Kobo Debuts Aura HD e-Reader and Arc Tablets [Hands-on]

Photo Aug 27, 7 54 00 PM

Photo Aug 27, 7 54 00 PM

Kobo, the Toronto-based e-reader company, announced a new line-up of e-readers and tablets on Tuesday; the Kobo Aura, the Kobo Arc 10HD and the two Kobo Arc 7 tablets. In addition, Kobo announced a digital magazine store as well as a new kid’s store and experience.

At an event in New York City, Kobo CEO Michael Serbinis showed off the new devices, citing huge growth in the e-reader market and the desire to “bring the written word to more people in more places.”

Kobo doesn’t hold a huge market share in the US, but it is popular in other countries like Brazil, Italy and Western Europe, where, Serbinis said, dedicated readers are just taking off. For those who like a dedicated e-reader with no other distractions, the Kobo Aura is a 6-inch front lit e-reader, thinner and lighter than the previously-released Aura HD. It has a high resolution e-ink screen that runs edge to edge, 4GB of storage which can be expanded via a microSD card, and will provide two months of battery life. It will be available September 16th for $149.

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While the Aura is designed for those who like to focus on just one task — reading — Kobo says the Arc tablets are designed for those who like reading first. The tablets aim to present books and magazines in a more innovative way, says Serbinis. There’s a digital magazine store, the ability to organize your library however you like it, and features that Kobo says, go “beyond the book.” It’s built on what Kobo calls Reading Life, which allows for and encourages “the collection, curation and discovery of content.”

The tablets have 1.3 MP front-facing cameras and are running on Google’s 4.2.2 Jelly Bean operating system. The 7-inch tablet starts at $199 for 16GB and the 10-inch 16GB version will cost you $399.

Kobo says customers sometimes find the pings of emails and notifications from social media distracting and prefer to concentrate on the task at hand — reading. So, they built in Reading Mode which basically shuts off the other features of the tablet so you can concentrate on getting through that huge novel. People who like to get lost in a good book will enjoy this feature, though we’ll see how long users can go without taking a peek at their email.

If magazine reading is your thing, the new digital store is designed to deliver articles in the way they appear in print; art, glossy layout and all. That can be a pain pinching and zooming to zero in on what you’re reading, so Kobo is introducing Guided Reading. It basically walks you through the pieces of the article with each tap of the page. When we tried this feature on a demo unit we found the response sluggish and the reading experience not entirely fluid. We’ll wait until we can do a more thorough review to pass judgement on this.

We did like the announced partnership with Pocket, the app we constantly use for saving long articles to read at a later time. The Read It Later Feature lets you curate content from the web and save it to your “articles” section for offline reading later.

Kobo is also expanding its children’s collection, which it says is a way for kids to discover and fall in love with books. We’re not quite sure how it will differ from other e-readers kid sections, except that it’s supposed to be easier for kids to read on their own using the Kobo device. A Kobo spokesperson tells us other readers are designed for parents to read to their kids, but the Aura is meant for kids to read on their own and explore and enjoy books. Kobo has partnered with major magazine and book publishers to provide content for the new devices.