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Kobo Aura HD Review: A “luxury” e-reader that’s not worth the price

Kobo bills its new e-reader, the Aura HD, as the “Porsche of e-readers” — an e-ink touchscreen Wi-Fi device that justifies its $169.99 price tag with a large, high-resolution front-lit screen. I tested the Aura HD and found the screen lovely, but the overall device not worth the price.

kobo aura hdLook and feel: Plasticky

Out of the box, the Aura HD is ugly to my eye: White (it also comes in black and brown) and plasticky-looking. The Aura’s back is indented to make it easier to hold, and it’s nice to have the grooves there; I found it about as comfortable to hold as a hardcover book.

Because the Aura HD is larger and slightly heavier than most e-readers, though, it’s less comfortable to hold than a smaller e-reader, meaning that any benefit from the indented back is effectively canceled out. It has a 6.8-inch screen, compared to the standard six inches, and weighs 8.5 ounces (the Kobo Glo weighs 6.5 ounces; the Kindle(s amzn) Paperwhite weighs 7.8 ounces).

There are only two buttons on the Aura buttons: An ugly red power switch (why can’t it be metallic?) and a white button that turns on the light.

kobo aura hdThe screen: Great light, crisp text

The screen is the best part of the Aura HD. Kobo says that the screen’s resolution, 265 dpi, is the highest on the market, and text is indeed crisp.

To turn on the light, you press the button on the top of the Aura and it turns on at 100 percent brightness. You can’t adjust the light’s brightness through the button, though; rather, you have to tap a lightbulb icon on the Aura’s screen to adjust the brightness.

The light itself is great. It spreads evenly across the screen and is noticeably better than the light on the Kobo Glo when the two devices are compared side by side — the light on the Aura is a little softer, and less fluorescent-looking.

The reading interface: I want my home button

Tap the center of the screen, at the bottom, to pull up the menu — including the home icon, light adjustment icon, font options, etc. It’s the trend now for e-readers to have no physical home button, and I miss them; once you’ve used an iPad(s aapl) or iPhone, you’re in the habit of tapping something below the screen and you notice when it’s not there.

Page turns and refreshes are perfectly speedy. Kobo says the Aura’s 1 GHz processor is 20 percent faster than others on the market, but I didn’t find the page turns noticeably faster when compared to other new e-readers.

kobo auraBottom line: Nice screen, but not worth the cost

Yep, the Aura HD’s screen is great. While I was testing the Aura, I compared it to the Kobo Glo, and there is no doubt, when the devices are side by side, that the Aura’s screen is superior.

In real life, though, most users don’t have two e-readers open at the same time, and when it’s just you and the Aura, the device’s deficiencies detract from its great screen. I simply don’t like the Aura’s larger form factor and the extra bulk that it adds. And apart from the screen, the device feels cheap — from the buttons to the plasticky design to the fact that the Aura includes a USB cable for charging but no AC adapter (since it’s supposed to be high-end, why not include that little extra?)

Kobo says the Aura is aimed at avid readers who aren’t particularly price-sensitive, but even those who don’t care that this device is $40 more than the Glo (and $50 more than the ad-supported Kindle Paperwhite or the Nook with Glow Light) shouldn’t automatically trade up: The Aura’s added bulk is not a luxury feature.

47 Responses to “Kobo Aura HD Review: A “luxury” e-reader that’s not worth the price”

  1. parkher

    The main advantage is 6.8″ screen size.

    My requirement – a feel of a real printed book = the same text width as in a real paperback.
    And wide enough margins not to strain eyes close to the edges of the screen.
    Because of that, with 6″ I have to use landscape orientation, with 6.8″ – landscape is no longer needed.

    Unfortunately, Kobo went the PaperWhite way. No buttons, not even “next page”.
    Glowing screen – an additional contrast reducing layer forever, but the lighting will have to be kept off because of cracks and scratches sooner or later.
    I hate both those things. I would never ever buy PaperWhite. But Kobo is the only 6.8″ reader. So far?
    And no Cool Reader running on it, no file manager, very slow indexing making it impossible to use a 32 GB card full of books, or probably even a 8 GB card.
    A rooted Sony PRS-T2 with the book indexing switched off (the internal file manager of Cool Reader instead) can easily handle 32 GB of books.

  2. baramburum

    It has a very low quality frame. It is so NOT solid, that makes sound then you press it. It will fall on parts if you put in your backpack.

  3. I’m sorry but this review has some very glaring flaws, and I would not take it into consideration – although I almost did! Let me explain. I went to the store a few days ago to buy a new Kobo Glo, seeing that I accidentally broke my other Glo (100% my fault) I didn’t hesitate to go and get another one. It was by sheer accident that I even realized that the AuraHD was out, so I started reading about it on my phone, standing there at the store. Yes, it’s $40 more than the Glo, but heck, $40 extra bucks (that’s one, maybe 2 hardcover books in price, not a HUGE deal…I mean if you’re in the e-reader market, I don’t think you’re down to choosing between food or an e-reader – no disrespect meant there with that comment by the way) and the bigger, better screen is a real quantitative plus. Sure, if the screen was the bigger, but the dpi and the resolution would have been the same, then no way, but all that was upgraded too, so this not just a gimmicky screen size increase, it’s the real deal! You agree with this, good.

    The weight issue though is a joke. This Kobo doesn’t feel any heavier than the Glo – and it’s still miles lighter than some hardcovers I own. Would you ever, ever, write a review of a paper book and complain about its weight? So why is that relevant here? This is not a heavy device, far from it. Yes it’s mathematically heavier than what you’re comparing it to, but it’s the weight of an average sized apple – putting it that way doesn’t make it so “heavy”, now does it?

    The home button has been gone since since the previous generation Kobo devices. Yes, it was a nice thing to have, but it’s unfair to bring that up in this review, seeing that your issues are now a generation removed from this design change. Not to mention, there is a home button, it’s on the screen, and it works great. Yes, you will miss it at first if you move from a machine that had a physical button, but after a few days you will not even notice it’s gone. You also didn’t mention the onscreen keyboard has now become flawless (and the Glo had a great keyboard). The light has never been adjustable other than with an onscreen slider. It works perfectly with the Glo, and it works flawlessly on the AuraHD.

    It’s a fantastic machine, daresay it’s flawless. Oh, and the design if bloody beautiful. It’s modern, it’s streamlined, it’s “cool” and yet elegant. The plastic doesn’t feel cheap, or fragile.

  4. Jonathan Rhein

    The Aura blows away the Paperwhite. The paperwhite light is horribly uneven, it’s junk. Just sent mine back after getting an Aura. The reviewer is blind.

  5. Chris Jones

    Ideal size and weight are a matter of personal taste. When I first got a Kobo Glo, its small size and weight made me uncomfortable. I didn’t feel as if I was holding anything and I was concerned it was going to slip out of my hands. In case this happened I bought a sleep cover that makes the Glo a little larger than the new Aura HD and adds a little bit of weight. This made me feel marginally better. But then my boots are size 14 and my hands are on the large side. When I am reading on my couch, I have no problems holding the hefty hard covers published by Library Of America for hours on end. Now, although I do not own an Aura HD, where I would tend to agree with the author of the article and some of the folks who reported such problems is when she mentions that for the price, Kobo products are made of extremely flimsy plastic. That definitely confirms my experience of the Glo. Despite the sleep cover I managed to crack the screen of the one I bought after a couple of months: I was reading in bed and I felt like a snooze.. so I slipped the Glo underneath my pillow so it didn’t fall to the floor and I dozed off. I woke up an hour later and when I tried to resume reading, the screen was frozen and there was something like a tiny rectangle etched on to the screen in the top left corner. What had happened was that even cushioned by a pillow the weight of my head was sufficient to bend the case and cause the screen to crack. Of course Kobo told me that cracked screens were not covered by the warranty.. I had spent several weekends transferring some 6,000 (yeah, you read six thousand..) epubs in half a dozen languages from project Gutenberg to an SD card and I didn’t want my efforts to go to waste just yet.. Well no point crying over spilt milk, thought I… even 129 dollars’ worth of it.. so I bought another Glo right away so I could go on with my reading. But unless they make them less fragile in the future that was the last time I’ll ever buy a Kobo product.

  6. tkruse

    just adding to what I said earlier. I am on firmware 2.5.2 now, and having looked some more into the “thinned” text, it appears as if this happens when one page has a small image on it and then I flip to the next page with only text. In the area where the graphics had been the text is then a bit “thinner”.when I read only text, this does not happen.

  7. tkruse

    Have had my Aura HD for a week now. I chose the black edition. Have not owned another ereader before. Plastic look: I don’t know, nor care. I want to read on it, not showcase it.

    I bought it for the resolution, to be able to (also) read black/white comics and text in small fonts ( I am a fast reader, want to reduce number of page flips). For me that’s worth the resolution.

    The software on it is not great currently, as an example I thought it would be great to read PDFs, the software does allow to zoom in on pages, but when you flip pages the zoom area always resets to top-left corner, also there were glitches when moving around. Zooming also requires several
    Organizing books into shelves for better overview is also a pain, because you cannot filter out those already on shelves. You can sort the list of books by author, size, etc. but only one way (e.g. not least recently read first). Similarly the home screen looks fancy like Windows8 metro style, but the tiles always shift, so it is confusing and annoying to me. And as another example, apps like games or the internet browser are within Settings > extras, below all other settings and System Information. Reaction to flipping pages is great, but when leaving books, there is a long delay, where the screen does not change, but touching it has effect. This led me often to press twice because of lack of feedback, and the second press then activating something on the next screen.

    All those things may well change over time, and there might be similar or worse issues with software on other devices, I do not know.

    The weight is not an issue for me. Feeling of slipperyness is an issue, though mostly one of trust. The book never slipped from my hands, but I’d love it to feel safer in my hands.

    While reading (epubs) I notice the text in areas in the middle of the screen sometimes looks somethwat “thinner”, though it is not a permanent thing, flipping pages back and forth makes the effect go away. It does not hurt readability, but still distracts me sometimes, so I switched to a somewhat larger font. Possibly a software update might fix this, even if it looks more hardware /eInk related. Not sure whether this happens on other Aura HD devices.

    Since I cannot compare to other ereaders, I cannot say whether it is worth the price difference to the competition, but I do not regret buying this device for this price. If I were to buy another device in the future, I would hope for an Android Device like the Sony PRS T2 but with Frontlight and with high resolution like the kobo Aura HD. I would go for Android to root it and install nicer reading / library organizing software. Vendor software is bound to be both a rush-job mess as well as putting their shop / community first in the UI. Also maybe some other software like RSSReader / sudoku variants would be nice.

  8. Flargle Nurrble

    Way to write up a review that barely describes the device and then knocks it on completely subjective grounds. A metallic button? There? Really?… Seriously, you’re not kidding?
    Tacky, dear Laura, tacky and cheap.

  9. A. Bear

    Today I spent quite some time in a shop to evaluate the Kobo Aura. I somewhat agree with comments that it has a slightly cheap plastic feel to it, at least comared to the Kindle Paperwhite. I really like the rubbery feel of the Kindle as well as the more rounded edges etc. However, this is not a dealbreaker for me.

    Where the Kobo Aura excells is the excellent screen! Very crisp and the light is very pleasant. I have to say that I find the light more pleasant than that of the Kobo Glo, which has a somewhat blueish hue.

    It’s also seems a bit faster than some of the other e-readers that I have tried. Furthermore, I like the bigger screen.

    All in all, this is a very serious candidate for my first e-reader!

  10. Wendell Favacho

    How much did you get paid to say those things? Kobo Aurora is great, Laura this is not a smartphone or a tablet, you will not play with it you will read, read, read… once you´re reading the book you will not want to go to main menu that´s the reason for not have phisical buttons…

  11. Shistram

    Oh wow, what an uninformed post.

    So you find it ugly, fine, personnally I find it beautiful.
    Missing a home button because you have Apple devices as references… you can’t be serious, Apple devices have poor ergonomy (just semi-nice aesthetics), whatever Apple lovers say…
    You even like to complain about the power switch which is red and not mettalic. You just seem to like complaining.

    I like the size of the Aura HD, personnally. Feels great in my hands and is a better fit than the kindle paperwhite, and with the cover it fits perfectly in my coat pockets (though I guess you’d need large pockets).

  12. Very bad review. I just got my Kobo Aura and I love the bigger screen with better resolution, perfect for read PDF’s while studying!

  13. Ali Mohammad

    Honestly, Kobo has the worse customer service in the whole industry, you got a problem, you are out of luck, pigs can fly but kobo will never help you, other than useless endless email, their trier one and trier two levels of customer service is shameful, so I believe that kobo aura might be excellent , but unfortnlately their customer service reps. are building their carrier with only one object in their mind, not to help any customer! Every day their customer service start their day with a mission to do nothing.

    • Kobofan

      Could not have had a more different experience. I recently had a major issue with my Kobo Wifi (they don’t even sell it any more!) which caused two purchased books’ pages to be completely blank. I called them, the person spoke fluent English (not some random Mexican/Filipino caller with seemingly no association to the company), and seemed to have heard of the issue before. I was sent an email after the call, and the important thing is I WAS DIRECTED… in other words, they took a leadership role and I did not have to consistently pester them to get a result. They sent me a download link to a patch with instructions and I was all set, faith in Kobo restored and IMPROVED as a result.

  14. Tracey Cross

    Wow. This is one seriously wrong review for the kobo aura. To say it looks ugly. Is this person blind?!! Plus to say it looks cheap too. How long did they spend with the aura testing it? Probably all of ten minutes. I get so sick of reading bad reviews of kobo ereaders. I have the glo and love it. I owned four paperwhites. All faulty screens. The kno glo was my best purchase ever. My friend even ditched her kindle for the aura. I borrowed it for two days and I’m seriously thinking of upgrading. I know a lot of people who own more than one ereader.
    I hear reviews saying the kobos are slow and unresponsive. What a load of rubbish. The kobo glo has a faster processor than the paperwhite too.
    I am actually starting to believe amazon pay these idiots to slate every product kobo release. Every review I read from a genuine kobo owner is nothing but praise.
    You can also do so much more on the kobo than any kindle without having to jailbreak.
    You shouldn’t be leaving bad reviews for a product that you decide NOT to like because it has a red power button!!

  15. Hi MarionG and FayMurphy, My name is Cerys and I’m the Sr. Director or PR at Kobo. I’m sorry to hear that your experiences have been less than perfect. Would you mind emailing us at [email protected] so that we could look into this for you? I’ve asked our team to expect your email. Best, Cerys

    • alana moses

      I am in Australia and when I got my original Kobo a few years ago, no wifi, no back light, no touch screen either & with a blue button to turn pages I was in heaven. However it ended there as I had a problem with the version it was running, I had it replaced by Borders still no joy I finally got on to Kobo in Canada & had the most amazing help from a guy named Brian, he fixed my problem restored my faith & I have been using my Kobo ever since although I am tempted to upgrade to the Aura this year if i do I will be gifting my original to my mother, provided I am just as happy with the Aura…thanks for a great product. Alana

  16. Garry Douglas

    I use the latest Sony, this Kobo Aura, a Samsung Tab, Nexus 7 and 2 Kindles that my wife uses. We read extensively. This review was not accurate. The home button is an icon at the top of the page. The light is super compared to the Kindle Paperwhite and the Glo. It has a nice appearance. But no more plastic style than the Sony or Kindle.

    In short. A great ereader. If you want to read on a tablet you can. There are plenty of ereading apps available. However if you want the least eyestrain and a super clear reader…. this is the best. It has few bells and whistles. But then we use our tabs when we need bells and whistles or to use colour.

    After reading a great deal on all the others my wife finds this AURA is easiest on her eyes. If we need to read a colour cookbook or read the news or weather or use other android apps…. we like the Nexus unless a movie requires a big screen. Use the right tool.

  17. faymurphy

    Can’t set up Kobo Aura because Kobo says that my e-mail address is associated
    with someone else. However, when I contacted the help desk, they couldn’t help me.
    Bottom line, the $169. + tax was a total waste of money since I can’t use this
    ereader. On top of that, Chapters/Indigo will not exchange it.

  18. I have been using the same Kobo for years and am very impressed with the latest models including the Aura. The larger screen size and capability of opening library books will be well worth the extra cost over the Kindle for many people.

  19. Never ever purchase a Kobo. We bought a Kobo after Christmas. It worked for one month. Then failed. It developed a problem that a lot of the ereaders develop which is lines of words both going horizontally and vertically. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the case or the screen. The item was NOT mishandled. They told my daughter too bad, this problem is Not covered. This was the Glo backlit model. We bought a Kindle a few years ago, it developed this same problem. Our Kindle was replaced. Do NOT purchase a Kobo as you will be throwing your money away. Total lack of customer service. I recommend boycotting this product totally.

    • faymurphy

      I wish I had read your comment before I purchased the Kobo Aura.
      My e-mail address is not accepted and the “help” desk won’t help.
      Chapters/Indigo/Coles is one of the worst retailers I’ve ever had the
      misfortune to deal with. They will not exchange this useless ereader.

      I’ve contacted Kobo and told them of my problem. They won’t help.
      I’ve also told them I will warn anyone I talk with to AVOID their products.

    • Tracey Cross

      Just because you don’t like kobo and had a faulty device the world should boycott kobo. That’s the stupidest comment I’ve ever heard. I owned four paperwhites all faulty. But I don’t go around saying “lets all hate kindles” kobo are quite new in the uk and thanks to comments like yours people may be put off. I’ve only had great experiences with kobo. They didnt have a book I wanted and in two days after my request it was there to download. Not all kobos break. My sister has owned the touch nearly two years now. Not one problem.

      • Tracey, the obvious point here is that while we KNOW all devices can develop a fault, the key thing is that the manufacturer provides you with good and reliable after-sales service.

        He is saying that Kobo support have refused to help him fix his issues… and as a customer who has purchased such as expensive device that is simply unacceptable behaviour from Kobo.

        Amazon in comparison, while it may have weaker hardware, has a world-class returns and customer service system that has never failed me in around 8 years of shopping regularly with them. if I have an issue it is dealt with quickly and professionally.

        Kobo, it seems, are failing in that department, and good hardware is no ouse if your support and after-sales service isn’t worth a damn.

        • Tracey Cross

          I understand what you’re saying. I just don’t understand why kobo products get so many bad reviews. I’ve owned every ereader and IMO the kobo is the most solid ereader I’ve used. I bought my 10 year old the nook st and within an hour of reading a popup appeared saying this device had stopped responding. We had to for e close it and and now it won’t read anything. My friends said this is common with their nooks but you don’t ever hear complaint about this. I use my aura and glo everyday for hours and no glitches.
          Yes devices do have problems but I get fed up of people slating kobo after owning an ereader for a day and as they haven’t researched it properly so they leave bad review. If you go on I think it’s the mobile forum there are lots of people who feel the same as me. As I’ve owned most ereaders I think I’m entitled to leave my opinion.

  20. Jason

    As someone who has purchased an Aura, the only real complaint I have is how slippery the device is. While the back design does help to keep things comfortable, it would have helped to have a softer material on the backside.

    The reviewer was quick to point out how costly the Aura is compared to a ad-supported Kindle, but really, I certainly thank Kobo for not trying to pass unwanted advertising. That goes for all their devices.

  21. John Van Hulst

    To say a product is not worth its price because of its look and feel: white, plasticky-looking, an ugly red power button; and a GUI not having a home button where it should be if you’re used to an iPad or iPhone, says more about the quality of the reviewer than about the quality of the product….

    • James Blake

      Have to agree with the other commenters, people who complain about a heavy ereader obviously don’t read books. Every hard cover book I own is heavier than the aura.

  22. Peter

    this device is perfect for the only reason you should buy it: reading books. This review, as well as others i’ve seen lately, is written by someone who is used to tablets and knows nothing about ereaders.

  23. bartimaeus2011

    The big takeaways from this review are that Laura doesn’t like a screen larger than 6″ or the fact that it isn’t an i phone/pod or pad, also that smaller screened devices are cheaper.

    Well it’s nice to know those things, but not terribly helpful.

    There is no doubt that the Aura HD is for a niche market, people who don’t want a bigger screen, won’t value it. People who don’t mind current resolutions won’t value the higher resolution and people who don’t want to have a library of many thousands of books and comics won’t value the storage.
    Personally I think the white and brown coloured versions are unappealing, although those seem to be the colours that sold out in pre-order, so others certainly aren’t of my mind on that.
    I bought a black one, which at least to me looks pretty classy. I can’t say it feels plasticky but perhaps there is a difference in the quality of the builds between different Aura HDs, mine feels solid and well built. The texture of the body is slick and if there weren’t the unusually shaped back it might have been difficult to hold, but the ridge seems to do away with that problem and I have no difficulty in holding the ereader in one hand for extended periods of time.

    The quibbles that I would have with it are primarily software and UI based.
    It gives no indication for example how many books are in your library, the only clue when in the library are the number of pages that it takes to list them all.
    On the plus side you can organise your library into shelves of your own choice which can make finding the particular book you want or type of book you want much easier than browsing through the entire libary.
    The reading life section which allows you to view stats of your reading habits and awards you badges for things like finishing a book, adding books to your library, spending an hour or two reading etc and allows you to share such wonders on facebook seems utterly pointless and of strictly limited appeal to a very limited number of people, mostly the kind of people who wouldn’t be buying this device in the first place.

    The extra adjustments to margins, font sizes and types that you can make are great and the advanced features there that allow you to adjust the weight and sharpness mean you can get books presented exactly how you want them and will suit many heavy readers as well as those with poorer eyesight.
    The light is pretty darn good and seems to be state of the art at the moment.
    If this device did nothing more than giving some quality targets for standard devices to aim towards it will be serving a useful role.

    It won’t be for everyone, but it is very good at what it does and in certain areas puts most other readers to shame. Kobo have a reasonable book store but while you can buy books directly on the device you’d be better off doing your browsing and purchasing from it on a computer. Kobo’s bookstore is, in my opinion, better than sony’s poor effort but it is still well behind Amazon’s and the prices are a little dearer on the titles I’ve checked.

    With the nook apparently falling far behind and sony seeming to have forgotten to compete at all it is a good thing that Kobo is putting some real effort into competing with the top dog. They still need some work on the UI and on their store but the Aura throws down the gauntlet to Amazon and it will be interesting to see what it can push Bezos to do.

      • Tracey Cross

        Yawn….!! Another reviewer slating a kobo product. They spend all of five minutes with the device and suddenly they think they’re experts. Lol! I’m fed up of reading bad reviews about kobo products. I owned four paperwhites all with faults. Bought a kobo glo. Love it. It has never let me down with a pink screen (yes, kindle I’m talking about you. Shock, horror!!!) I think amazon pay these daft reviewers to slate kobo. Glad to see others aren’t sucked in by their idiotic reviews.
        I think the aura is amazing. I borrowed a friend’s for two days and loved it but still love my glo. By the way you must have got a dud as its definitely not cheap and plastic!

  24. Nichole Hart

    I just opened mine. It came today. I’m setting it up. I have a Nook ST w/GL and I loved it. I just wanted something a little bigger. So far the screen is beautiful and I don’t mind the “plasticky” feel or the “ugly red button” ..I couldn’t care less what color the button is and it’s so funny how many people pick on stuff like that. I also got the espresso color and it’s really a nice color. I am buying this for reading only. I read a book or more a day so this fits the bill. I paid the extra and after paying the same price for the kindle fire and hating it because I couldn’t read an entire book without charging it, I feel like this is worth the money.

    • do you still like your KOBO? I am looking to buy for a voracious reading senior citizen…the qualities you mentioned are what I want for her…BIG screen- easy to use…black and white crisp print…thanks for your feedback!

    • Kobofan

      *wonders if this person is an idiot liberal, or an intelligent yet dishonest conservative posing as an idiot liberal in order to illuminate the stupidity from which the vast majority of them suffer*

  25. To someone who is visually challenged, as I am, that noticeably sharper, better illuminated screen, with a larger range of fonts and font sizes, is worth its weight in gold. Personally, I like the slightly greater heft. Makes it feel more substantial to me, and the indents in the back help to hold onto it despite the arthritis in my hands.

    While it’s hard, with my arthritis for me to physically hold a heavy book, the lightest e-readers seem to fly out of my hands — the Kobo provides a good compromise, for me.

    You did not mention that once you set the brightness through Settings, you can put the unit to sleep _and_ turn off the light with one nudge of that “ugly” (but visually easy for me to find), non-metallic button. And when I turn it back on, the light is on at exactly the same level I set it.

    For me, this is a terrific upgrade in my reading experience. Maybe for someone younger and with much better eyes, it wouldn’t be, but for me it is.

  26. The Kindle PW is .47 pounds and the Kobo Aura is .53 pounds because of the bigger screen. So what you are saying is that .06 pounds makes the Kobo to heavy to hold comfortably.