Kobo Aura One review

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When you think of an e-reader, odds are you’re going to picture a Kindle. Amazon’s reading device is ubiquitous in its category, the default recommendation. Like Apple’s iPad in the tablet market, the Kindle is the standard against which any challenger will be judged. Unlike the boring tablet market though, the e-reader underdogs are actually creating some solid alternatives.

One of them is Kobo’s Aura One, a £189 premium e-reader that goes up against the £169 Kindle Voyage. It’s hard to compete against a market leader at a higher price point, but Kobo justify the price tag with two intriguing features: a crisp, blue-light reducing display and full waterproofing. Here is our review.

 

Specs: Kobo Aura One vs Kindle Voyage

Kobo Aura One Kindle Voyage
Features IPX8 waterproof (60 mins @ 2m)
Blue light reducing backlight
16-level gray scale
3G model available
Display 7.8-inch Carta e-ink
1872 x 1404 (300 DPI)
6-inch Carta e-ink
1430 x 1080 (300 DPI)
Size 195 x 139 x 7 mm 162 x 115 x 8 mm
Weight 230 grams 180 grams
Storage 8 GB 4 GB
Native
Formats
EPUB, EPUB3, PDF, MOBI,
JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, TIFF,
TXT, HTML, RTF, CBZ, CBR
AZW3, AZW, TXT, PDF,
MOBI, PRC, HTML
Connectivity Wi-Fi N, Micro USB Wi-Fi N, Micro USB
Battery Life > 1 month > 1 month
Price £189 £169 / £229 (free 3G)
 

Design

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The Kobo’s matte black frame marks it immediately as an e-reader, although with the screen off you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for a tablet. That’s because it’s larger than most e-readers, spanning 7.8 inches across the diagonal.

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Though expansive, the monochrome screen is sharp, at 300 dots per inch — famously, the pixel density that Apple dubbed ‘Retina’. The screen is flanked by fairly slim bezels for an e-reader too, and the Aura One manages to sneak in at 195 mm long by 139 mm wide. It still has a noticeably larger footprint than recent Kindles, but the 6.9 mm thickness and 230 gram weight make it comfortable enough to read while supporting it with a single hand — which is ultimately all that matters.

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The back of the e-reader has a subtle dimpled texture which adds a bit of grip, and there’s an embossed logo here too. The only other feature of note is the solitary cyan button at the top of the frame, which wakes the tablet after it has gone to sleep. The placement of this looks a little odd, but it’s a comfortable position that’s easy to find without looking — nice one.

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Happily, there are no other design features to note beyond the Micro USB port at the bottom, which you’ll need to recharge your e-reader every month or so, depending on how often you use it. I managed to get from 100% to 70% after about a week of infrequent use, so that month figure sounds reasonable.

 

Reading

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The larger screen of the Aura One makes reading a lot more comfortable; you can be more generous with font sizes and margins without suffering through constant page turns. Moving from page to page is pleasingly rapid for an e-ink display, although some may miss the physical buttons of earlier e-readers. I personally found the touch controls intuitive and responsive.

As well as font sizes, line heights and margins, you can choose from a range of eleven fonts which can be adjusted to different weights and sharpness settings. Installing new fonts is also surprisingly easy; just drop them in a folder called ‘fonts’ and you’ll see them appear in the Kobo’s menus. I grabbed Amazon’s Bookerly font from this helpful blog post and found it a minor improvement over the built-in options… although you do lose the ability to make advanced changes.

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Some of the Aura One’s features are also restricted to their native Kobo EPUB file format. I downloaded a few free EPUBs online, and was dismayed to find that I couldn’t adjust the margins or the line height any more. These restrictions can be overcome on a per-file basis, but this seems more trouble than it’s worth. However, the sheer range of file formats that can be natively read is helpful.

Of course, the design of the Aura One does have some downsides. The larger size and more substantial weight of the e-reader makes it less comfortable to hold in one hand for extended periods, so I adopted a two-hand stance for most of my reading. I find the trade-off of a larger screen worthwhile, but your mileage may vary.

Store

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In general, I found that the Kobo store offered slightly fewer titles, often at higher prices than Amazon’s Kindle store. However, this is somewhat offset by the library lending programme included with the Aura One. However, Kobo’s digital offerings are sufficient for most purposes; it’s only the more niche titles you might have trouble locating.

 

Features

Blue light reduction

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The larger screen of the Aura One is backlit, as we’ve come to expect from e-readers these days. Uniquely, the e-reader comes with a ‘ComfortLight Pro’ backlight, which is able to reduce the amount of blue light the screen produces. The warmer colour temperature is easier on the eyes, and may be less disruptive to your sleep patterns too.

We’ve had blue light reduction on computers in the form of Flux for years, and recently both Apple and Google added it to their mobile operating systems as well. Adding it to an e-reader makes a lot of sense, and the feature is well implemented on the Aura One. You can engage the filter manually, or have it automatically come on as the sun sets. The warm tones suit an e-ink screen, and I left the feature enabled throughout my testing.

Waterproofing

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The Aura One has an IPX8 rating, allowing it to survive up to two metres of water for an hour at a time. If you like to read in the bath, by the pool or in it, you should be well catered for. I personally stick to dry land for most of my reading, but it’s still a nice peace-of-mind feature to have. Better yet, the waterproofing hasn’t impacted usability — there is no annoying flap over the Micro USB port, for example. It’s a sensible inclusion and one of the few clear-cut advantages that the Aura One enjoys over the Kindle Voyage.

 

Wrapping up

The Kobo Aura One is a well-designed e-reader with a few unique features that set it apart from its competition. The reading experience is top notch, the waterproofing and blue light features are welcome inclusions, and the overall experience is without major flaws.

There are a few quirks here and there, but there’s a lot to like too — perhaps most notably the more open environment that Kobo have fostered, including custom fonts and a wider range of natively supported file formats than you’ll find elsewhere.

All in all, the Kobo Aura One is a premium e-reader worth considering, particularly if you value water resistance.

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When you think of an e-reader, odds are you're going to picture a Kindle. Amazon's reading device is ubiquitous in its category, the default recommendation. Like Apple's iPad in the tablet market, the Kindle is the standard against which any challenger will be judged. Unlike the boring tablet market though, the e-reader underdogs are actually creating some solid alternatives. One of them is Kobo's Aura One, a £189 premium e-reader that goes up against the £169 Kindle Voyage. It's hard to compete against a market leader at a higher price point, but Kobo justify the price tag with two intriguing…
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About William Judd

Editor-in-Chief for XSReviews. Find me @wsjudd or on G+.

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