Review: Kobo Aura HD

Battling the e-reader juggernaut Amazon is tough. Just ask Barnes & Noble.

Yet, Kobo lives on — not just surviving, but thriving. The Japanese company’s success in the e-reader market can be pinned equally on its strong international presence and its willingness to create a product specifically tuned to the wants and needs of its most hardcore customers.

The Kobo Aura HD is a device for those hardcores: people who not only crave a better e-ink screen (really, who doesn’t?), but also those who pay closer attention to a device’s design. Most of all, they’re people who root for the little guy. They shop at independent bookstores and routinely pick titles from small publishers, side-loading them on their e-readers. They’re also people who prefer to contribute to the success of a hardware device not made by the bigger, more dominant company.

In this case, the rewards aren’t just warm and fuzzy vibes. There’s a clear win: the Aura HD has the best screen on the e-reader market today. The display — a 6.8-inch, 1440 x 1080 screen with a density of 265 ppi — knocks the Kindle Paperwhite off its throne as e-ink emperor. Text appears crisper on the Aura’s display than on any of the other e-readers I’ve tested, not just the Paperwhite.

The other big shortcoming is the price. I’m sure there are people willing to pay $170 for the awesome hardware, but the masses won’t. After all, that’s $30 more expensive than the best ad-free Kindle Amazon sells. And in a very odd decision, Kobo is only selling the Aura HD “for a limited time,” and there’s no word on when that time will end.

The Aura might be the best e-reader on the market (it is), but it’s tough to recommend that anyone currently swimming in the Kindle pool hop the fence and join Kobo’s party. Amazon has created a robust ecosystem that rewards readers who go all-in, and once you’ve tasted those rewards, you’ll miss them too much. But if you’re a ravenous book lover who has largely ignored the Amazon Prime extras, and you don’t really care what Stephen King is doing, the Aura HD is the best of the e-readers.

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