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Kobo Aura HD review: One of the best eReaders in the business

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I’m a lover of books. Call me a book snob if you want. It’s why I’ve held onto my paper books for so long. But it seems that Kobo has created an ereader aimed squarely at me, with the whole experience designed around reading the author’s words and eliminating a bunch of needless bells and whistles. And I, for one, am VERY impressed. So how good is the Kobo Aura HD, you ask? Simple: it’s the best ereader on the market. Read on to find out why.

Design

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In its literature on the Kobo Aura HD, the company said it set out to create a premium ereader “designed for the discerning reader”, and the work it put into doing so is obvious from the moment you pick the Aura HD up. Ergonomically it is the most comfortable ereader I have ever held. Most of this is due to how the back of the ereader has been designed. After all, it is the back of readers we touch and interact with most.

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The Aura HD’s back is designed with angular edgy grooves and these little things make holding the reader an absolute pleasure – nothing else comes close. Seriously. Your finger comes to rest perfectly between the middle fold of the back grooves, making it easier to hold than a physical book for long periods of time.

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Matter of fact, talking about the back of the Aura HD is as much as one can really say about its physical design. That’s because the device has no buttons, save for the light and power on key. Page turns and all other interactions are handled through the touchscreen and its software. This was a very calculated decision on Kobo’s part and it paid off in spades. The Aura HD is simply an electronic book—an exceptionally designed housing for all of your favorite reads.

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The device measures in at 175.7 x 128.3 x 11.7mm and weighs 240g. Given that it has a 6.8-inch screen, the Aura HD’s size is perfect. Unfortunately because of the screen size, it does add a bit of extra weight over its six-inch rivals, but 240g isn’t something that’s going to tire your hand out. The Aura HD is available in three colors: Espresso, Ivory, and Onyx.

Screen

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Speaking of that screen: it’s 6.8-inch of WXGA+ Pearl E Ink glory. Seriously, it’s the best eReader screen I’ve ever laid eyes on. Kobo has branded its exceptionally sharp screen as the ClarityScreen+. Again, that’s just a marketing term—but the description is accurate. That’s because in addition to the 6.8-inch display, it’s got a 265ppi, 1440 x 1080 pixel resolution. This makes the Aura HD’s clarity and sharpness leagues better than Kobo’s entry-level ereader, the Kobo Glo, and even better than Amazon’s latest and greatest Kindle Paperwhite.

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As for the “ComfortLight” backlit screen, it’s remarkably smooth and easy on the eyes. The light spreads around evenly across the entire screen. Usually with ereaders I prefer to read in a well-lit room with the backlight off, but because of the ComfortLight and the 265ppi, 1440 x 1080 pixel resolution, I prefer reading on the Aura HD with the lights low.

Performance

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Inside the Aura HD you’ll find a Freescale i.MX507 1GHz processor that powers the OS and software. But as I’ve said before in previous ereader reviews, don’t get too caught up on how fast the processor is or isn’t. The real performance you get out of an eReader lies more with the responsiveness of the touchscreen, and the Aura HD’s does not disappoint.

Touch inputs are recognized each and every time. This was not only true for page turns, but for more complex touch gestures like dragging a text selection box around the screen to select my favorite lines of text or using sliders to adjust brightness or font size. Smashing stuff, indeed.

Software, Content and OS

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If you are used to an iPad, an Android tablet, or even a Kindle, you’re going to think the software on the Aura HD is fairly sparse. And it is. But that was a purposeful design, given that Kobo wanted to make an eReader “designed for the discerning reader.” The home screen has a very simple layout that gets you into your books quickly, or helps you find new books to read through the Kobo store.

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The home screen has a dashboard tile-like design. You can quickly tap the book you’re currently reading to open it, or you can tap any of the other various tiles to get information on your reading stats, open other books you are working on, and see additional books you may like.

A textual menu at the bottom of the screen give you quick access to your entire library, the Kobo store, and “Reading Life,” which is essentially a dashboard that shows you your reading stats (total number of pages read, etc) and “awards” you’ve gotten (think of these as achievements earned in video games). Truthfully, the “awards” part is a bit lame, but the reading stats are nice. 

The OS offers users a host of settings, from brightness to fonts. And with fonts, the Aura HD gives readers an exceptional amount of control. Users can choose between 10 different fonts (eleven, if the book has its own custom font) and 24 font sizes with sliders for adjustable font sharpness and weight. Margins, lines spacing, and justification can also all be manually controlled. Inside a book you can also highlight text, look up definitions, translate words, and add notes. The Aura Hd’s software also allows for limited sharing via Facebook, but I don’t see this as a feature many will use. 

Multimedia and Storage

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The Kobo Aura HD sports 4GB of internal storage with a micro SD card slot capable of taking a 32GB card. Some of that 4GB is taken up by the software and OS, but you should still be able to hold around 3000 eBooks. Given that, it’s unlikely you’ll ever need to use the microSD slot. 

The Kobo store itself offers over 3.5 million eBooks, newspapers, and magazines, including over 1 million free titles. Besides ePub, supported file formats are PDF, JPEG, GIF, PNG, TIFF, TXT, HTML, RTF, CBZ, CBR.

Wireless connectivity

You’ve got the normal range of Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and a micro USB port to plug your Aura HD into a computer or wall charger. The Kobo Aura HD does not offer 3G, but that’s something I feel is almost entirely pointless on an eReader— just download a couple of titles at home and you’ll never get caught short.

Battery and power

With the Wi-Fi turned off Kobo says the Aura HD offers two months of reading time with the ComfortLight off and “up to” 30 hours of continuous usage with the ComfortLight on. That two-month reading time assumes you’re only reading 30 minutes a day. In the limited time I used the Kobo Aura HD for, I read for about 3 hours a day with the ComfortLight on and the battery went from 98% charged when I received it to 60% on the third day, totaling about 9 hours of reading time. 

One power-related drawback is that the Aura HD only comes with a USB cable. So if you want to charge it via anything other than your computer you’ll have to buy a separate USB wall charger or own one already. 

Price and Conclusion 

The Kobo Aura HD is the best eReader on the market. It’s got the best display by far, and also the best ergonomic design.

However, for this design and, particularly, its display, you are paying a premium. The Kobo Aura HD retails for £139.99. It is worth every cent, but it’s also £30 more expensive than Amazon’s latest Kindle Paperwhite (which has a smaller screen and a lower screen resolution).

The higher price may turn some people off from getting the Aura HD, but for those that want the best eReader on the market, paying more for this device is a no-brainer.

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