While e-book readership is on the rise, demand for e-readers is on the decline as tablets surge in popularity. In just the past few weeks, Sony (SNE) announced it was abandoning e-books and e-readers in North America, while Barnes & Noble (BKS) laid off its Nook engineering staff.
However, despite the clear trend toward using multipurpose tablets, the e-reader — with options like a Kobo Aura or an Amazon (AMZN) Kindle — is not dead.
And for good reason.
Single purpose e-readers like the market-leading Amazon Kindle are cheaper, lighter and more compact than tablets. An e-reader’s battery lasts for weeks or months on a charge compared to hours for a tablet. The E Ink (PVWIF) display used in e-readers is far less reflective and looks just as good outdoors as indoors. Plus, the front-lit displays don’t result in the sleeping disorders that reading at night with a backlit tablet can potentially cause.
I’m a tablet guy, but I love reading … and when it’s time to pick up an e-book, I set down my iPad and turn to an e-reader. I have a collection of the devices (the result of years of writing about consumer technology) and my go-to choice is the Kobo Aura HD from Japanese Amazon competitor Rakuten (RKUNF). Good as the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite is, I would go so far as to say the best e-reader on the market is that Kobo.
Read on for my full Kobo Aura HD review, which will show why.
Kobo Aura HD Review: Impressive Hardware, Excellent Software
The first thing you’ll notice about the Kobo Aura HD is that it seems a little bigger than other e-readers. And it is. While the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite and other e-readers use a 6-inch display, the Kobo Aura uses a 6.8-inch display. That extra screen real estate makes a difference in the reading experience and comes at little penalty in overall size (it’s just a few tenths of an inch taller and wider than the Kindle).
Better yet, the Kobo Aura HD boasts a WXGA+ (1440 x 1080) E Ink Pearl display. That’s 265 ppi, which verges on tablet territory and sets a new sharpness standard for e-readers — in comparison, the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite’s display is 212 ppi.
The Kobo Aura HD also has a 1GHz processor (that’s fast for an e-reader) resulting in little lag when navigating and snappy page turns. It also has 4GB of storage (double the Kindle’s) plus an SD card slot for expansion (the Kindle doesn’t offer this). Like the Kindle Paperwhite, the Kobo Aura HD has an excellent front lighting system for night reading.
Kobo has also been building a reputation for the software it uses with its e-readers, including Type Genius font customization and Reading Life with Facebook (FB) integration.
Kobo Aura HD Review: No Amazon Lock-in
Thanks to tablets and their ability to run an Amazon Kindle app, lock-in isn’t as big an issue as it once was. Still, the fact remains that if you buy a Kindle e-reader, you’re locked in to Amazon’s ecosystem. Kindle e-books use a proprietary AZW file format that’s incompatible with other e-readers.
The Kobo Aura HD supports ePUB as its primary file format. DRM is still present, but ePUB is considered a more transferable format. While Kobo itself runs a very robust e-bookstore (it’s no Amazon.com but carries over 4 million e-books and magazines), I frequently buy e-books from Sony’s e-bookstore — which also uses ePUB — and read them on the Kobo. I can’t do that with my Kindle.
In fact, now that Sony is bowing out of e-books in North America, it’s arranged to transfer Reader customers over to Kobo. Google (GOOG) Play also supports Kobo e-readers for digital book … but not Kindles.
As I said, lock-in is much less of a concern than it used to be and for you it may be a non-issue. But if you’re at all worried about Amazon becoming essentially your sole source of e-books or that Kindles will be your only choice as an e-reader going forward once you start buying Kindle e-books, then the Kobo Aura HD is a good alternative.
Kobo Aura HD Review: Specs
- 6.8-inch ClarityScreen+ E Ink Pearl touchscreen display at 1440 x 1080 resolution (265 ppi)
- Built-in ComfortLight, front-lit night light with adjustable brightness
- 1 GHz CPU
- 4 GB built-in storage, microSD slot (up to 32 GB cards)
- Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n
- Micro USB
- TypeGenius with 10 font styles, 24 sizes and adjustable sharpness/weight
- Supports ePUB, MOBI, PDF, TXT, RTF, HTML, CBZ, CBR and multiple image file formats
- Battery rated for up to 2 months (I average one month with roughly one hour of use per day with light on medium brightness)
- 6.91 x 5.05 x 0.46-inches, 8.5 ounces
- Available in Espresso, Ivory and Onyx — my Kobo Aura HD is Espresso, a brownish color that’s darker than Microsoft’s (MSFT) frequently mocked first generation Zune.
- MSRP: $169.99
Kobo Aura HD Review: Conclusion
I’ve focused a lot on the Kobo Aura HD as an e-reader alternative to Amazon’s proprietary Kindle ecosystem. This isn’t an effort to be anti-Kindle (I do own one and spend a lot of money shopping online at Amazon), but lots of people are concerned about the issue. If you happen to be one of those people, then the Kobo Aura is definitely the best e-ready for taking the e-book plunge.
Plus, from a technical and use perspective, the Kobo Aura HD stands out as the best e-reader on the market. Its primary advantage is that display — bigger and far sharper than any competitor.
However, the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite and Nook GloLight e-readers do have a significant price advantage: $139 ($20 less with Special Offers) and $119.99 respectively, compared to $169.99 for the Kobo. Is the Kobo Aura HD worth the premium? As someone who reads a lot, I say yes.
Not convinced the Kobo Aura HD is the e-reader for you? For an overview of the five best e-reader choices out there today, see our comparison of popular Kobo, Kindle, Nook and Apple (AAPL) iPad choices.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.