Kobo Aura e-reader review: A Kindle competitor with a classy design

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MSRP: $149.99

The Good The Kobo Aura is a lightweight, attractively designed Wi-Fi-enabled e-reader that has an integrated light, high-res e-ink display, and a touch-screen interface. It also features an expansion slot for additional memory, supports EPUB files, and is compatible with any e-book store that uses the Adobe DRM format.

The Bad Screen and lighting scheme isn't as good as the less expensive Kindle Paperwhite's; loading library loaners and third-party e-book purchases requires tethering to a PC; while more "open" than Kindle, lacks access to Amazon's best-in-class e-book ecosystem.

The Bottom Line With its more portable design, the Kobo Aura is a worthwhile -- albeit pricier -- Kindle Paperwhite alternative for EPUB fans who don't want to be tied to Amazon's proprietary ecosystem.

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7.6 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Ecosystem 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7

E-reader prices were supposed to go down, but apparently Kobo didn't get the memo.

Back in April it released the $169.99 Aura HD, a dedicated e-ink e-reader that sported a higher-resolution 6.8-inch screen with 1,440x1,080 pixels and 265dpi. Now it's trotted out its little brother, the 6-inch Aura (1,024x768 pixels), which comes in pink and black and is available for $149.99.

What's special about the Aura? Well, it has an impressively compact design that's smaller than Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite (2013) -- despite the fact that both products have a 6-inch screen. It's also significantly lighter: the Aura weighs 6.1 ounces (174 grams), compared with the Kindle Paperwhite's 7.3 ounces.

The Aura's also got a sleeker look than last year's Kobo Glo, which will remain on the market along with the entry-level 5-inch Kobo Mini ($79.99), Kobo Touch ($99.99), and the Aura HD.

The device features an "edge-to-edge" display that makes it look more like a tablet (click image to enlarge). Sarah Tew/CNET

Measuring 150x114x8.1mm (HWD), at 174 grams, it's slightly lighter than the 185-gram Glo and also features new technology that reduces flashing. With e-ink, the screen has to refresh every so often to eliminate artifacts (sometimes referred to as ghosting). In earlier e-readers, the screen would have to refresh every five to six page turns. But now Kobo can go dozens of page turns without flashing (it's been virtually eliminated).

Like the Glo, the Aura also has the company's ComfortLight front-light technology for reading in the dark or in dimly lit environments (there's a dedicated physical button for the light as well as power on/off button). In the Glo, we thought it measured up surprisingly well against the front-light in Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite. It doesn't seem to have advanced much in this model, but it's still decent and displays pretty uniformly across the screen (there is a brighter line of light at the top of the screen where the LEDs are housed).

Even though that screen has a border around it, Kobo is calling Aura's display "edge-to-edge" because it's all one surface and looks more like the screens you'd find on a tablet. This is a touch-screen model, and it uses a capacitive touch screen that's a bit more responsive than the Glo's touch screen.

In most other respects, the Aura's specs are very similar to the Glo's. Inside you'll find a Freescale i.MX507 1GHz processor, 4GB of internal storage, and an expansion microSD expansion slot that accepts cards up to 32GB.

There's a Micro-USB port for charging and data transfers and integrated Wi-Fi for shopping in Kobo's e-book store. Battery life is rated at "more than two months" based on 30 minutes of reading per day with ComfortLight turned on or off and Wi-Fi turned off (Wi-Fi is the biggest battery drain).

The Aura comes equipped with 4GB of internal storage and a microSD expansion slot for adding additional memory. Sarah Tew/CNET

Aura vs. Paperweight Kobo, a Canadian company, isn't a big player in the US market, but it is big overseas, where it's second to Amazon in a lot of markets. Kobo's CEO Michael Serbinis says around two-thirds of the company's sales come from outside North America.

In many respects the Aura competes well with the Kindle Paperweight. I actually like its overall design slightly better. As noted, it's smaller and weighs less. It also has a grippy, rubberized finish on back, and it feels good in hand.