Kobo Aura HD: the best eReader for book fanatics (gallery)

Heavy readers still find dedicated ebook readers to offer the best electronic experience. The Kobo Aura HD is the best device available today, in terms of high end book hardware.
1 of 26 Matthew Miller/ZDNET

Kobo Aura HD retail package

I picked up a Kobo eReader Touch a couple years ago and for a long time it was my favorite ebook reader. I then moved to the Kindle Paperwhite and haven't look back, until now.

While I own several phones and a couple of tablets, I still prefer to use a dedicated ebook reader for reading ebooks due in large part to the minimized distractions, display quality and outside usability, and very long battery life. The Kobo Aura HD is the best ebook hardware available today and ebook fans will love the customization options and quality reading experience.


The primary difference between the Kobo Aura HD and other ebook readers is the display resolution. For a long time, nearly all the displays on these devices had 600x800 resolution (167 ppi) and that was just perfectly fine for ebook reading. The latest generation of devices bumped that up to 758 x 1024 pixels resolution (212 ppi) and I agreed that was even better and that was likely where we would see these eInk display devices stop.

Then the Kobo Aura HD comes along with a 1440 x 1080 pixels resolution (265 ppi) and raised the bar to another level. I don't think there is anything bad you can say about the display, especially as you start messing around with font settings customized to your preference.

In addition to the highest resolution eInk display, Kobo also was able to offer up a lighting solution that has no visible glare spots along the edge even when brightness is set to 100%. Their ComfortLight front light solution evenly lights up the entire display.

I was perfectly happy with my Kindle Paperwhite, even with the couple of brighter spots along the bottom, but now the Kobo Aura HD spoiled me as they show it is possible to provide lighting evenly across the display.

There are no hardware buttons for page turning so access to settings, page navigation, and text entry is all performed on the touchscreen panel.

One thing about the Kobo Touch eReader I bought in 2011 that stood out from others was the unique design of the back. That device has a soft touch back with cushion pattern design and feels great in your hand. The new Kobo Aura HD also has a unique design with ridges that remind me of a stealth fighter.

I am not sure how much it helps with holding the device, but my fingertips do naturally fit into the center seem while the ridge fits along the length of my fingers. The Kobo Aura HD is a fairly wide device at xx inches and while I can hold it in a single hand it is a stretch for my fingers. I prefer holding it with the edge resting in my palm and my fingers supporting it along the ridges.

Unlike other ebook readers with integrated lighting, the Kobo Aura HD has a button dedicated to toggling the light on and off. The device software is also smart enough to keep the same light setting when you switch the active mode on again. I prefer a hardware button for the light since it saves you a couple taps on the display.

There is a microSD card slot on the bottom for unlimited expandability of book content so it is a device that can grow with you over time.


The primary specifications of the device include:

  • 1 GHz processor, reported to be 20% faster than others
  • 6.8 inch WXGA Pearl eInk display at 1440 x 1080 pixels resolution
  • 4GB internal memory and microSD card support for 32GB cards
  • 802.11 b/g/n WiFi
  • Battery life up to 2 months
  • Dimensions: 175.7 x 128.3 x 11.7 mm and 240 grams
  • Support for EPUB, PDF, MOBI, jpeg, gif, png, tiff, txt, html, rtf, cbz, and cbr
  • 10 font styles and 24 font sizes


To access menus on the Kobo Aura HD you simply tap near the center of the device to have top and bottom buttons activated. If you tap on the left or right side while reading a book then your pages may turn so make sure to try to tap the center.

Options along the top include home, brightness level settings, battery life indicator, and top menu denoted by three bars. A press of the top right menu will pop up an overlay that lets you search Kobo, adjust brightness, toggle WiFi, view the battery percentage, force a sync, access help, and access the settings.

The main settings of the device include account management, light/sleep/power settings, date and time, language, reading settings, Reading Life and notifications, WiFi manager, device information, About screen, and extras. The extras include games (chess, solitaire, word scramble, sketch pad, sudoku) and a web browser.

Options along the bottom bar include reading status on the left that opens up a pop-up showing stats for the chapter, upcoming chapter, graph of future chapter length, and stats for how many hours are left in the chapter and book.

Tapping the double-ended arrow at the bottom gives you quick access to a slider to help you jump around the book. The book icon gives you access to the table of contents, annotations, search, dictionary, and translation dictionary.

Tapping the font icon gives you access to the font customization settings. Here is where you will find more functionality for font customization than what you see on any other ebook reader. You can choose from ten font faces, 24 font sizes, various line spaces, various margins, and three types of justification.

You can tap the plus or minus to jump between font size, line spacing, and margins or just tap somewhere along the indicator line to go right to that setting. You will see the page change behind the pop-up to reflect the settings you choose dynamically.

You can tap on the advanced button to further adjust the font weight and sharpness, again with an indicator line and plus/minus buttons. On the advance screen there is a side-by-side window below the settings to show you what your settings will look like before you apply the settings.

If you are particular about the fonts on your ebook reader you will not find a better device for customization than the Kobo Aura HD. It truly is a device for the ebook aficionado.

The last menu item along the bottom, in the far right corner, lets you force a sync, share on Facebook, add to your bookshelf, mark as finished, or access the reader settings (page turning zones, page refresh frequency, and page number placement).

Kobo was one of the first to launch an ebook reader with social integration and continues that on the Aura HD with their Reading Life functionality. Reading Life also now lets you view your reading stats that include book progress and time to complete, chapter progress and time to complete, hours of reading, page turns, average pages per minute, and library stats indicating how many books you finished and the total amount of hours you have been reading on your Kobo.

Another aspect of Reading Life is the awards Kobo provides, via different badges, when you achieve different metrics. Badges and awards include page turn levels, reading time metrics, social network connectivity, and more. These are fun, but not essential for my personal reading experience.

Daily usage experiences

The Kobo Aura HD is fantastic, plain and simple. There is nothing else I could ask for in an eInk device and I applaud Kobo for their work on this device. The Kindle may be the Kleenex of the ebook reader world, but I hope people take a serious look at alternatives like the Kobo Aura HD.

Sony used to be the premium ebook reader company with devices that were made of metal and pushed the technology forward. That premium crown now goes to Kobo with their Kobo Aura HD.

The Kindle Paperwhite is a solid ebook device with 6 font styles and 8 sizes compared to 10 font styles and 24 sizes on the Kobo Aura HD. The Kobo Aura HD doesn't have easy access to public library titles, but it does use the open EPUB standard and I was able to load up all of my EPUB titles purchased over the years from various stores.

Pricing and availability

You can purchase the Kobo Aura HD now for $169.99. When you look at the Kindle Paperwhite, without ads, priced at $139 then you will quickly see the Kobo Aura HD is priced right with the most advance technology and customization available.

It is available in the black (Onyx) color I checked out or in white (Ivory). I have several ebook readers on hand, including an original Sony PRS-505, couple Nooks, a Kobo Touch, and a Kindle Paperwhite, but I am still considering the Kobo Aura HD because it offers the absolute best ebook experience and I love my ebooks.

I may give away some of these devices to family, friends, and Twitter followers and move to the Kobo Aura HD soon.

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Back of the package shows some basic device information.

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The Kobo Aura HD in the box with the screensaver activated.

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The back of the Kobo Aura HD is angled to fit well within your hand.

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The power switch and backlight button are found on the top.

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A microSD card slot and microUSB port are found on the bottom.

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Kobo has had textured and angled backs before, but this one is unique.

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Another view showing the angled back.

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Kindle, Kobos, and Nook lineup.

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The Kobo Touch and Kobo Aura HD.

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Settings display on the Kobo Aura HD.

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On screen keyboard

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Pop-up guides to help you understand how to use the device.

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You will find more available fonts on the Kobo Aura HD than any other ebook reader.

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Adjusting font settings while reading a book

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Navigation options

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Book options from right menu button

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Navigating while reading

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Looking up a word in the dictionary

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Annotate on the Kobo Aura HD

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Adding a note

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Home screen view

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Reading badges earned on the Kobo

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An ebook achievement is earned

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Text is extremely crisp

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You can see lots of content with small fonts

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