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Kobo targets e-reading elite with Aura HD

Canadian e-book and e-reader heavyweight Kobo is targeting the top end of the market with its new Aura HD e-reader. Created from feedback from Kobo's most avid readers, the Aura HD has a larger and higher-resolution screen, a larger battery and more onboard storage.

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Kobo's Australian director of content acquisition, Malcolm Neil, told PC World that the Aura HD was a result of discussions with and feedback from focus groups, including Kobo's top customers.

"We looked at... 'who are the best customers that we have?' Our top tier is reading one book a week -- that's a massive amount. And we asked them what they wanted, because we knew if they were reading that much then they were likely to be reading E-Ink. We asked them to list what they wanted in an e-reader, if they could have it."

The new Kobo Aura HD will retail at $220, which is on par with the $229 Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 3G. The Aura HD doesn't have 3G, but it improves on every other aspect central to the e-reading experience.

The Aura HD's E-Ink Pearl display is a 6.8-inch one, with a resolution of 1440x1080 pixels -- the highest-resolution display of any e-reader on the market, and the largest display of any big-name brand.

It's significantly smaller than the 9.7-inch display of the discontinued Kindle DX, but is larger than the current market leader Amazon Kindle Paperwhite and Kobo's own Glo, both of which have 6-inch displays. Its 265ppi rating eclipses the 210-220ppi of current competitors, meaning sharper text and better legibility at small text sizes.

Like the Kindle Paperwhite and the Glo, the new Kobo Aura HD has built-in ComfortLight front-lighting, which shines a light from the bezel of the e-reader across the front of the display to help with reading in low light. Kobo says the Aura HD's lighting is the most consistent of any e-reader, according to testing by design consultant Product 360°.

Accompanying the new screen are improvements to the battery -- Kobo now claims "up to two months" of life, based on half an hour of reading per day -- and extra storage, with 4GB of on-board memory versus older models' 2GB. Like other Kobo e-readers, onboard storage can be complemented with a microSD card of up to 32GB.

As is standard on most other e-readers at the premium end of the market, the Aura HD has built-in Wi-Fi, and doesn't need a computer to access the Kobo Store -- the company's in-house content library of over 3.2-million books, magazines, and newspaper subscriptions.

Kobo's Reading Life social reading service, which lets users share milestones in their reading, and gives badges to encourage reading more, will play a big part in drawing in both new readers and the existing Kobo reading elite. Malcolm Neil says there is a definite market for dedicated e-reading devices.

"Given our research on what people are doing with reading -- and sure, there's a lot of people reading on tablets -- we've found that the tablet-reading people are a little more promiscuous... [but] the e-reading people will read more. We think the sustainability of the market is there. In December of last year, we sold three times as many e-readers as we have done in any month ever."

The e-book market is growing exponentially -- according to the Association of American Publishers, e-book sales accounted for 27 per cent of book sales nationally in 2012, up from 17 per cent in 2011 and 3 per cent in 2009. Neil told PC World that e-book penetration in Australia had reached 20 per cent at the end of last year, and that Australia joins US, UK, and Canada in being a "developed" e-reading market where the concept is mainstream.

The Kobo Aura HD will be available in Onyx black, Ivory white, and Espresso brown, and will be available through Kobo's local partner, Collins, and other selected retailers in May


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