It’s a still valid truism that competition spurs innovation, and in the e-book reader market, that’s beginning to lead to interesting things. Amazon will want to take a hard look at the new Kobo Aura ONE, from Canadian firm Kobo through its Japanese owner, e-commerce firm Rakuten.
Kobo’s line of readers has stayed afloat largely because of features like compatibility with numerous file formats, a host of user-defined formatting options and waterproofing, while evidently swamped by the Kindle’s sales. But the Aura ONE significantly ups the ante. This may push Amazon to new experimentation.
But first things first. I’m noticing that more and more new e-books weigh in at prices close to the hardback, despite the lower costs of producing a book in the digital medium. E-book sales dropped 11 percent last year over the year before, according to the Association of American Publishers. The shrinking discount between hardcover and digital book surely is implicated in these results.
In the midst of this, Kobo had the sense to acquire a company called OverDrive last year. The move has immediate results because Overdrive, soon to be active in the Aura ONE, simplifies the process of putting library books on an e-reader. This used to involve not just signing up at a library but doing various downloads to your device, including acquiring software called Adobe Digital Editions to mediate the process. Now you can borrow books directly on the Aura ONE.
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At a price of $230, the Aura ONE is in the same league as Amazon’s Kindle Voyage, likewise a top-end e-reader, though priced less than the company’s luxury-class Kindle Oasis. But the ability to borrow library books, even if library holdings vary and many books are not available, gives the potential of saving money over the course of an average year. I like to refer back to most e-books I buy, but for books I know I’ll read only once, the library option is welcome.
The OverDrive move is canny at a time when rising e-book prices may spur the maturation of the digital library ecosystem. On the level of the device itself, there are other factors that analysts will weigh carefully. The Aura ONE is big, with a 7.8-inch screen. That makes it more like the digital equivalent of a hardback rather than a paperback, which is what we get with the standardized six-inch screen on most e-readers.
Other than size, this is in most respects the same screen with 1872 x 1404 resolution (300 dpi). You’ll find the same 300 dpi on the Kindle Paperwhite, Voyage and Oasis. The ability to put more text on a screen will be a plus for those who prefer larger font sizes. At 230 grams, the Aura One is light enough for one-handed reading, though its dimensions make it a bit awkward. It also lacks buttons, for those who prefer these to screen taps as a way to change the page.
Kobo also builds in something it calls ComfortLight Pro. Here the screen lighting can change gradually from a blueish tint to a reddish hue as the day wears on. Some research indicates that electronic devices cause sleep disruption when read late at night. The Aura ONE’s light sensor or user-controlled settings may help.
Add in what Kobo already has on offer, the ability to read a wide range of file formats including EPUB, an open standard that can be used across devices, and the Aura ONE can make a compelling case for itself. Kobo’s bookstore isn’t as deep as Amazon’s, which is a significant drawback, but otherwise this is the first Kobo device that in some ways tops what Amazon has to offer. Those in the market for a high-end e-reader will doubtless want to compare the two before making the assumption, hitherto more or less reliable, that Kindle rules the roost.
Paul A. Gilster is the author of several books on technology. Reach him at email@example.com.