Kobo launches $169 ‘Porsche of e-readers’ for power users

E-readers aren’t usually thought of as luxury gadgets, but Kobo is hoping to change that with a new model, the Aura HD, launched Monday. At $169, it’s more expensive than the competition, but the company says the Aura’s large, high-definition front-lit screen makes it a perfect device for “passionate book lovers” who read several ebooks a week. These customers aren’t particularly price-conscious, Kobo says, and they want a better e-reading experience than that available through e-ink devices currently on the market.

The Aura HD is “only for those people who really, really care about reading in their lives,” Michael Tamblyn, the company’s EVP of content, sales and merchandising, told me. (Kobo’s marketing materials call it “the Porsche of e-readers.”) According to Kobo’s customer research, Tamblyn said, 90 percent of its e-reader users intend to purchase a new e-reader in the next year and “want to see what the next generation of e-ink looks like.” Thirty-six percent of Kobo e-reader customers, Tamblyn said, also own a tablet but “an e-ink device continues to be the primary way they do their reading.”

kobo aura HDThe Aura HD has a larger screen than most e-readers — 6.8 inches, compared to the standard six-inch screen. Like the Glo, it has a built-in light. The screen’s resolution is 265 DPI, which Kobo says is the highest resolution of any e-ink screen on the market. (Amazon’s(s AMZN) Kindle Paperwhite also has a high-resolution screen, but Amazon doesn’t state the number of pixels, saying only that it has “62 percent more” of them.) Storage is 4 GB and is expandable. The device is designed to be extra-comfortable to hold. Battery life is up to two months with the light on or off.

The Aura HD is available for preorder in North America at Kobo.com starting April 16, and will be available in stores in Canada and the U.K. on April 25. It should be in U.S. stores in May or June, though the company couldn’t get more specific than that. Kobo says it will announce international availability soon.

At $169, the Aura HD is more expensive than any of Kobo’s other e-readers and more expensive than the competition (the Wi-Fi Kindle Paperwhite is $119 with ads and $139 without; the Nook Simple Touch with Glow Light is $119.) The company will continue to focus on the $129.99 Kobo Glo as our “widest-adoption device,” Tamblyn said. But “for those readers who are most passionate about reading, they weren’t necessarily interested in finding the cheapest device possible…These are people buying hundreds of books every year and often reading several books a week. For those people, price is simply less important.”