No manufacturer of ebook readers has come closer to matching Amazon with the quality of its devices than Kobo, and it aims to snatch the lead with its latest model, the Aura HD. It’s marketed as the Porsche of ebook readers, and at first glance it looks like one of those rare devices that matches the marketing boasts.
Its silky-smooth finish and solid construction impress immediately. The Aura HD’s finely buffed surface feels more like velvety frosted glass than plastic, and build quality is superb; twist the chassis and there’s barely a creak. It makes the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite and its siblings feel positively humdrum.
The shape of the Aura HD is unusual. Resembling a folded piece of paper, three subtle creases in the rear panel give you something to grip while reading, your fingers resting securely on the inward crease at the centre and curling around the sides. It works brilliantly, and, with every edge and corner honed to a soft curve, the Aura HD is supremely comfortable to hold.
The use of quality materials sets the Kobo Aura HD apart from its rivals, but that isn’t the end of its talents. It also sports a 6.8in screen – larger than that of most ebook readers – at a higher resolution of 1080 x 1440. This gives a pixel density of 265ppi – higher than the 212ppi of the Paperwhite, which has a resolution of 758 x 1024 squeezed into its 6in touchscreen.
That extra resolution doesn’t make a huge difference compared to the Paperwhite, but if you look closely, you’ll be able to tell them apart; the Aura HD is much crisper than the 600 x 800 Kindle, however.
No flagship ebook reader would be complete without built-in illumination, and the Aura HD obliges with a light that’s at least the match of the Paperwhite. The brightness is adjustable, and only the faintest hint of patchiness is evident along the bottom edge of the screen. Unlike the Paperwhite, which has its light on permanently, the Aura allows you to toggle the light on and off via a button along its top edge.
Perhaps due to the larger screen, the Aura HD is on the chunky side. At 242g, it’s 29g heavier than its rival, and less practical as a result. However, it makes up for the extra heft with the inclusion of a microSD slot for expanding the 4GB of internal memory by 32GB.
We’re also fans of Kobo’s revamped UI. Divided into tiles of various sizes and proportions, it displays thumbnails of books you’re currently reading, stats, and books you’ve finished recently. Links at the bottom of the page lead to the library, the bookstore (via single-band 802.11n Wi-Fi), and detailed reading stats.
It’s all very quick and simple to use. The Aura HD takes as little as 0.6 seconds to refresh the screen, and we found the store both streamlined and responsive. Prices in the Kobo bookstore tend to be a little higher than in the Kindle store, but not prohibitively so, and there’s plenty of content to choose from.
If you don’t find what you’re looking for in the Kobo store, the Aura HD supports Adobe Digital Editions, so you can add books from other stores and digital libraries. It handles other file types with aplomb, too. We loaded our usual selection of ebook reader test files onto it, including graphics-heavy PDFs, and we were able to zoom and pan around pages with a freedom that simply isn’t available to Kindle users.
Kobo’s iOS, Android and desktop apps, meanwhile, offer a similar experience to Amazon’s Whispersync. As long as you’re connected to Wi-Fi when you finish reading, it’s possible to switch from the Aura HD to tablet or phone and have the book open at the page you last read. There’s even a selection of apps and games, including a web browser. This is good for only casual browsing, though, due to E Ink’s comparatively slow refresh rate.
The Kobo Aura HD is a mighty fine device and is as luxurious as ebook readers come. The one sticking point is the price: at $220, it costs more than most ebook readers on the market, and almost as much as a compact tablet. Had it been a touch cheaper, we’d have recommended it without hesitation. As it is, it falls just short.