Big, bright screen. Adaptive backlight. Waterproof. Supports EPUB files. 8GB of internal storage.
Pricey. Screen has slightly shadowy edges. Lacks memory card slot.
- Bottom Line
The Kobo Aura One is a solid waterproof ebook reader with an extra large display.
The $229.99 Kobo Aura One is not your average ebook reader. It's waterproof, for starters, and boasts one of the largest E Ink touch screens we've seen. It also has adaptive front lighting that automatically shifts color temperature to reduce eye strain. You get a generous 8GB of storage, though there is no microSD card slot. And the display has a somewhat shadowy effect at the edges that takes some getting used to. But if you want to read in the bath or at the beach on a large, clear display without fear of water damage, the Kobo Aura One is well worth considering. Our Editors' Choice, the less expensive Kindle Paperwhite, remains a better value—as long as you don't get it wet.
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Design and Display
The Kobo Aura One measures 7.7 by 5.5 by 0.3 inches (HWD) and weighs 8.1 ounces, which makes it the biggest ebook reader we've tested in quite some time. The closest equivalent is Kobo's Aura H2O, an older waterproof reader that measures 7.0 by 5.1 by 0.4 inches and weighs 8.2 ounces. The Kindle Paperwhite, meanwhile, comes in at 6.7 by 4.6 by 0.4 inches and 7.2 ounces. Even though the Aura One is the biggest of the bunch, it still feels comfortable to hold in one hand for a long period of time.
The front of the reader is covered in black plastic with a faint Kobo logo at the lower left corner, while the back is made of textured rubber with an embedded Kobo lobo on the right. The texture makes it easier to grip, but has a tendency to attract fingerprints. A small, rectangular power button is also located on the back, on a strip of smooth plastic that runs across the top. A micro USB charging port can be found on the bottom edge of the reader.
At 7.8 inches, the Aura One has the largest E Ink display you can get among the current crop of ebook readers. It features 1,872-by-1,404-pixel resolution, which works out to a crisp 300 pixels per inch. Flush-mounted adaptive front lighting automatically adjusts brightness and color temperature, so you can read in bed without blue light affecting your sleep (short-wavelength blue light, which many screens emit, can suppress the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin). The blue light filter works similarly to Night Shift on iOS, which makes the screen's color temperature warmer to reduce eye strain.
The screen is easily visible in all types of lighting conditions, including direct sunlight. If anything, it almost looks better outside than it does indoors. When inside, the edges of the screen show a very slight darkening, almost like the shadow cast by the curve of an actual book page, which can be distracting if you're sensitive to subtle imperfections.
The Aura One is rated IPX8 for waterproofing, so it can be immersed in up to two 6.5 feet of water for up to one hour. That makes it a good companion for the beach or pool.
The reader connects to 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, and will last up to a month before it requires a recharge, though obviously that number depends heavily on how much you read.
Kobo includes a micro USB cable for charging the Aura and connecting it to your computer. Under the hood there's a 1GHz processor and 512MB of RAM, the same as you get with most new Kindles. There's also 8GB of storage, which is double the amount you find on many ebook readers. But there's no microSD card slot, so you're stuck with a finite amount of storage. That's fine if you're using lightweight ebook files, but can become a problem if you're fond of high-resolution PDFs.
The Aura One supports PDF, MOBI, and the popular EPUB and EPUB3 formats, which Amazon's Kindles do not. You can also load BMP, GIF, PNG, JPEG, TXT, HTML, XHTML, and RTF files, as well as CBZ and CBR formats for comic books. Supported languages include Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, and Turkish.
Kobo makes it easy to borrow ebooks via OverDrive, a service that pulls from the selections of local libraries. All you need is a free Overdrive account, a Facebook log-in, or a library card number. However, not all libraries support OverDrive, so you may want to search which ones do ahead of time. Pocket, an app that lets you to save articles you find online so you can read them offline, comes preinstalled.
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Interface and Reading
The home screen lets you sort books alphabetically, by title or author. There are also tabs for Recommendations, New Releases, and the Top 50 Books on the Kobo store, which you can access by tapping any of those icons, or by tapping on the search bar above. There are toolbar icons at the top of the screen for Home, Brightness, Wi-Fi networks and settings, a battery life indicator, and a menu where you can access additional settings that include languages, syncing, account info, OverDrive info, and device information.
Tapping Brightness opens up a window where you can enable the Auto-Adjust setting for both Brightness and Natural Light. You can also manually control each setting by shifting a slider. Natural Light adjusts the screen's color temperature, from a cool, white spectrum during the day to a warmer, candlelight-like hue for nighttime reading. With the auto setting on, the device gradually adjusts the light color based on the time of day and the amount of light hitting the front sensor.
There are 11 built-in fonts and more than 50 font sizes to choose from, which is better than what you get on Kindles, and you can adjust line spacing and margins with sliders. You can also align the text to the center or left of the screen, and adjust the page controls so you can choose where to tap the screen in order to advance pages. There's also a built-in dictionary, the ability to select passages and look them up in Google or Wikipedia, and the option to display progress based on chapters or the entire book. You can also share favorite passages, quotes, and books to Facebook. And you can view details like the average time it takes to read a chapter or a full title.
Left to right: Amazon Kindle Oasis, Kobo Aura One, Amazon Kindle
When it's asleep, the Aura One displays large cover images. Unlike the Kobo Glo HD, which takes about 10 seconds to wake up, the Aura One awakens from sleep mode instantly.
Like most ebook readers, you tap or swipe the sides of the screen to turn pages. The Aura One is quick to register light touches, even when adjusting settings like brightness. Page refreshes—when you see dark full-page flashes after every six turns—are quick. I never experienced any discomfort holding the Aura One or reading the text on its screen.
Kobo Store and Conclusions
The Kobo store is home to more than four million titles, including magazines and newspapers. In a random comparison, every major title I searched for was available from both Amazon and Kobo. Books are generally cheaper through Amazon, but Kobo offers a price match guarantee. It's also worth noting that the EPUB format that Kobo supports is more open, so you're free to download books from any digital shop.
With its large screen, waterproof design, and wide file format support, the Aura One is another solid ebook reader from Kobo. But $230 is a lot to spend, especially when there are significantly more affordable options that offer the same basic experience. Our Editors' Choice, the Kindle Paperwhite, gets you a similarly excellent screen and comparable performance for nearly half the price. Just keep in mind it isn't waterproof. If you plan to sit poolside, the Kobo Aura H2O remains a less expensive alternative, although its screen isn't as sharp and it lacks adaptive lighting.
Timothy Torres is a Junior Analyst on PCMag's consumer electronics team. He covers wearables, digital home, and various cool gadgets including the occasional video game. He has written all manner of copy for Computer Shopper, The Jersey Journal, Radio One, Random House, and 2D-X. Before entering the tech world, he attended New York University and worked in education as an art instructor. In his spare time he dabbles in theater, sketches comics, eats a lot of sushi and watches too many movies. Twitter: @pleasedtomeetya… More »
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