Need to buy a gift for somebody who loves technology but you can’t afford the big ticket items?
Kobo Aura e-reader
Kobo’s new mid-level Aura is as seamless an e-reader as we could want
- Great design and screen
- Seamless e-reading experience
- Reading Life awards are a nice extra
- Weak Wi-Fi
- Slightly clunky bookstore browsing
Kobo’s $190 Aura e-reader continues the company tradition of getting out of the way of your reading. The Aura’s design is unobtrusive with some nice aesthetic cues, and the hardware is fast enough to be responsive to user input. Apart from its slightly clunky method of browsing store books, we think the Aura is a great device.
Price$ 189.95 (AUD)
The e-reader market is a tough one. Amazon’s Kindle has the power of a massive online bookstore and e-retailer behind it, and tablets like the Nexus 7 are incredibly versatile. The Kobo Aura distills all of the Canadian book-seller’s previous e-reader experience, and the end result is a device that’s refined, simple, and designed to make reading fun.
Kobo Aura: Design and setup
The Kobo Aura uses a single pane of satin-finish plastic across its face; unlike previous Kobo products there’s no bezel to catch dust or gather oil from fingerprints. The sheer design looks great, and it actually works very well. The not-insubstantial bezel, around 12mm thick on the top and sides of the screen and 17mm thick on the lower edge, makes for enough space to hold with a thumb or finger when reading. There’s a Kobo lower in dark silver on the lower left corner.
There’s another Kobo logo on the back, too. The Aura’s rear panel is closer to the Aura HD than the Glo — it’s a grippy textured plastic that has two off-centre bevels running along the long edge of the panel. At 8mm thick, the Aura is definitely not bulky, especially relative to the size of its 6-inch e-Ink screen.
There are two buttons up on top of the Aura’s edge — there’s a slide switch to toggle power on, power off and sleep modes, and a button for the Aura’s integrated ComfortLight screen-lighting system. Down the bottom, there’s a micro-USB charge/data port, a microSD card slot, and a recessed paper-clip-size hard-reset button. There’s no charger included with the Aura’s retail package; you can charge the Aura by connecting it to your PC or the same charger you use your your smartphone or tablet.
Setting up the Aura is a simple process. Using the on-screen pop-up keyboard and integrated Wi-Fi, you’re prompted to connect to a Wi-Fi network, then given instructions to make a Kobo account and associate a credit card with it to purchase eBooks and other content.
Kobo Aura: Features and performance
The screen of the Kobo Aura is, as you’d expect, its stand-out feature. The 6-inch, Pearl e-Ink display is detailed enough to make text clear down to the smallest possible text size, although you’ll need to lean in close to read it. The ComfortLight front-lighting option is an excellent one to have, and we found it to be incredibly consistent and equal across the entire screen — invaluable for night-time reading, and useful even reading outside in bright daylight and under office fluorescents.
The main screen of the Kobo Aura reading menu reminds us slightly of the Live Tiles of Windows Phone and Windows 8; the menu is split into a mix of Kobo Bookstore promotions, downloaded books from your library, author profiles, Reading Life data, sync status and other miscellaneous info.
If you just want to turn on the Aura and get to reading, the menu caters to that well, with a quick link to the book you’re in the middle of reading with a percentage of how much you’ve read so far. There’s also text links at the bottom of the screen to your library, to the Kobo bookstore, and Reading Life stats and awards.
The Kobo Aura can also access articles you’ve saved using Pocket (previously known as Read It Later). If you have this extension installed on your PC’s Web browser or on your smartphone or tablet, it’s a great way to push content from your eye-straining LCD screen to something a little more traditional and relaxing; a Longreads article for night-time reading, for example.If you spend your day at the computer and see the odd article you’d like to read, but don’t have the time or inclination at lunch, this is a great way to collate them for later reading for when you do want to read (and obviously you do, because you’ve picked up the Aura).
The Aura has loads of battery life. Kobo quotes two months’ battery life with half an hour of reading per day with Wi-Fi disabled, but importantly with the ComfortLight system either turned on or off; it won’t significantly impact your time between charges. We charged the Aura completely and then spent almost a week of reading between one and two hours per day, with Wi-Fi turned off but with the ComfortLight on; at the end of our test period we still had 86 per cent of the battery remaining. We’re confident that the Aura can hit Kobo’s two-month claim with room to spare.
We did notice that the Kobo Aura’s Wi-Fi is relatively weak; we were able to block it from connecting to our test Wi-Fi network by moving a few rooms away, to a location where our Samsung Galaxy S4 and plenty of other phones, tablets, laptops and PCs are still able to access the network. This isn’t really much of a problem, because you’ll only need Wi-Fi occasionally to sync new books and articles, but it’s worth noting.
The bookstore, too, needs just a little bit of work. At the moment, the easiest way to find a new book is to look at the Suggested list in the Kobo storefront, which brings together popular titles with information gleaned on whatever titles you’ve already bought and are reading. It’s good, but the search function — if you already know what you want — is a little clunky. We’d prefer a slightly smarter implementation that looks through keywords and topics as well as titles and authors, and if it was a little quicker to respond, that would be great too — not that it’s slow now, of course. As it stands, the bookstore is great for finding popular content, and merely OK for finding more obscure titles.
Kobo is going a long way to address this social reading and discovery aspect with the introduction of Kobo Collections — curated and user-made lists of books around specific topics, drawn together Pinterest-style with extra content like quotations, soundtracks, Web articles, and wrapped up with a short blurb of info.
Another nice extra that we’ve praised before is the Reading Life stats, which show you how long you’ve been reading, what you’ve been reading and when, as well as various badges. There’s a degree of gamification to the reading process that we like; we read during lunchtime specifically to get the “I Eat Books For Lunch” award, even though our test Aura was set up with an un-personalised media account. It’s a great extra for some, and it’s not intrusive if you couldn’t care about it in the slightest.
Kobo Aura: Conclusion
The Kobo Aura is another excellent e-reader from the Canadian eBook company. It’s a far more traditional and more focused product than the new Arc, but if you just want to read — and read more than just books, with the addition of Pocket support — it’s a great piece of technology.
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