Last year's crop of e-readers busted out the built-in light. Apparently this year, the hot new thing is high definition (HD) — we've probably got a bit more of a wait for colour e-readers — as well as software partnerships.
For the Kobo Aura, the second in Kobo's range of "high-end" Aura e-readers, following the Aura HD earlier this year, this also includes a rather interesting design overhaul.
The Kobo Aura marks the arrival of the smallest, lightest 6-inch e-reader we've seen to date. Although its display is the same size as the Kobo Glo's, it comes in at just 150x114x8.1 millimetres and 172 grams compared to the Glo's 157.4x113.9x10 millimetres and 185 grams.
The new Aura is also the first e-reader we've seen without a plastic bezel. Kobo has been touting its new design as "edge to edge". As you can see in the images above, this does not mean the screen, which still has a black border; rather, the matte plastic (not glass, as we had previously been informed) screen covering itself extends to the bronze-coloured plastic edges of the device. This has the effect of making the Aura feel sleeker and more solidly constructed than previous Kobo e-readers.
Like the Aura HD, the Aura has also dispensed with the brand's signature quilted back. Kobo previously told CNET Australia that the quilted back had received a very mixed reception, with people either loving or hating the feel of the rubberised texture, so we suspect that this is an attempt to find a more neutral middle ground. The new back, available in black or pink, is textured hard plastic that feels quite pleasant to the touch, with angled sides to promote more comfortable holding.
Also following its more recent e-readers, the Aura has just two buttons, the power slider and light switch on the top edge of the device, and two slots, micro USB and microSD on the bottom.
Going forward, we assume that the front light introduced in the Kobo Glo — a light around the edges of the screen that produces a diffuse glow for low-light reading — will be included in all of the company's e-readers, and the new Aura is no exception. It produces an even light across the display, and can be adjusted for brightness by tapping the little sun icon that appears on the top of the screen when you turn the light on.
With the Aura, Kobo has introduced integration with Pocket, a "read-it-later" app that made its debut as Read it Later before rebranding in April last year. It allows you to use an extension or bookmarklet in Chrome or an app on Mac to save articles for offline reading by syncing across to your smartphone app — and now Kobo.
It's pretty easy to get up and running. Connected to Wi-Fi, you log in to your Pocket account via the Aura's settings menu, found under the menu icon in the top right of the Home screen. Your e-reader will then sync with your Pocket reading list, and you have your articles saved for offline reading. It is important to note that this doesn't happen automatically from that point forward; when you save new articles to Pocket, you will need to go in to your Pocket collection on the Aura and refresh to download it. Luckily, after the first time you log into Pocket on the Aura, a tile will appear on your Home screen that makes this easier. You do, obviously, need to be connected to the web to download new articles, though.
Kobo's Reading Life, its system of reading stats and awards for reading, has made a return, as have the Sudoku, chess, sketch book and browser apps that can be accessed through the "Extras" option on the device's settings menu. It is important to note that you cannot use Pocket with the on-board browser; you have to use the rather circuitous method we described.
Also included are eight dictionaries, English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch and Japanese; the ability to highlight and annotate text within ePub files and share passages to Facebook; the ability to search documents; and formatting options, such as font size and type.
We had a few issues with the Kobo Glo in terms of bugginess and response time, and we're overjoyed to report that the Aura seems to have ironed those issues out. What we found with the Glo was that it was laggy, slow to respond to taps, sometimes not responding at all.
The Aura couldn't be more different. Even an image-heavy MOBI file responded smartly to page turns, and resizing a PDF using pinch to zoom was about as smooth as we've seen on an E Ink display. Input is also pretty snappy; in fact, it responds a little faster than the screen, so playing chess and Sudoku, as well as entering search terms or other text, is a lot better than the Glo.
The interface, while familiar, has also had an upgrade. On the screen, you have a set of tiles. Displaying from the top left and going down in columns, it shows your most recently viewed items on the device. Right now, on our screen we have a PDF, three ebooks, a reading statistics snapshot and a Pocket article. Opening another book pushed Pocket off the screen, but everything you can read on the device can be accessed easily via the Library menu in the lower left.
Entering the Library, you'll notice a change: gone is the slider seen on the Glo, where you could advance one page at a time or skip to an estimated page. Instead, you have to swipe one page at a time, each showing five books. You can sort by author or title, but there's no way to, say, skip to books that start with L if you're looking for Les Miserables. You can search for a book; counter-intuitively, however, you have to use the search function within the Kobo store, for which you need to be connected to Wi-Fi.
To make your library more manageable, you can create "Collections". These can be whatever you like; organised by the letters of the alphabet by title, organised by author, organised by genre, etc. Basically, it's like having folders for your books. It's not a bad solution, but we would prefer a more intuitive method within the library's first tier.
The bookstore, as we have come to expect, is pretty easy to use. The storefront has a list of suggested reads, and you can browse by genre from the drop-down menu. Each book also has a drop-down menu that allows you to either purchase the title or add it to your wishlist. Some parts of the store do need a little work; the search function doesn't organise the results by the most relevant (something that Kobo has assured us is changing), and "related reads" has a hard time finding similar content for some of the stranger books in our collection. Recommended Reads needs work, too; it wasn't terrible at suggesting titles, but the list ought to refresh once you have indicated that you have read something.
Finally, the screen itself, while crisp, looks a trifle dark. It's nothing major, and it disappears once you turn on the light, but it's a little akin to reading an older book with age-darkened paper.
The Kobo Aura does have some very minor foibles. However, the work Kobo has done to the software has improved it substantially on last year's Kobo Glo. Also, once you factor in that if you want a light for Sony's upcoming PRS-T3, you'll have to pay extra beyond its AU$149 SRP, the Aura comes in at a pretty competitive price.
It's kept the frills to a minimum, and the overall result is a very sleek and comfortable e-reading experience.