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Review: Kobo Aura HD (comparison with Sony PRS-505)

And now for something completely different: a review of an ebook reader! You see, all that stuff that I’m doing would be much harder if I didn’t have the opportunity to thoroughly read about it. And I just love gadgets. I am an avid reader, and usually prefer reading about something instead of watching instruction videos. I also love reading fiction, especially fantasy. Six years ago, I got the Sony PRS-505 for my birthday, one of the first ebook readers, which I had to order from the USA (and pay some heavy custom duties) to get it. It had a 6 inch screen, the memory could be expanded by adding a memory card, and it even had a built-in mp3 player (which I never used). I felt so modern!

I’ve read a lot on my old faithful Sony. It went with me while traveling. It was built sturdily (with a metal casing). However, after six years, although it was still working, modern techniques and hardware had improved so much (quicker page turns, bigger screen, lighter, higher resolution, built-in wifi, more contrast, etc.), so I started looking around for a replacement. I found it in the Kobo Aura HD.

The Aura HD is a high end ebook reader, and is top of the line at the moment. Its closest competitor is the Kindle Paperwhite, but I didn’t want to buy into Amazon’s environment. I do purchase books there, but not only there, and I don’t want it to be a hassle to get other books onto my reader. The Aura HD also has way more settings that can be adapted, so it appeals a bit more to my “tweaker” nature.

It has quite a big screen, 6,8″ (my Sony only had 6″), with a very high resolution of 1440×1080 pixels and a dpi of 265 (extremely sharp). The old Sony had a dpi of 170. You really notice it when you set the font size. The Sony’s smallest font size is somewhere around medium size on the Kobo. When I set the font size of the Kobo to the size I like, I can put almost two Sony pages on one Kobo page. And that isn’t even the smalles setting. You can make the font even smaller and reduce the spacing between lines, make the margins small, and even more will fit on your screen.

Left: Kobo Aura HD, right: Sony PRS-505
Left: Kobo Aura HD, right: Sony PRS-505

The contrast of the Aura HD is also much, much better. The background of the Sony was quite grey, and over the years real improvements have been made with regards to contrast. Also, the Aura HD has built-in lighting, which makes reading in darker environments much more comfortable. The intensity of the light can be adjusted as well.

Another improvement is the speed. Turning a page goes much quicker, especially if you don’t need a complete refresh of the screen (can be set to once in every 1-6 pages in the settings). When turning a page on the Sony, I always had to stop and wait for the new page to show up, which disturbs your reading experience. The Kobo also features a touch screen, so just sliding or touching the page will turn it for you. I didn’t mind the hardware buttons to turn pages, though, not having a touch screen would not be a deal breaker for me.

Sony on top of Kobo: just a little narrower
Sony on top of Kobo: just a little narrower

The Aura HD is not that much heavier than the PRS-505, and is actually similar in size. The Kobo is thicker than the Sony, but it’s only less than a centimeter wider, and just as high. The screen space is much larger, though, because no hardware buttons are needed. The Sony does feel more high end, though, because the Kobo is made of plastic and the Sony has a metal casing. The back of the Kobo is curved, which makes it nice to hold, but it also adds some bulk to the reader. The Sony is smooth with rounded edges. One time, years ago, somebody in a train asked me if my ebook reader was an iPad (obviously when the iPad was still quite new)!

There is a difference in thickness
There is a clear difference in thickness

All the other options, like having an onboard dictionary, being able to make collections, the ability to make annotations, the little games (you can play solitaire for example) and the achievements and reading stats all sound quite nice, but I didn’t use all of them yet. The collections are a great addition. On the Sony, you could only search by author or by title. If you put lots of books onto your reader and you want to find a specific one, it can take some time because of the many page turns. On the Aura HD it’s quite easy to find what you’re looking for, especially if you use Calibre to manage your books and use the functionality of the Kobo driver entirely.

On the software side, the Kobo software itself does its job. It’s not great, but it works. The Kobo store contains lots of books, but it lacks the Amazon rating and review system, which I really miss. It doesn’t really seem alive because of it. Reviews and recommendations make the Amazon store quite enjoyable to browse through. The Kobo store is just functional, not fun.

The screen of the Kobo, while great in general, did let me down a bit, however. You see, I bought a white Aura HD. Yes, the one in the photos is black. When reading in bed with the light on, I noticed first one, later two very bright “pixels”, one at the bottom of the screen and one more in the middle. Of course they are not real dead or hot pixels, because there is no backlight in the screen. Nothing is wrong when the light is off, the pixel shows up fine. The problem is in the layer that reflects the night light.

It was so annoying that I decided to return the reader to the store. Fortunately, they were really nice about it, and offered an immediate exchange. But they only had black ones left. I decided to go for it, because the rest of the reader was so nice, and the colour wasn’t that important to me. I did check the light in the shop, however, to be sure that the problem was not there in this one as well. Previously, I had done some internet searching, and it seemed that this problem was not uncommon. So, if you buy one, really check the screen with the light on (set it really bright, any problems will become quite obvious).

Conclusion: Great reader with lots and lots of options. Very tweakable. Impressive resolution and contrast. Everything works as expected, and almost everything can be set to your liking in the settings. Do take care to check your screen for malfunctions, though.

1 thought on “Review: Kobo Aura HD (comparison with Sony PRS-505)

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