaw. There are two ways you can do this; through the bookstore on the device, or via your PC and sync it up later.
As cumbersome as it sounds, buying a book via your PC may be the quicker option. When you purchase a book directly through the device, you can expect to stare at a painfully slow loading screen, and that's if you make it past the snail speed search function in the bookstore.
We calculated that there was a three minute wait for the Aura to load up the checkout and, even after the long wait, the order couldn't be completed, with the Aura asking us to 'try again later'.
This might have been a one off, but it was frustrating nonetheless. The standalone software that you can download on you PC is significantly faster and less infuriating. Books can be easily searched for and the Kobo store remembers your choices and recommends books that you might like, pretty standard stuff.
These features are all available on the device itself, but at a significantly slower speed. The Kobo is connected via a USB port that is also used the charge it. It doesn't come with a USB charger, but if you have a smartphone you can use that.
Kobo has an impressive 3.2 million books and newspapers in its library, but, in some parts, it's lacking and pales in comparison to Amazon's bookstore.
For example, the graphic novel section in Amazon's store has a solid selection of Batman graphic novels. Whereas the Kobo store has handful of editions and lacks some of the more iconic titles like Batman Year One.
The Kobo book store is also more expensive then the Kindle store, an annoying drawback given that they're offering the exact same content.
Professor Brian Cox's Wonders of Life, for example, is £11.99 on the Kobo store, whereas it's £9.50 on the Kindle. This was the case in all of the books that we compared. Why would you pay more for the same product?
When you've made a purchase, actually reading a book is a pleasure and it's clear this is where development time was spent.
Switching between pages doesn't feel sluggish like other endeavors on the device and related actions, like making notes and checking the dictionary, present no problems.
The Aura also comes with a basic mobile browser and some games to keep you busy when you're tired of book reading.
Browsing through a site like TechRadar on the Kobo does not feel natural however, pictures are in black and white, which means you miss out on some of the high definition graphics from reviews and the Aura flashes a black screen every time you scroll. It all feels a bit labored.
Battery life and connectivity
The Aura doesn't come with a wall charger, but it does come with a USB wire to plug into your PC, which it can charge from.
The charging port is mini USB, which is standard for most smartphones so you won't need to buy a separate charger.
A single charge will last and impressive two months, according to Kobo. We've tested the Aura and put it through three days' worth of heavy usage (reading books, using the browser and making purchases) and the battery now stands at 62%.
Battery life, refreshingly, is something you won't have to worry about and you'll be able to enjoy full usage for a good length of time, which is rare with most modern touch screen devices.
The Aura, rather usefully, stores all information on Kobo's cloud. This includes books, bookmarks, notes and other data you create on your device.
This means your information is accessible from anywhere and in any event and can be downloaded via the inbuilt Wi-Fi.
It is also compatible with most PC formats including; EPUB, PDF, JPEG, GIF, PNG, TIFF, TXT, HTML, RFT, CBZ and CBR.
Any of these files can simply be dragged and dropped onto your Aura and will be accessible once it has synced up and disconnected from the PC. Syncing is straightforward and probably the least painful thing to do with your Aura HD.
Hands on gallery
The sleek , comfortable and ergonomic design makes the Aura HD a pleasure to hold. It genuinely feels like you're holding a book and your hands won't tire after extended use.
The high resolution screen does away with that faded look some ereaders suffer from and smaller icons are clearly visible.
The impressive battery life takes away some of the charging worry and you'll be able to carry this around in your bag for weeks without plugging it in.
The sluggishness of the screen is a big drawback and you'll find yourself constantly frustrated at the time it takes to do basic actions.
Cynically, the price of Kobo books are more expensive than they are on the Kindle. Consumers won't be saving money on the hardware either since the Aura HD is £30 ($50) more expensive then the Kindle Paperwhite which is £109 ($119).
If you're happy to buy into the idea that this is the ereader for more sophisticated book worm, then this is the device for you.
You'll be able to do some good peacocking on public transport because the device is visually very attractive. There's no doubt that it looks and feels like it's worth the high price-tag it commands. But if you scratch the surface, the picture isn't so rosy.
There's no escaping the fact that the screen is, at times, unacceptably slow – and you will, at some point, be enraged when using this device.
The book store, too, sells books at a higher price than the Kindle store and some customers will find it difficult to part with hard-earned money for a book, in full knowledge that they could buy the same product for a lot cheaper at another store.
And, at a price of £139.99 ($169.99), it might be worth looking elsewhere if you plan to make lots of purchases.