Kobo Aura HD e-reader

When it comes to reading e-books, the Aura HD is without equal

Kobo Aura HD
  • Kobo Aura HD
  • Kobo Aura HD
  • Kobo Aura HD
  • Expert Rating

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Pros

  • Excellent screen
  • Fast; good battery life
  • Simple operation

Cons

  • Relatively thick

Bottom Line

Kobo's new hero e-reader has an excellent E-Ink screen, and has the best specifications of any e-reader on the market at the moment. It's slightly thicker than its competitors, but that's really the only down-side to what is an excellent device for reading and buying e-books.

Would you buy this?

The e-book market is only getting bigger, with more and more readers choosing to buy their books digitally every year. Amazon is the company to beat, with the one-two punch of a massive online repository and some of the best e-readers available. Kobo is number two worldwide, though, with the swame massive bookstore and a new flagship e-reader.

The Kobo Aura HD is a comparatively large e-reader, with a 6.8-inch high-resolution E-Ink screen. It also boasts improved specs over Kobo’s previous tablets, with a better battery and faster processor.

Kobo Aura HD: Design, features, and setup

The Aura is in the regular size range for an e-reader. It’s got a 6.8-inch display rather than the 6-inch of the Kindle PaperWhite and Kobo Glo, which are the current market leaders, but it’s only slightly taller and wider.

The screen of the Aura HD is a 1440x1080 pixel one — with a 4:3 ratio, it has a pixel density of 265PPI versus the 212PPI of the Glo and PaperWhite — and it looks absolutely great.

The difference in pixel density is less pronounced on e-paper screens than liquid-crystal displays, but it’s still easy to tell the difference between the Aura and a lesser e-reader: the Aura’s screen is visibly smoother, with more rounded edges on curved fonts, and clearer text at the smallest possible display size.

The Kobo Aura HD follows the company’s, and the more general market, trend of keeping the bodies of e-readers simple and sleek. The Aura has a centimetre-thick bezel around the top and sides of the screen, and a twice-as-thick bezel at the base that’s useful for resting a thumb on when you’re holding the e-reader in a single hand.

There’s a Kobo logo printed onto the front of the Aura HD, but that’s the only styling cue you’ll find — no buttons to be seen. This is because the Aura is entirely touch-driven, with the only tactile feedback coming from the sliding power/sleep/off button on the top edge, and the button to toggle the Aura’s ComfortLight front-lighting. On the Aura HD’s lower edge, there’s a microSD card slot — up to 32GB for storing those 30,000 e-books you’ve got lying around — a micro-USB port for connecting a PC or charger, and a thankfully-hard-to-hit reset button.

The upper edge of the Kobo Aura HD - the sliding power switch is red, and the ComfortLight button is white.
The upper edge of the Kobo Aura HD - the sliding power switch is red, and the ComfortLight button is white.

The lower edge of the Kobo Aura HD -- the thin microSD slot, and the micro-USB connector.
The lower edge of the Kobo Aura HD -- the thin microSD slot, and the micro-USB connector.

The ComfortLight setup is a smart inclusion on the Aura HD. Like the Kobo Glo and Amazon Kindle PaperWhite that we’ve mentioned twice already, the Aura has a built-in LED lighting strip around the edge of the bezel that throws light across its screen, evenly distributed from edge to edge. Kobo claims the Aura HD has the most consistent lighting of any e-reader, and we have no reason to doubt this, although we didn’t see any real issues with the lighting of the Glo in the first place.

Our only real sticking point with the Aura HD is its relatively thick body. At 11.7mm it’s certainly not going to cause any problems — your smartphone is likely thicker if you’ve got a protective case on it — but it’s thicker than the 10mm Glo or 9.1mm PaperWhite. The hill-and-valley design on the back of the Aura HD also makes it seem thicker, too, although it’s great for holding on to. We also miss the lux-y quilted back of previous Kobo product. We’re definitely splitting a few millimetre-thick hairs here, but the reality is that’s what happens when there’s not much else to criticise.

Kobo Aura HD: Performance and usage

We really appreciate the simple approach of the Kobo Aura HD. When it comes to e-readers, we’re definitely in the less-is-more camp — if you want an all-in-one device, we recommend you look at a proper tablet like the Nexus 7 or Kobo Arc — so we’re not bemoaning the Aura HD’s lack of always-on 3G or music player or whiz-bang App Store.

Flick the switch on the top of the Kobo Aura HD, and within three seconds the e-reader powers up. After a flashing refresh of the E-Ink screen you’re presented with the standard Kobo home screen — a tiled interface that gives you quick links to whatever books you’re currently reading, as well as Reading Life awards and stats on your collection.

Down the bottom of the screen, there’s a direct entrance to your Library, to the Kobo Store for buying books, magazines, newspapers, or graphic novels, and the Reading Life data that Kobo collects. There’s a Google-esque search bar up top on the home screen, and it tends to be the quickest way to find a book from your Library if it’s large, or from the Kobo Store.

The Store itself is utilitarian. Like a good bookstore, everything is arranged into one of 24 categories — Art & Architecture, Food & Drink, History, Computers, and so on. It’s not as visually impressive as the Android or iOS version of the Kobo Store, or as Amazon’s Kindle Store, but it’s absolutely easy to use and uses your stored books to give you related reading, and recommends titles based on ones you’ve already read. Prices are, in our searching, roughly similar to the Kindle Store, we couldn’t find any significant titles missing, and in our experience Kobo is pro-active in emailing coupons and sending you recommendations for books you might enjoy. This is an improvement from when we last checked in on the Kobo Store in our Glo review.

The e-reading experience of the Aura is excellent, just like the Kobo Glo. (We’ve re-used some sections of that review below, as our time with the Aura HD proved similar to the Glo.)

The Kobo Aura HD showing a page of Moby Dick, with the ComfortLight front-light turned on.
The Kobo Aura HD showing a page of Moby Dick, with the ComfortLight front-light turned on.

The high-resolution screen is very easy on the eyes, and while we didn’t have any problems with the existing screens of e-readers, we do appreciate the extra .8-inch of screen real estate. The ‘HD’ moniker may be a little much, but the extra pixel density does have definite advantages when you’re looking at the cover pictures of e-books that are usually included in your purchases.

You can set a wide range of fonts and text sizes on the Aura HD, and other features like margin sizes can be similarly adjusted. The default font and text size is perfectly readable, but we made the text slightly smaller, and reduced the margins, for the majority of our reading, to fit more on a page.

The ComfortLight system is genuinely useful. It makes the Aura HD worth buying over an e-reader without the feature. We used it in dim light, in bright daylight, in a dark room at night — it really does help light up the screen even in difficult conditions. The overall contrast between the text and the screen itself is somewhat lessened, but this isn’t a problem unless you’re already reading on a particularly obtuse viewing angle or if you’ve got an overwhemingly powerful light shining onto the screen already. It makes reading at twilight, or at night, possible in the same way that an iPad or Android tablet is easier to read than a printed page.

You can use Kobo’s apps for PC, Mac, Android or iOS to access the Store and buy books, which you can then load on by connecting the Aura HD to your computer or by connecting the Aura to your home Wi-Fi using the e-reader’s built-in 802.11b/g/n-compatible wireless. It’s a simple process — hit the settings cog, choose the Wi-Fi option, and join a Wi-Fi network using the on-screen keyboard to enter your password. It’s just about as painless as joining a Wi-Fi network on an e-reader could be.

The increased speed of the Kobo Aura’s processor isn’t generally obvious, but there is a slight improvement in opening large ePub or MOBI books, or multi-page PDFs, compared to other e-readers. The biggest impediment is the comparatively slow refresh rate of the E-Ink screen versus an LCD; it’s not wait-for-five-seconds slow, thankfully, with around a half-second lag from hitting the touchscreen to the new page appearing. The Aura HD is definitely fast — maybe the best compliment we can give is that its processing power and screen refresh rarely got in the way of our reading.

Kobo claims two months of battery life from the Aura HD, but that’s based on half an hour of reading on a daily basis. We tend to read sporadically and in large chunks, so we’re not the model candidates, but in the week that we used the Aura HD we saw its battery life fall from 100 per cent to 80 per cent — and this is with heavy use of the ComfortLight and of Wi-Fi. We’re confident that the 8-week claim holds water.

Kobo Aura HD: Conclusion

The Kobo Aura HD is, in our opinion, the best e-reader that money can buy at the moment. It’s fast, simple, and has a good battery — all centred around a screen that is definitely the best in its class. It is reasonably expensive compared to other e-readers, but if you enjoy e-reading, we think it’s worth it.

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