When Kobo briefed me on the release of its new e-reader, a company rep explained that the company “[wasn’t] sure if there was a premium price point” when they released the Aura HD back in 2013. At 6.8 inches, it was larger than the long-time industry standard six inches, and it had a high-res screen and price tag to match.
The Canadian company has never been afraid to take risks with the often-boring world of e-readers, and for that reason alone it is a welcoming presence. Without Kobo pushing the boundaries of screen size, build quality and features like waterproofing, it’s hard to imagine much innovation occurring in the Amazon-dominated space.
With the Aura One, the company is doubling down yet again, with a 7.8-inch display that utterly dwarfs the Aura HD and a $230 price point to match. Even with a handful of other welcome add-on features, that’s a pretty lofty price tag for a devoted e-reader when Amazon’s Kindle Voyage starts at $30 less (the Special Offers edition, at least).
But Kobo’s previous attempts to go all in have paid off before, and while the company will likely be the first to admit that the Aura One isn’t for everyone, it gives the sort of person willing to shell out more than $200 for such a device exactly what they’re looking for: the ultimate e-reader.
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That’s the thing about e-reader displays: All roads lead to six inches. Both Kobo and Amazon have experimented with different screen sizes, and both keep coming to the conclusion that the pull to return to a standardized size is just too great. After all, it’s large enough to replicate a full page and compact enough to slip into a pants pocket when you’re done.
So, naturally, Kobo has gone ahead and made its largest screen yet. The added real estate means fewer page turns. It’s also a bonus for readers who need large type and people who use their readers for PDFs, which can be a ginormous pain on a smaller screen with all of the pinching and scrolling.
And 7.8 inches, it turns out, is big, but not unwieldy. Stashing the reader in your pocket is suddenly out of the equation. Reading with one hand for bus and subway travelers may or may not still be in the cards, depending on how big your hands are.
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The E Ink display sports an 1872 x 1404 resolution, which works out to 300 ppi — the same as what you’ll find on the Kindle Voyage and the last-gen Glo HD — i.e. about as sharp as reading real text on a real page. You know all of the e-ink trade-offs by now. In the pro column, it’s crisp, clear and visible in sunlight, with a ridiculously low power consumption. But it’s monochrome and has a much longer refresh rate, which hasn’t seen all that much improvement in recent generations.
Of course, the device’s inability to offer a half-decent web browser experience is either a pro or a con, depending on who you ask. After all, keeping this a purely readerly experience means completely ditching all of the social notifications and other distractions — as if you don’t already have all of the info pushed to enough devices already.
The real differentiator on the screen front is the addition of the ComfortLight Pro to the device’s front lighting technology. Like the rest of the hardware world, Kobo’s getting on the sleep train, adjusting the screen’s blue light level so it doesn’t screw up circadian rhythms before bed. The device can either do it automatically using a light sensor adjusting over the course of the day, or the user can set a predetermined bedtime for the system to switch over to a far more reddish hue.