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Review: The Kobo Aura HD

In my neverending quest to own virtually every ereader imaginable (well, at least ones I can buy in a store), I recently decided to buy the Aura HD made by Kobo. Naturally, 2 days before the announcement of the Aura, I had just purchased the Kobo Glo. I've always liked the Kobo devices more than the Kindle devices, for several reasons: I prefer the design of the Kobo, they track reading stats, epub support, WAY MORE options for customizing the reading experience, ability to add custom fonts, and a few more. I bought the Glo after having tried, and returned, my 3rd Kindle Paperwhite because the lighting on every one I tried was crappy. Anyway, I bought the Glo, then shortly afterwards the Aura HD was announced. It peaked my interested enough for me to order one, and after 3 weeks, it finally arrived and I've been using it for about 2 weeks (and I've returned the Glo, since I no longer needed it thanks to the Aura).

The primary things the device has over the Glo, and most other e-ink readers, are the screen size and the DPI. Instead of the standard 6" screen, the Aura HD offers a 6.8" screen at a resolution of 265 DPI. The Kindle PW and the Kobo Glo have a DPI closer to 212 I think, making the DPI of the Aura about the same as the iPad 3 & iPad 4. So does the extra 0.8" of screen real estate, along with the increased DIP make the device worth the extra $40 over the competition? I think so. To me, the screen is noticeably bigger, and the higher DPI is even more evident. I mostly read fiction that I've purchased from the Kindle store and converted to epub thanks to Calibre. Technical books I usually read on my iPad mini, as the bigger screen is almost a necessity for reading technical books. For fiction reading, the Aura HD is definitely the best e-reader I've ever owned (and I've owned around 12 different e-ink devices at this point). The text is super-sharp, and the ComfortLight blows the Kindle Paperwhite lighting away..its not even in the same class to me. All 3 KPW that I tried had blotchy lighting that I honestly thought was terrible. The lighting on the Aura is nice and even, and adjustable in 1% or 10% increments. Thus you can really fine tune the amount of light to fit your environment. My only complaint with the Aura is the shell..its a hard plastic shell that can be a bit slick. The previous Kobo devices I owned had a nice, soft rubber exterior which is much more comfortable, and less slippery, than the Aura. That casing on the Aura almost makes it feel a bit cheap. But other than that, I think the Aura is a fantastic device. I think the only thing Amazon could do to lure me away this fall would be to offer a Kindle with an even larger screen size and similar customizable reading options (which will probably never happen). I would love to see an e-ink device with the same screen size as the iPad mini.

So, would I recommend the Aura HD? Absolutely, though if you are hoping the larger size makes pdf reading a lot easier, you might be disappointed. I don't read many pdf's, but I did test a couple. While there was an improvement, there wasn't enough of one to make me want to read a pdf on the Aura instead of the iPad mini. But for plain old epub reading, I think this is the best device you can buy, at least for now. I do think the extra $40 is worth it, and I'm really happy with my purchase. There were lots of complaints with Kobo's customer service during the initial launch period (people getting charged twice, orders lost, customer service not knowing the order status, etc), but I think things have improved after the initial rush of orders. If you buy a lot of epubs, or know how to convert your kindle files to epub, or you read a lot and the bigger & better screen appeals to you..I would think you would find a lot to like about this device.

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  1. Fantastic review! I’ve always been partial to Amazon because I’m so knee deep with Prime and quite the kindle library built up, but I do use Calibre and would not mind trying out another device. Kobo always interested me because of the additional customizations over kindles, and the slightly larger screen of the Aura, the better dpi, and better light make me feel it could be the perfect ereader. I may wait until Amazon announces new kindles this Fall, but if they can’t match this, I might get a Kobo.

    • Todd…thanks! I buy all of my music & books from Amazon and have a Prime account, too. And, the referral fees I get from the blog lock me into buying from Amazon, too. I’m not sure I’ve purchased a non-Kindle ebook in over 2 years now. That makes me want to have a Kindle (or Fire) device, but I just find that I like the non-Amazon devices better. So each time a new Kindle or Fire comes out, I buy it, but end up returning it. So as much as I love the Aura, I’m sure I’ll at least try whatever new device(s) Amazon releases this fall. Though if the retina iPad Mini finally makes an appearance, that might trump any other device. But that is a topic for another post (I still need to post some thoughts on using my mini as a book reader).

  2. I too like my Aura HD, and think it’s the best ereader I’ve used. But the size is somewhat deceptive as it’s not all available for reading. Through firmware 2.5.1, while reading there was a footer displayed on all ePubs that showed the page count/progress. This takes up a over a centimeter at the bottom of the screen. As of 2.5.2 there’s now a header that shows the book title that is also 1cm+ in size.

    This means that even though the device is bigger, it’s not all usable for reading.

    having previously owned the PRS-500, Kindle Keyboard, Kindle Touch, Nook Touch w/ Glow and still own 2x PRS-350s and an iriver Story HD it’s my favorite eReader because of the excellent backlighting, higher resolution and whiter background. But *not* because of the bigger size which Kobo seems intent on wasting.

    • Good point..there is a gap at times on the bottom of the device that wastes some space. I’ve noticed something similar in all e-readers that use the Adobe rendering engine, so I don’t notice it too much when reading on the Aura. I am reading kindle books that have been converted to epub, then converted again to kepub when transferred to my Aura.

      • True, most e-readers have the header and footer. The kobo ones seem larger than I recall on other devices. The reason I keep my PRS-350 and Story HD is that I don’t have to put up with the header and footer.

        On thinking about this over the last week, I’ve realized that it’s not so much the wasted space as much as it how distracting I find the non-content header and footer that causes me grief. Indeed, when I used the Kindle, I documented and simplified installation of a hack that simply blanked out the footer page counter. That made the footer a lot less of an issue.

        Anyway, I agree with your assessment, the Aura is a great device. I just hope that they enable an option to disable these skeumorphisms.

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