Amazon may rule the ebook reader market in the U.S. with an iron Kindle, but in the rest of the world, digital bookworms turn to Kobo’s ebook readers. It’s been a few years since Kobo introduced its high-end, waterproof Kobo Aura H2O, but now the company is back with its best ebook reader yet: the Aura One.
Measuring 7.8 inches diagonally, it’s the largest ebook reader ever made, but it’s also shockingly slim and lightweight. With its $230 price tag, the Aura One is directly competing with Amazon’s $290 Oasis, which won our Editor’s Choice Award for its cutting-edge design and epic reading experience.
Does the Aura One have what it takes to defeat Amazon’s innovative Oasis? We binge read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (and a few more books) to find out.
Most ebook readers look exactly the same: They’re chunky, rubbery, 6-inch slabs with E Ink screens. Kobo’s Aura One looks completely different. Gone are the thick bezels and deeply inset screen, replaced by a flat face of sturdy matte glass, thin sides, and a back made of grippy, basketball-like plastic. The power button adds a pop of blue on the back, and there’s a Micro USB port on the bottom for charging.
It’s waterproof design and IPX8 rating means it can go under 6 feet of water for 60 minutes. You can drop the Aura One right into the bathtub if you want and nothing bad will happen to it. You can take it to the beach or pool and get it soaking wet, and it’ll be fine. Waterproofing is a huge deal. It sets the Kobo Aura One ahead of the Kindle Oasis, which still lacks waterproofing after all these years. People like to read near water, so protection against water damage is an absolute necessity. After all, the only thing worse than dropping your favorite book in the lake and having to dry the wrinkled pages is dropping your $300 ebook reader in the same lake and having to replace it.
The Aura One is not as daring as Amazon’s asymmetrical Kindle Oasis with its unique leather battery case, but it’s very sleek and attractive. The giant 7.8-inch Carta E Ink HD touchscreen makes it the biggest ebook reader ever made, but it still has the same 300 pixel-per-inch resolution as high-end Kindles, so the words on the page appear as crisp and clear as they do in print.
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The larger screen mimics the full-page experience you’d have with a hardcover book. You get more words on each page, even when you crank up the font to an enormous size that would lead to lots of page flipping on a 6-inch reader. Anyone who normally needs reading glasses will love this feature, and even if you don’t, you’ll appreciate the big screen. The first book I read on the Kobo was a stage play with lots of white space on each page, along with stage directions, and the screen made it much easier to read.
Despite its size, I had no problem reading one-handed on the subway with the Aura, though two hands are best. I did miss having page-turn buttons, which I had gotten used to after using the Kindle Oasis for the past few months. Swiping the screen to turn the page will be intuitive enough to anyone with a smartphone, but hard buttons would feel better.
The Aura’ screen is similar in size to the iPad Mini, but it’s much slimmer and lighter. There’s no glare outdoors or at night, either. It’s a better reading experience all around.
Kobo’s night mode diminishes the amount of blue light that the screen emits, so you can relax with a good book in bed without the sleep-disrupting effect of normal screens. While many phones and tablets have this feature now, the Aura One is the first ebook reader to do it. You simply tap on the sun icon that represents brightness, and you’ll find the option to adjust screen temperature under Natural Light. It casts a warm orange glow that’s so pleasant, I prefer it to the standard auto setting. The lighting will also adjust automatically to suit the room you’re in, if you don’t want to adjust it yourself.
Most ebook readers have a similar look and feel in terms of software. There’s a home page where you can see the book you’re currently reading, your reading stats, recommendations, and more. The options to read, browse, or view your activity are on the bottom of the screen. Quick settings for lighting, Wi-Fi, and battery are right up top along with three dots, which expand to reveal more info and the option to see your full settings menu. Inside Settings, you’ll find a number of options to customize your reading experience.
As extras, Kobo lets you post quotes and passages directly to Facebook, highlight passages, get definitions, take notes, and place bookmarks while you’re reading.
Beneath all that glass, Kobo’s Aura One is on par with the latest Kindles. Its 1GHz processor is reasonably speedy and power efficient. All ebook readers have a minor page-turn lag, but the Aura One is as speedy as the best of them.
The Aura One packs 8GB of storage onboard, which should be enough to hold about 6,000 ebooks. Kobo readers are more open than Kindles, and support formats including EPUB, MOBI, PDF, TXT, HTML, RTF, and more. That means you can easily transfer most of the ebooks you’ve bought onto your Kobo ebook reader. Those of you who have Google Play libraries or love to read ebooks from sites like Project Gutenberg are in luck. Most of those are in supported formats. Your CBZ and CBR comic books will cross over, too.
If you have Kindle or iBooks content, you’re less fortunate. Apple and Amazon lock you into their ecosystems, so you’ll need to break the DRM on those files to convert them, which isn’t for amateurs. If you’re heavily invested in Amazon’s ecosystem, just buy the Kindle Oasis instead.
Luckily, Kobo has its own huge ebook store with more than 5 million titles in it that you can buy right from your Aura One. You’ll get personalized recommendations based on your preferences, as Kobo learns what you like to read.
Library card owners will be happy to hear that the Aura One makes borrowing ebooks easier than ever before. Kobo’s parent company Rakuten owns Overdrive, which is the most popular system for public libraries that lend ebooks. Overdrive is built right into the Aura One. After setting up your library card and signing in, you’ll see the option to borrow available ebooks whenever you search the Kobo store. It’s that simple.
Previously, library lending was a real hassle that involved dozens of steps, but with the Aura One, I borrowed a few books from the library without a problem. The files will disappear when your lending period is up, but you can always renew them.
On a Kindle, you have to borrow the book online, or through the Overdrive app. From there, you can ask to download the Kindle file and get it sent to your Kindle without having to plug anything in. Still, it involves using another device, so Kobo’s method is easier.
Kobo says the Aura One’s battery should last through about a month of reading. Of course, that will vary widely based on your reading habits and your display’s brightness. So far, the Aura One is still going strong after a solid week of reading. We expect Kobo’s one-month battery life estimate is right on the money, which is great.
Kobo has a one-year limited warranty, so if your device malfunctions, you should be able to get it repaired or replaced, barring any “acts of God.”
I thought ebook readers couldn’t get any better than Amazon’s Kindle Oasis, but Kobo’s Aura One has beaten the former best. You’ll still prefer the Oasis if you’re deeply embedded in Amazon’s Kindle ebook system, but if you don’t, the Aura One is objectively a better reader. It has several killer features that the Kindle Oasis doesn’t have: It’s waterproof, it stifles blue light, it supports more ebook formats, it has a larger screen, and it has built-in borrowing from your public library. And it’s more than $60 cheaper!
What more could a bookworm ask for?