PROS: Excellent display; rich feature set (makes great use of screen size); great battery life; handy shortcut gesture for adjusting the backlight.
CONS: Contrast could be better.
BOTTOM LINE: A significant improvement over the Aura HD and a slightly better form factor than the Kindle Paperwhite.

I had the opportunity to test drive the new Kobo Aura, a follow-on eBook reader to the more expensive Kobo Aura HD, and it looks like Kobo has made significant improvements to the overall reading experience in the process.

The Out-of-Box Experience

If you recall, back when I set up Kobo Aura HD, I had some issues with the initial setup, partly because of how my home network is set up and partly because of the software that Kobo recommended be downloaded by users. This time around, I had no issues at all; I have since improved my home network setup and I didn’t bother downloading any additional software. It was just a matter of powering it on, configuring it to connect and entering my Kobo credentials. Simple.

The Display

The display on the Kobo Aura is very good. The 1024 x 758 resolution looks fairly crisp on the device’s 6-inch e-Ink screen, about on par with the Kindle Paperwhite. And just like the Paperwhite, (1) the contrast could be better, and (2) there is a very slight consistency issues regarding the backlit screen around some edges of the screen; it appears to wash out (darken) at the extreme edges. This last point is worth mentioning, but it’s hardly a distraction. The backlit screen is a lifesaver for this reader (see my previous review for an explanation of where I’m coming from). In fact, Kobo even one-ups the Kindle Paperwhite by providing a handy shortcut gesture for altering the screen brightness (a 2-finger slide up/down to increase/decrease the brightness; a similar gesture can be found on the Aldiko reader on Android smartphones). It’s a truly handy feature to quickly changing the brightness settings to match that of the reading environment.

Page turning speed is also very good, so you won’t have to wait to get to the next page. (Although truth be told, most readers would otherwise learn to flip the page a few words before the end of the page.)

As good as the page turn speeds are, I’m still a big proponent of allowing the user to maximize screen space for text thus minimizing page turns. Fortunately, the Kobo Aura makes great use of the smaller screen, allowing users to decrease margins and maximize the screen space as much as possible. This is always a welcome feature.

The Form Factor – Much Better!

The form factor is where The Kobo Aura blows the doors off the Aura HD. The Aura HD was, to put it bluntly, awkward to hold because of size and the contours of the back side. The Kobo Aura features a slimmer, flatter and smaller design that makes one-handed reading easy. The texture is ok, but the plastic back is still a bit more slippery that the rubbery texture of the Kindle Paperwhite.

Features

The features of the Kobo Aura are quite similar, if not exactly the same as, the Aura HD. I won’t repeat myself to much here, but I will summarize by saying that there are plenty of handy customization options (some harder to navigate than they need to be), plenty of social networking features (which don’t interest me personally), a way to purchase books directly from the device (while computer-based access to the Kobo store remains unwieldy), and a memory card slot should you wish to store your ebook on a microSD card. And I’ll give another shout-out to the fun option for displaying the cover of the book you are reading when it’s turned off. Seeing book covers triggers my desire to read and walking past the device makes me want to pick it up.

I found battery life to be excellent. Kobo states you will get 2 months of battery life with the usual disclaimer about individual usage (i.e. dependencies on reading habits, backlight and WiFi usage, etc.)

Purchasing books from the device while connected to WiFi is fairly straightforward, but like before, the same cannot be said of the Kobo’s online bookstore when accessed from a computer — that still needs a major overhaul.

Final Thoughts

I’ve made several mentions of the Kindle Paperwhite in this review, mainly because that’s my current preferred ebook reading device. The point to take away here is that the Kobo Aura is a serious contender to the Paperwhite as a reading device.

Kobo has definitely taken big strides in the right direction with the Aura. Gone is the bizarre form factor that made reading slightly awkward. It’s been replaced by a truly portable reading device that’s easy to use. Anyone shopping for a backlit eBook reader should give the Kobo Aura a look.

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