The Kindle Paperwhite, which we reviewed a couple of months ago, is a great way to keep reading when the lights are off. But is it the only way? Despite Amazon’s dominance of the eReader market, some competitors manage to keep their heads above water, and one of these strugglers is Kobo. With an impressive line of five different eReaders, its own bookstore, and its own desktop eBook manager/reader, you’d think Kobo would be a good Amazon alternative.
But is it really? After many hardships (which I’ll explain shortly), we managed to get our hands on what should be Kobo’s flagship reader, the new Kobo Aura HD. The Kobo Aura HD is a large e-ink reader with a built-in light, just like the Kindle Paperwhite, and offers an even better resolution and DPI for a sharper reading experience. It comes with 4GB of internal memory, and a micro SD card slot, so you can easily keep a huge library on it before running out of room.
On paper, the Kobo Aura HD looks like a very strong Kindle competitor. So what’s keeping it back? Is it really as good as it sounds, or are there drawbacks to beware of? We took the Kobo Aura HD eReader for a thorough test drive, and the results are in front of you. As usual, one of you will also win this $200 eReader for free! Continue reading to find out how.
Playing Hard To Get
Before we get into technical details, it’s important to tell you how hard this eReader is to get. If you live in the US, Canada, Australia, or some countries in Europe, you may find the Kobo Aura HD is a local store nearby, at a price varying from $170 to $275, depending where in the world you are. On Amazon, you can get the black version for $208 and the brown version for $222. Neither are sold directly from Amazon, of course. You can also find it online of various worldwide stores listed here. Oh, and don’t try looking for the Kobo Aura HD on kobo.com, it’s not listed there.
As for me, I live in neither of these countries, so I couldn’t just go out and buy it, or even order it, so I tried getting a friend to bring it from the US. I was all set to order, when I discovered Kobo only offers 14-days delivery, and my friend was arriving in a week. I was willing to pay more and get it faster, but that was not an option. Next, one of my MakeUseOf colleagues in the US tried ordering the reader directly from Kobo. He got his credit card charged three times for one reader, and never managed to get the reader itself. We ended up having to buy this unit in Australia and ship it all the way to me so I can review it.
Considering how easy and quick it is to get a Kindle Paperwhite ($119-$139) shipped to almost anywhere, even where Amazon doesn’t officially ship it, and the vast different in price, the Kobo Aura HD would probably appeal only to those who can actually get it nearby. For those in the US, the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight ($110) is also a valid and easier to get option. In addition to all this, the official Kobo page where we previously tried to purchase the reader in the US is currently “not found”, making it even harder to get.
What’s In The Box?
Let’s now forget for a second how hard it was to get, and focus on the device itself. It’s hard not to, because the Kobo Aura HD is eye-catching before you even open the box.
Upon opening it, you’ll find a pretty spartan deal: an eReader, a unique USB cable, and some booklets. It’s all very nicely packed, though, and the effort put into the packaging is quite apparent.
In order to start using your Kobo Aura HD, you need to go through the process of plugging it into your computer, downloading Kobo’s software, registering for a Kobo account, and activating your eReader. Alternatively, you could get it started by connecting to your home wireless network since the Kobo Aura HD is fitted with Wi-Fi. As this is a pretty boring process, I will spare you the details, but keep in mind that this is not ready to use just out of the box. Getting started will take you at least 10-15 minutes.
Hardware & Display
As soon as you take the Kobo Aura HD in your hand, you can feel it’s different. Living in a Kindle-oriented household, this was the first time I used an eReader that isn’t made by Amazon, and I didn’t need to turn it on to feel how different it was. And this is not by accident.
The Kobo Aura HD is designed to be different. The back of the device is not straight, but rather divided into four different planes which are aimed at making the device easier to hold in your hand. Unfortunately, it’s also made of slippery plastic, which actually makes the device harder to hold, and almost impossible to prop against things for handless reading.
Unlike every Kindle model I’ve ever used, the Kobo Aura HD’s power button is housed on top of the device, along with a dedicated button for the reading light. Separating the power button from the light could be useful for when you want to read without the light, but in my experience, that won’t happen often. I also managed to confuse the buttons half the time, pushing the light button when I was trying to turn the reader on.
The bottom of the device is where you’ll find the Micro USB jack, and the Micro SD card slot; the latter being a great way to expand the Kobo Aura HD’s capacity to up to 36GB.
The Kobo Aura HD feels big in your hand, and indeed, the 6.8 inch display is quite large compared to other eReaders. It’s also a little heavier than most other modern eReaders, weighing in at 245 grams (8.6 ounces). The bigger screen is pretty sharp to read from, and with a resolution of 1440 x 1080 pixels at 265 DPI, it’s also better specced than any other eReader I could find on the market.
The Kobo Aura HD comes with a built-in light to make reading possible in any lighting situation. According to Kobo, “The revolutionary ComfortLight is incredibly even and adjustable for a beautifully lit nighttime reading experience. And because ComfortLight illuminates the page, rather than emitting light outward toward your eyes, you’ll enjoy a truly comfortable read“. Is it really all its shaped up to be?
Generally, yes. The Kobo Aura HD’s light is indeed uniform, illuminating the entire page perfectly with no brighter spots or inexplicable darker spots. It can be adjusted to any lighting situation, making it comfortable to read in complete darkness as well as blazing daylight, and a better experience than an unlit eReader at any time. I had only three qualms with the Kobo Aura’s light:
Firstly, adjusting it requires too many taps. You need to turn it on using the hardware button. Then you have to bring up the menu bar, and tap the sun icon, which opens up another menu, where you need to choose “Brightness”. Only then can you adjust it.
Secondly, since the light has its own button, it doesn’t behave consistently when turning on the reader after its been sleeping. If the light was on when the reader went to sleep, it may turn on automatically when the reader is turned back on, or it may not.
And finally, the light is a bit too bright at times. You won’t notice it when not reading in the dark, but when you are, you might find that your eyes hurt a little bit, and you keep on turning the brightness down more and more until you reach the lowest setting, which is still a bit bright.
According to Kobo, the Aura HD can be used for 2 months of reading on a single charge, based on 30-minutes of reading per day. This is about the same as the Kindle Paperwhite, but I did not get a chance to test this before writing this review as it took me 2 months just to get the device.
Reading On The Kobo Aura HD
The Kobo Aura HD is responsive, but not as responsive as a Kindle. You may not notice this when flipping pages, but it becomes more obvious when typing, highlighting, looking up words, etc. It’s definitely usable, and if you’ve never used a Kindle before you may not notice anything off, but the difference is there.
The Kobo Aura HD lets you choose between three page-turning settings, so you get to decide regarding page-turning areas and where you want to tap for the menu. I chose to go with one that turns the entire middle area of the page to a menu toggle, which worked OK, but I did end up turning pages by mistake quite often.
The display itself is quite flexible. Rather than having to choose between 5-6 font sizes, you get a whole range of them, as well as flexible line-spacing and margin controls. There are 11 reading fonts to choose from, and you can even adjust the weight and sharpness of each font you choose, and get an instant preview of what the new setting will look like. What you can’t do, unfortunately, is pinch to zoom on the page to change the font size quickly.
Kobo’s dictionary lookup feature is nice, but can get a bit confusing at first. Tap and hold any word to look it up in the built-in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate® dictionary, but note that by doing so, you’re entering the highlighting and dictionary menu, which you can only leave by tapping the cross button at the bottom. If you don’t, and simply attempt to continue reading, you’ll get an instant dictionary definition for any word you tap on. This feature becomes slightly more useful when highlighting sentences, letting you change your highlight if you got something wrong, instead of having to start all over again.
In the same manner, you can also highlight words and sentences, add notes, share favorite quotes on Facebook, and lookup words within the book. All your notes and highlights are automatically synced to your Kobo account.
The whole thing is wrapped up inside your homepage, which is a bit of a tile jumble, trying to provide as much information as possible in as little space as possible.
On the left, you can see the book you’re currently reading as well as the sync status, and the rest of the tiles show your recent additions, other books you might have started, and some Reading Life award tiles. What’s Reading Life, you wonder? It’s sort of a Kobo community where you can win awards and badges for reading books. It also provides some interesting stats about your reading speed and habits.
If you don’t like this sort of thing, you can opt out of Reading Life through the settings.
Adding books to your Kobo can be done through the store on the device itself, through the Kobo desktop app, or via the Kobo website. You can also drag and drop ePub, PDF and Mobi files onto the Kobo for quick reading. Unlike the Kindle family, the book store on the Kobo is built-in, and does not display in a browser, which makes it easier to use.
Kobo Aura HD vs. Kindle Paperwhite
Since the Kindle Paperwhite is the best known eReader in the category, I will compare several of the Kobo Aura HD’s prominent features to those of the Kindle Paperwhite. I should be honest and tell you that I think the Kindle Paperwhite is an almost perfect eReader (no, I’m not paid by Amazon, I just happen to think they make really good eReaders), so this is not an easy competition.
You don’t have to be a genius to notice the first difference: size. The Kobo Aura HD’s display is almost a full inch larger than the Kindle’s, making the whole device much bigger. This is also true for thickness: The Kobo is quite a bit thicker than the Kindle.
The difference is noticeable when holding the device, and combined with the Kobo’s slick plastic back, makes the Kobo less convenient to hold and use, despite its special design. Weight-wise, the difference is not significant, with the Paperwhite weighing in at 210 g ( 7.4 ounces), only 35 g (1.2 ounces) lighter than the Kobo Aura HD.
Aside from size differences, the photo above also shows one of the Kobo’s biggest advantages: the Micro SD card slot. If you’re a truly avid reader and don’t like keeping your eBooks in the cloud, this allows you to store an incredible amount of books on your device.
Moving on to reading. If you’ve used a Kindle before, you know the screen is pretty darn sharp. On paper, the Kobo Aura HD is even better, and in practice, they’re just about the same (Kobo on the left, Kindle of the right). The Kobo’s fine-tuned control over fonts make it easier to adjust to your preferences.
The difference in display becomes apparent when the light is turned on. Contrary to what you might think, the darker the room is, the lower you want your light to be. The Kobo’s lowest setting is much higher than the Kindle’s, making it a bit too bright in a completely dark room. In general, the Kobo’s light is brighter than the Kindle’s, as you can see in the picture below. The light is at about the same intensity, but for the Kobo, this is only 25% brightness, while for the Kindle it’s over 50%.
Should You Buy The Kobo Aura HD?
All in all, and as much as I wanted to love the Kobo Aura HD, I see no reason to get it over the Kindle Paperwhite. To start, it’s much harder to get unless it sells somewhere near where you live, and even if it does, it tends to cost much more than the Kindle. Even without factoring in price, as we all know Amazon prices are hard to beat, the reader itself doesn’t have to many qualities that make it better than the Kindle, unless you really want the Micro SD slot or like the extra control over fonts.
Is the Kobo Aura HD a good eReader? Yes, it’s very good. Is it the best on the market? Far from it. If the Kindle is hard to get where you live, or if you absolutely can’t stand Amazon, the Kobo Aura HD is a solid buy (if you can get your hands on it). Otherwise, it simply doesn’t justify the effort (and price).
How do I win the Kobo Aura HD?
We have a new giveaway procedure in place, which will hopefully make participating much easier. You may enter using your Facebook credentials (which will require you to sign into Facebook) or by submitting your name and email address. You’ll receive one entry simply by doing so.
After that, you’ll also be offered various methods to earn additional entries. They range from sharing a link to this giveaway on social networks; to commenting or visiting a specific page. The more you participate, the higher your chances of winning!
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This giveaway begins now and ends Friday, August 2nd. The winner will be selected at random and informed via email.