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.