Kobo Aura HD Review: The Luxury E-Reader Nobody Wanted

When you think of "luxury", what do you picture? Bottles of expensive alcohol? Fancy clothes? Gambling, perhaps? What about e-readers? No? Well shame on you, because that's what the Kobo Aura HD purports to be: the world's first luxury e-reader. Oh boy….

What Is It?

The Kobo Aura HD is a 6.8-inch e-reader complete with a 1GHz processor, a gorgeous 1440 x 1080 screen with 265dpi, a backlight and a battery that Kobo says will go for two months.


As I mentioned, it's being marketed as a "luxury" e-reader for the "passionate book-lover". That's really curious, because when a piece of technology is marketed as being a luxury item, more often than not it's complete rubbish.

Take the Vertu phone for example: a luxury smartphone that's eye-wateringly ugly, atrociously bad yet absurdly expensive. Look deeper down the luxury rabbit hole of technology and you'll find a pile of discarded laptops, smartphones and dreams designed by Lamborghini, Ferrari, Porsche and various fashion designers. Just because something is expensive, doesn't mean it's good.

Strangely, however, there's a lot to like about the Aura HD.

What's Good?

That screen. The e-paper screen on the Kobo Aura HD measures 6.8-inches and packs in an insane 265dpi. By way of comparison, the Kindle Paperwhite — the Aura's closest competitor — has a screen measuring just a 6-inches with a resolution of 1024×758 and 212 dpi. The Aura means business.

Because of the high resolution on the Aura HD, everything looks better. Your eyes will thank you because of the clarity. Plus, the fact that you don't have to gaze at an LCD screen when you read means you can read for a lot longer in greater comfort. The Aura is more than just a pretty screen though.

Under the hood are specs that could power a tablet, making the Aura a powerhouse of an e-reader. The 1GHz processor means that you're not waiting long for the Aura to get stuff done. Kobo have also overhauled the set-up process for the Aura, meaning that it's easier to get going than its previous e-readers which required a sync with a computer first.

The backlight on the Aura HD lights up the panel like the light in a Range Rover would illuminate your first-class cabin. It's a soft blue that's not tough on the eyes, and it's highly adjustable too thanks to a slider from 0 per cent backlight up to 100 per cent. No high-, medium-, or low-settings here. That's great, because reading next to your significant other while they sleep can be a selfish affair when you have a light on that's simulating a sunrise. I only had to have the Aura HD at 15 per cent brightness while reading in bed. That's not enough to wake the person sleeping next to you, but it's more than enough to make the text readable.

You'd think that with the incredible screen, the tablet-esque specs and a beautiful blue-hued backlight that the battery would suffer endlessly, right? Wrong. The next most impressive thing than the screen on the Aura is the giant battery. It lasts and lasts and lasts. You're likely to get just under a week reading the Aura a few hours a night on full brightness, and a hell of a lot longer than that if you're just reading during the day.

What's Bad?

Sure, the Kobo Aura HD looks ok with its strangely angled back cover and a clean white frontage, but the last thing this thing feels like when you pick it up is "luxury".

Luxury is leather, fabric, silver trimmings, premium materials and thin bezels. Instead, the Aura HD is chunky, bloated, plasticky and cheap. Honestly, the Nexus 7 feels more like a luxury product than the Aura, and that's wrong.

The Aura feels like it has just been thrown together into some cases that Kobo had lying around its factory. The button placement is awkward, which means that waking up the device or turning the light on is an obnoxious affair, plus it's super-thick which means that one-handed reading gets annoying after a while.

Also, Kobo books are still quite expensive by comparison to books from Amazon, making the total cost of ownership even higher over time. It costs $219.99, which makes it more expensive than a Nexus 7 tablet.

Sure, the Nexus 7 doesn't have the killer screen that we see on the Aura, but it does more and you get access to an open platform for your books, rather than being locked in to Kobo.

This Is Weird

After reading for a while, the touchscreen on the Aura kind of forgets what it's meant to be doing and locks up for a second or two before switching pages or activating the menu. Weird.

It's also worth noting that the screen can occasionally hold onto a shadow of the screen before it when switching out of the main menu and onto a book cover. That dissipates, however, when you get into the text.

Should You Buy It?

If having crisp text, a bright, backlit screen and a powerful processor are mandatory in your e-reader, then the Kobo Aura is for you. It doesn't exactly live up to its luxurious reputation, but the Aura is mighty impressive for an e-reader.

Sure, it's a luxury e-reader because of the luxury price-tag only, but it has a screen to die for, battery for what feels like decades and an OS that rewards you — albeit in meaningless ways — for reading. It's the luxury e-reader nobody wanted, and yet, I'd love to see this focus on screen, power and battery life being replicated in all e-readers in future. Just because it's e-paper doesn't mean you have to show me pixels, Amazon.

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