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Kobo’s New "Premium eReader" Went From Cutting Edge to Out-of-Date in Only a Week

kobo auraIf you pre-ordered Kobo’s newest ereader because it was a premium device, you might want to rethink that decision. E-ink announced new screen tech today and the Aura doesn’t have it.

I have just received confirmation that the early hands on reports were correct. E-ink’s 4th-gen Carta screen tech wasn’t used in the Aura; it can only be found in the not-yet-released Kindle Paperwhite.

It was pretty clear when Kobo launched the 3 new Android tablets and the new Aura ereader last week that the 3 tablets in question had unremarkable specs compared to what is currently on the market and weren’t really worth waiting for, but the Aura got quite a bit of favorable coverage:

  • Courting All Bookworms, Kobo Debuts 3 New Reading-Friendly Arc Tablets, A New Aura E-Reader, And A Plan To Gain An Edge Over Amazon (TechCrunch)
  • Hands On With the Super-Light Kobo Aura E-Reader (Mashable)
  • Kobo Aura: New Kindle competitor sports classy design, higher price (CNET Reviews)

kindle paperwhite 2013Sadly, for Kobo, the $149 Aura is now going to be overshadowed by the new Kindle Paperwhite, which retails for $119.

The 2013 Paperwhite is due out at the end of the month, and at this point it looks like it will be the only ereader with the new Carta screen tech. (TBH, without the new Carta screen I didn’t think even the Paperwhite was worth upgrading to. )

The Paperwhite has the same screen resolution as the Aura, and both have frontlights and touchscreens, but the Paperwhite will offer a greater contrast and a more reflective screen while still making use of the latest improvements that E-ink has made in providing smoother page turns.

And to make matters worse, the Paperwhite can be had for $30 less (with ads). Just about the only hardware advantage that the Aura has now is that it has more storage and a microSD card slot.

At this point the Aura is beginning to look more and more like an incremental improvement upon the Kobo Glo. It has a faster CPU, improved frontlight, and better screen refresh tech, but it also has a higher price tag.

Kobo was talking this past week that they had a plan to get an edge on Amazon. I wonder if launching unimpressive tablets and an ereader that used last year’s screen tech was part of the plan?


I reported on the new E-ink tech in another post. That post was neutrally worded. This one expresses an opinion, so I posted it separately.

And while I did read that hint last week, i wasn’t completely sure that Amazon had actual new screen tech until E-ink announced Carta this morning. The Regal waveform tech that improved the screen refresh (last week’s news) is a nice incremental improvement on past work but it really is only an incremental improvement.

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Jason September 4, 2013 um 2:04 pm

I’m looking forward the reviews of this, and even the vs. comparisons that will hit the net before too long. Anyhow, if one could take the best of both it would be one nice little eReader.

André September 4, 2013 um 5:18 pm

Kobo Aura still has a great fluid handling of pdfs (better than the sony e-readers) and some software that kindle doesn’t has. It is not a totally disaster for people who pre-ordered it…

eReaderFan September 4, 2013 um 7:30 pm

Have you done a side by side comparison? Engadget is reporting the new kindle screen is not as good as the Kobo Aura HD screen. Isn’t Aura and Aura HD basically the same screen tech (Pearl)?

Nate Hoffelder September 4, 2013 um 7:39 pm

It doesn’t seem they did a side by side comparison, so I don’t know that we should take that claim seriously.

Also, do you really think the older generation screen tech is going to perform better than the newer?

Honkie McGee September 4, 2013 um 9:01 pm

I wonder if they were just referring to the Aura HD’s resolution.

Nate Hoffelder September 4, 2013 um 9:06 pm

That, or its size.

a bashir October 19, 2013 um 10:18 pm

I’ve got both (purchased my Aura HD when it first came out; received my kindle two days ago). The text on the aura hd is indeed more crisp, while the text on Kindle is a bit darker. Personally, I like the look and feel of the Kindle more. It feels more solid and of a better quality than the Aura HD. Each device has its pros and cons. The biggest disadvantage of going with Kobo is their disgustingly awful customer service.

Leo Vega September 4, 2013 um 9:12 pm

I use to come here to read about news, so, as a user, I want to tell it: I think some of your comments are geting too sardonic. I’ve seen it whenever you say something about bn, and now with kobo. I mean, you could write about the news with a more neutral tone

Nate Hoffelder September 4, 2013 um 9:32 pm

Thanks for the feedback. I’ll try to cut it out.

Jeremy Ezell September 4, 2013 um 10:19 pm

"If you pre-ordered Kobo’s newest ereader because it was a premium device, you might want to rethink that decision. "

Wow… perfect way to guarantee that Kobo never sends you a pre-release device for review again. Advising your readers to not buy their product. That’s intelligent.

Nate Hoffelder September 4, 2013 um 10:30 pm

It really doesn’t matter what I write. Kobo’s PR dept won’t have anything to do with me any way.

And since the rest of the company still at least talks to me (when allowed under their NDAs) I don’t think my writing is to blame.

Bookwormy February 28, 2019 um 3:54 pm

@Jeremy, wouldn’t you rather have Nate or any other journalist/blogger telling the truth, and not simply looking out for a review copy of a device?

Patrick September 4, 2013 um 10:40 pm

Somewhere inside this post is the story that e-ink has new tech out. Instead of it being front and center, esp since just a few weeks ago they had said it wasn’t ready yet, it’s about how Kobo’s new ereader is dated, along with a few paragraphs on how their tablets are 'meh'. We all new there was new e-tech coming and we all heard it from the same place, the Kobo reveal, last week, where it was hinted, by Kobo themselves, that Amazon would be sporting it.

You’ll tell people to hold of on judgement because there’s no side by side comparison video yet but in the first sentence of your post say 'If you pre-ordered Kobo’s newest ereader because it was a premium device, you might want to rethink that decision.'

I have a paperwhite and a kobo, so battle lines here, to be honest, unless that new kindle screen is amazing, I don’t really see the need to upgrade either of them. They’ve both already said that a lot of the 'upgrades' will come to the other readers in the next few months, in software updates.

Nate Hoffelder September 4, 2013 um 11:13 pm

I reported on the new E-ink tech in another post. That post was neutrally worded. This one expresses an opinion, so I posted it separately.

And while I did read that hint last week, i wasn’t completely sure that Amazon had actual new screen tech until E-ink announced Carta this morning. The Regal waveform tech that improved the screen refresh (last week’s news) is a nice incremental improvement on past work but it really is only an incremental improvement.

TBH, without the new Carta screen I didn’t think the Paperwhite was worth upgrading to. And I disagree with the reports last week that the new Aura somehow managed to collapse the wonderfulness of the Aura HD into a smaller size; as I see it the Aura is a very slight upgrade to the kobo Glo.

patrick September 5, 2013 um 11:57 pm

You’re right, you did, I just didn’t scroll down before posting. I’m not sure how much a deal the screen will be as it seems only geeks like us get off on this stuff, hence the prevalence of 720p TVs, lol. I find once the glow/comfort light is on the screens are pretty equal anyway. My only reason for possibly upgrading my glow to the aura would be the flush screen. No more lint and dust collecting in the crevices? Yes, please. If both hold true and deliver the software upgrades they’ve promised there’s no real excuse to drop another 100+ dollars.

Patrick September 4, 2013 um 10:42 pm

"No" battles lines here, love auto correct.

Ron Thompson September 5, 2013 um 6:50 am

Surely the reason to buy an e-book is to firstly read (obvious). Providing the screen gives a clear and easily read screen, then that is probably all most people want. You missed the biggest selling point of the new Aura, which is that it has an SD slot to expand your library as much as you want. (long holidays, long hospital stays etc)
There seems to be an obsession with screen resolution which is not needed in a book reader. Looking at the paper quality of the novels on my bookcase show many paper faults, blotches, etc, its probably because of the recycled paper they use.
Ron UK

Nate Hoffelder September 5, 2013 um 7:03 am

Actually, I did mention the microSD card slot.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I was under the impression that Kobo’s software wasn’t up to managing an on-device library consisting of thousands of titles. (The Kindle has a similar issue.) That tends to negate the value of a microSD card.

fjtorres September 5, 2013 um 8:37 am

I hear similar complaints about the Sonys on mobileread.
The database limit (~2000 books) seems to be due to the hardware, onboard memory for caching the metadata, perhaps. The only readers that seem to be able to manage large libraries on SD card are the ones that use the file system instead of a database. Which explains why 2GB on board storage has become so common; it keeps the library within manageable bounds–reducing support calls–and reducing build costs.

Jason September 5, 2013 um 10:24 am

I question the sanity of needing/wanting thousands of books on a eReader at a time. But then again I guess that’s what having a SD card option caters to. I’d personally rather see actual savings passed down to the consumer (yeah, right) by scrapping SD.

Nate Hoffelder September 5, 2013 um 10:56 am

The SD card slot also caters to those who need to carry around large PDFs.

No one has brought this up but this is a concern for some users.

Roman September 5, 2013 um 11:51 am

I don’t really see what’s the big deal with the new screen is, I have a basic $60 kindle and frankly I think the screen is great as is. If it was color and allowed for video, than it might make sense, but for reading books, I frankly think it doesn’t even matter.

The only reason I’m looking at kobo, is handling of PDFs right now. If it can handle that sufficiently well, I think it would suffice.

The only thing that worries me is their bookstore, I kinda like amazon bookstore, as I read reviews of the books quite often.

If kindle elegantly handled pdfs, it would be a no brainer.

TheSFReader September 5, 2013 um 3:42 pm

Anyone can confirm that the Kindle Paperwhite’s new screen is INDEED Carta ? I hanven’t seen any hard data on that one…

Nate Hoffelder September 5, 2013 um 3:53 pm

Amazon said so on the product page. And E-ink said so in the press release. I would say that the latter is enough confirmation.

TheSFReader September 5, 2013 um 4:07 pm

Oh, yes, ! Sorry ! You’re right. (goes hiding)

Tom September 5, 2013 um 6:21 pm

The new kindle is really 139$.
The 119$ one "including the annoying ads"

Nate Hoffelder September 5, 2013 um 6:32 pm

I’m not annoyed by the ads. I used to be but eventually you tune them out.

Timothy Wilhoit September 5, 2013 um 8:25 pm

I’ve never used an ad-blocker so I’ve learned to ignore much larger and more obnoxious ads than the tiny little ad Amazon places on the bottom of the book list page. (There’s also the screen saver page I never look at.) Of course, people who’ve never seen a special-offers Kindle usually imagine ads pop up everywhere, including in the middle of books. They don’t.

fjtorres September 5, 2013 um 8:26 pm

The problem with that argument is that the majority of consumers don’t find the ads and offers annoying and choose to pay only $119 which is $30 less than the Aura. Regardless of the merits of the products, the math they see is: fourth gen eink, $119, versus third gen eink, $149.
Consumers don’t care about level playing fields, they care about the hit to their wallet. (And 44% better contrast. On paper.)
Like it or not, the ads are about as significant as DRM lock-in; something only purists and ADS zealots care about.

Timothy Wilhoit September 5, 2013 um 11:28 pm

If you’ll notice the word "annoying" is the one most often used. That word is used as a Kindle slam in the Nook Glow description. I always wonder a bit when I see that particular word used in a random post. As you say, the vast majority of Kindle customers aren’t "annoyed" by special offers.

patrick September 5, 2013 um 11:39 pm

Its only ten dollars less than the aura here in Canada so annoying might have a price here. Though, having the paperwhite with ads I don’t find it annoying. Not ideal but not annoying.

Brendan September 7, 2013 um 10:55 am

I’ll wait for a side by side view before I make a judgement. I hardly think there will be much difference between the two. If anything, the Kindle seems more like an incremental upgrade. The more compact size of the Kobo really appeals to me. So do the flush bezels. Practically everyone in the US was going to buy a Kindle anyways so the price difference really doesn’t matter. The Aura is much more price competitive in other countries where people are actually interested in buying it. I got an Aura HD this spring anyways so I’ll be sitting out this gen.

Taosaur September 7, 2013 um 6:26 pm

In other news, the announcement of the new Paperwhite seems to have driven the Kobo Aura HD (with a larger, higher def screen, though still Pearl) out of stock:

It might be coincidence, but my reaction after reading up on the new Kindle was to take another look at the Aura HD. At the time, I could still have gotten one 🙁

Also, it’s not news that Amazon gets a brief exclusive on each new generation of eInk.

Nate Hoffelder September 7, 2013 um 7:40 pm

There is something to be said for having a slightly larger screen – if nothing else it stands out. But even though the Aura HD might be bigger, it too is using older screen tech.

But I will say that I was surprised that Amazon didn’t release a KPW with a 6.8″ screen, even though I can see why. Instead they went for a newer screen tech.

Taosaur September 7, 2013 um 8:31 pm

The incremental improvements in Carta eInk over the old Pearl eInk are steps in the right direction, but they’re only part of the package. The Aura HD screen is not just bigger, it’s significantly higher pixel density with an SD slot attached. That combination can and obviously did overshadow a 4% increase in reflectivity for the folks who bought up the remaining Aura HDs–at $50 more than an ad-supported KPW–since Amazon’s announcement.

The Aura HD overshadowed Kobo’s new products, too, granted; I agree they’re nothing special, but I don’t think Amazon has put out much of a reader, either. It’s a given that their buying power gives them first dibs on any new eInk technology, but they just slapped it in there and put out the same reader with the same unnecessary and deliberate limitations.

Nate Hoffelder September 7, 2013 um 8:58 pm

True. Now that Amazon hasn’t released a 6.8″ Kindle I can’t help but wonder if they are going to instead release a Kindle DX with a Carta screen that has a 265dpi just like the Aura HD.

That would be a mistake, IMO. The Aura HD is just enough bigger to be a really cool alternative to 6″ ereaders without being an awkward tablet sized device like the Kindle DX.

sm753 September 9, 2013 um 11:06 am

Every review that I’ve seen states that the Kobo Aura is significantly better than the Glo, yet you call it an incremental update?

You look at nothing but hardware spec, not a real side-by-side comparison and you’re ready to call the Aura "out of date"?

I have a 3rd gen Kindle and I love it. Having said that…whatever happened to unbiased reviews? Ridiculous article. Why even bother, we can look at hardware specs ourselves.

Nate Hoffelder September 9, 2013 um 11:20 am

"whatever happened to unbiased reviews?"

An unbiased review is a fact sheet, not a review. You can’t express an opinion without a bias.

And yes, we should only look at the hardware specs. I would be terribly surprised if the Glo didn’t get a software update which added the new features and increased its responsiveness.

Gmand September 28, 2013 um 7:19 pm

Being out of date isn’t the only problem. There is also a major bug. This review and comments are talking about it.

fjtorres September 28, 2013 um 10:35 pm

Does the bug show up in the newer Aura, as well as the Aura HD?
The new Aura does have a verified issue with the capacitance layer grid being visible under some conditions.

Iaminvincible October 9, 2013 um 8:19 am

Apparently the new Carta screen is such a minor upgrade that it’s not worth upgrading for. Maybe you could add an update to the article.

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