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Hands On With Kobo Aura One Night Mode (video)

P1040404When Kobo announced the Aura One ereader this morning, one question was at the top of everyone’s mind:

How the heck did Kobo add a night-reading mode with a red-orange filter?

Night-reading modes were a hot topic in the ebook world last year. Amazon, Google, and even Apple released updates for Android, iOS, and Fire tablets which added optional bluelight filters.

The thinking behind these filters is that they are better for you to use at night because the blue end of the light spectrum is most likely to keep you up, which is why there are apps for iOS and Android that can do this.

However, the apps use a trick which won’t work for E-ink screens; they variously disable the blue light coming out of the RGB pixels on a mobile device’s screen (some apps like do a lot more).

The best ereaders on the market have a grayscale screen and a white frontlight, so you would think it would be impossible to add a frontlight which could shift colors.

But Kobo found a solution – one so obvious that I have to wonder why no one else has used it in the seven years since Sony debuted a frontlight on the PRS-700.

A frontlight on an ereader is lit by tiny LEDs around the frame, and the ereader might have any where between 4 to 10 of them. Amazon made a big deal over the Kindle Oasis having ten LEDs (more than any other device) but Kobo found a better use for LEDs.

Kobo added an extra LED which provides a red-orange tint, and then changed the software so that users could adjust the brightness and the tint independently.

Correction: The Aura One has "9 white LEDs and 8 RGB LEDs (with 3 lights in each)".

I shot a couple videos to show it off. The first was in a room lit by sunlight, so it’s hard to see the night-reading mode.

The second video was shot in a fairly dim room so that you can see just how strong the red-orange color can get.

I don’t know if you can see it in the video, but the red-orange LED appears to be located along the bottom edge of the screen. From what I can tell there is only one, and as a result I can see a noticeable color gradient between the bottom and the top of the screen.

Edit: No, that is just a quirk of the light interactig with the film over the screen.

Then again, I am looking at this screen with a critical eye which is trying to find fault. A regular user might not notice, or care.

What do you think of the night-reading mode?

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Fjtorres August 17, 2016 um 6:52 pm

I don’t use night mode.
But it is a clever design. Somebody should get a big bonus.

Andy August 17, 2016 um 8:01 pm

Absolutely this is a great feature.

I think it’s fairly obvious that Kobo has been leading all the innovation in ereaders since the original Aura. Kindle just follows. The Voyage’s haptic buttons are just silly. Oasis' cover-as-a-battery pack is a gimmick. (Although I just remembered the large side bezel, which honestly is a big design win).

Anyway, go Kobo! Increase the size, bring the resolution, add colored LEDs, and built-in Pocket and Overdrive. These are fantastic value-adds.

Nate Hoffelder August 17, 2016 um 8:06 pm

Not the original Aura – the Aura HD with its 6.8″ screen. That was the breakout device, IMO.

Amber August 17, 2016 um 8:37 pm

Wow.. that really does get orangey. Is it the video or is the real thing that orange?

Nate Hoffelder August 17, 2016 um 8:43 pm

It can get that orangey, yes.

It took me a dozen tries to make sure that the real shade of orange showed up in the video accurately.

poiboy August 17, 2016 um 8:38 pm

i’d leave a comment, but i’d be worried that it might take the focus off the exact topic and cause another closing of the comment section. and no one wants that kind of censorship. :))

poiboy August 17, 2016 um 8:39 pm

i kid, i kid.
the video is very helpful. what a screen!

Paul Durrant August 18, 2016 um 12:51 am

I’d be astonished if there was one special LED. I would expect them to be using RGB LEDs – individual LEDs that can vary the ratio of Red, Green and Blue light that they emit.

Nate Hoffelder August 18, 2016 um 6:48 am

Maybe. All I know is that I saw a bright spot at the bottom of the screen.

Then again, I could have a pre-production unit with quirks not found in the units sold to customers.

Nate Hoffelder August 18, 2016 um 1:43 pm

And you would be right. Kobo told me that there are "9 white LEDs and 8 RGB LEDs (with 3 lights in each)" in the Aura One.

John Hopper August 18, 2016 um 1:07 am

But why do you even need a night mode on an e-ink reader? These are for back-lit LCD screens.

Sweetpea August 18, 2016 um 5:30 am

You obviously never read from a front-lit e-ink reader in a pitch black room. Even with the front-light at 7%, it’ll light up the entire room. It really burns the eyes (yes, I’m talking about an e-ink reader, with a front-light). Below 7%, the contrast becomes too low for me.

I think I’ll buy it for that night mode alone…

Nate Hoffelder August 18, 2016 um 6:49 am

Even at 2%, a frontlight is pretty bright in an unlit room.

John Hopper August 18, 2016 um 6:23 pm

Sweetpea – I have on occasion read on an e-ink Kindle in a pitch dark room, when unable to sleep at night. On such occasions, I have simply dimmed the front light to a lower setting, and it is not too bright either for me reading or for my wife sleeping next to me unawares. Hence my surprise at this feature on an e-ink reader (unless Kobo front lights cannot be dimmed to the same extent? I do have a Kobo Aura H2O but have never used it in a pitch dark room).

Frank August 18, 2016 um 11:32 am

This night mode seems pretty neat. I wish some scientists would test current e-readers with their light at low levels and then test the new Kobo Aura One’s night mode to see how much blue light comes out of them.

BDR August 18, 2016 um 12:13 pm

KoReader offers a white on black night mode that works very well on Kobo and (older-firmware) Kindles. It seems to be a whole lot simpler of a solution than this.

Grymm August 22, 2016 um 11:50 am

The white on black method has its pitfalls as well, ghosting is more common, and does cause some additional battery drain. Neither of these issues is big enough to make this method totally impractical, however they are big enough that alternate solutions should be sought.

Tarwin August 18, 2016 um 10:10 pm

Nighty-mode fits not have so much to do with intensity as it does with the KIND of light. Supposedly blue light keeps you awake (I have found this to be true in my case, which is why I use f.lux on the computer, but I have not read any studies on it). So the implementation is to use light lacking the blue (I.e. Reddish light) so that you don’t get insomnia from the simple act of reading (unless it’s just THAT good of a book).
Hopefully they do take intensity into account as well (I’m also assuming that the removal of 1/3 of the lights from active duty should also provide a weaker light).

Sybrand August 19, 2016 um 4:07 am

Need to have this device ASAP! 😉

Chris August 19, 2016 um 11:50 am

On the announcement video Kobo showed a graph of the frontlight colour changing in the morning to white, and then in the evening a slightly slower changeover back to red. There’s a place in the UI to set your bedtime, so that presumably controls the evening changeover.

But when does the morning changeover start?

Patrick August 23, 2016 um 8:54 am

I see absolutely no need for the white LEDs. I’ve been wondering for years when some company would actually get smart enough to use red LEDs for night reading. This is overly complicated, but red LEDs should have been head-slappingly OBVIOUS, even in the first generation of front-lighted devices.

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