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Late last year, Kobo went small. The introduction of the 5-inch Mini was no doubt, at least in part, an attempt to offer up a bit of variety in a space whose parameters are largely defined by two Goliaths: Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The device offered a compelling alternative, but ultimately not one enticing enough to recommend it. Announced at roughly the same time, the company's first take at front-lighting technology, the Glo, suffered a similar fate, coming on the heels of the Kindle Paperwhite and Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight.

Less than half a year later, the company has announced a new reader that once again rethinks the standard 6-inch screen. With the Aura HD, Kobo is going big, extending things to 6.8 inches, putting it closer to tablet size. With that upgrade comes an impressive resolution: 1,440 x 1,080 (compared to the 1,024 x 768 on the Paperwhite and 1,024 by 758 on the Glo). It's a product focused on hardcore readers. "We got 10,000 customers together across dozens of countries to ask them what we can do for them," Kobo CEO Michael Serbinis explained. As such, it's a limited edition offering, one not destined to replace the flagship Glo. "This is something that is designed for this most passionate, voracious reader," he said, "and as much as I wish everyone was like that -- it would make us a lot bigger business right away -- that is not the case." The reader's priced at $169, and is available for pre-order now, with shipping expected to begin on the 25th. In the meantime, we've got more details and some hands-on photos after the break.

Kobo Aura HD hands-on

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Kobo unveils limited edition Aura HD 68 inch HD screen for $169 April 25th

The Aura HD is a new form factor for Kobo, a large-format reader with a high-res, 6.8-inch screen, but it's a size the company has no intention of extending beyond the end of the year. Of course, if the device proves a runaway success, Kobo would certainly be amenable to rolling out a larger-screened device as a mainstream product. "If we hear from our customers that this is the best thing since sliced bread," says Serbinis, "it's going to be hard for us not to listen to that." In the meantime, there's a fair chance the added bulk and price will be enough to doom the product to the world of niche devices.

There's certainly something in the pitch to dedicated e-reader fans -- the Aura HD has many of the high-end features voracious readers would demand, starting with that big display, which packs in an impressive 265 ppi (compare that to the Paperwhite's still-impressive 212). The result is clear: text that looks as if it were printed on a real page, just like they did in the old-fashioned days. You can further adjust that with the help of 10 font styles with 24 sizes, along with a slew of weight and sharpness settings. This thing was also built with black-and-white images in mind. And thanks to the 1GHz Freescale i.MX507 processor inside, things zip along nicely.

Kobo unveils limited edition Aura HD 68 inch HD screen for $169 April 25th

As mentioned in our Glo review, we were a bit taken aback at just how well Kobo had managed to tackle the challenge of front lighting the first time around, blowing Barnes & Noble's stab at the technology right out of the water and even besting Amazon by a bit. The technology is still intact here, and it's still controlled by a devoted button. Where Kobo has distinguished itself is in its ability to create an even (albeit somewhat blue-hued) glow across the front of the device, doing away with those weak spots that dot some of the competition's devices.

The display still suffers from the weaknesses of most of its e-ink competition. As ever, you're not going to want to use this device as your primary web driver, in spite of the improved screen and zippier processor, and Serbinis, for one, acknowledges these limitations. "There are advances that we are looking to bring to market in the future that use different waveforms that drive the screen differently to create a more fluid experience," he said. "From the very first e-ink screens to today, to the screen in Aura, there has been, I think, substantial progression in that, so we will continue to see that."

Kobo unveils limited edition Aura HD 68 inch HD screen for $169 April 25th

According to the included press materials, the Aura HD "transcends comfort," a bold and arguably bizarre claim for an e-reader, but the company's clearly gone out of its way to make a device that's built with the human hand in mind to a further degree than standard slates. The company's no doubt taken an e-page or two from Barnes & Noble's playbook, smoothing out its own signature quilted pattern and adding in a wide valley on the back to help the user's fingers rest a bit more comfortably.

Predictably, the design has helped to make the device a bit chunkier, with the Aura HD measuring 0.46 inch thick, compared to the Glo's 0.4 inch and Paperwhite's 0.36 inch. The points on the rear are also a fair deal sharper than the ones you'll find on the Simple Touch -- though the device does still feel quite nice. It's heartening to see another company conform a device's form factor to reflect real-world usage.

Kobo unveils limited edition Aura HD 68 inch HD screen for $169 April 25th

The Aura's got a handy 4GB of storage built in, expandable via an exposed microSD slot -- though even without the latter option, that translates to plenty of books. The premium tech will cost you, both in terms of footprint and weight (8.5 oz. to the Glo's 6.5 and Paperwhite's 7.5), as well as actual price. The devoted can pre-order one today. Kobo, meanwhile, fully intends to stick with its current product cycle, in spite of this fluke, which is cannily timed for Mother's Day, so don't be surprised if you see an official follow-up to the Glo six months or so from now.

And for his part, Serbinis concedes that the e-reader market has become something of an arms race, with models utilizing components from the same manufacturers, like E Ink and Texas Instruments. "There's only so much you can do with some of these technical components; really where it needs to come together is with the software." It's on that front the exec thinks Kobo can still come out on top. "The difference is how the hardware and the software come together to create an experience that the kind of reader that would buy a device like this feels like the technology just disappears, and that it is as easy as reading a book."

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Kobo Unveils Limited Edition Kobo Aura HD Reader

Kobo, a global leader in eReading, today announced its limited-edition Kobo Aura HD E Ink eReader. Designed for the world's most passionate booklover, Kobo Aura HD delivers the best eReading experience with the highest resolution 6.8" E Ink display available on the market today. Its sophisticated, book-inspired design is available in Ivory, Espresso and Onyx. Starting tomorrow Kobo Aura HD will be available for pre-order at Kobo.com and select retailers. The device will retail for $169.99 (CAD/USD MSRP).

"From the beginning, Kobo has pushed the eReading industry to new heights and today is no exception," said Michael Serbinis, CEO, Kobo. "Kobo Aura HD is designed for the most passionate booklovers – those who devour hundreds of stories each year – who asked us to create the ultimate eReading experience. Kobo Aura HD is our way of celebrating these customers."

Kobo Aura HD offers the highest-resolution screen available in an eReader today. At 265 dpi, the spacious 6.8" Pearl E Ink touchscreen offers 30 percent more reading surface and the closest experience to print-on-paper – showcasing text and high-resolution images beautifully. The device's 1GHz processor makes page turns fly and is the fastest eReader on the market – 25 percent faster. Kobo Aura HD has 4GB of storage (expandable up to 32GB) to easily store thousands of eBooks, and has a battery life of up to two months, making it the perfect eReader for people with a passion for the written word.

Complementing the sophisticated features of its design, Kobo developed a new user experience for Kobo Aura HD, harnessing its power, speed, and style for easy discovery of new content. The highly responsive eReader easily accesses the internet with a Wi Fi connection to browse the Kobo eBookstore. True to Kobo standards, each of its 10 fonts were perfected pixel-by-pixel to ensure that no matter which of the 24 adjustable font sizes is selected, Kobo Aura HD displays each letter with perfection. Reflecting the sophisticated nature of its design, the home screen also reflects a new, modern library display.

"To us, the Kobo Aura HD is the Porsche of eReaders and is designed for those in the driver's seat of their eReading adventures," said Wayne White, EVP and General Manager of Devices, Kobo. "It's fast, powerful, and sleek and pushes the boundaries of eReading the same way our Readers do – together, they'll know no bounds as they find their next great read."

Kobo pioneered the affordable eReader in May 2010 and has since introduced its Family of eReaders, which includes the Kobo Arc 7" Android tablet, Kobo Mini, Kobo Glo and Kobo Touch™ E Ink eReaders, and is now introducing the limited-edition Kobo Aura HD. With more than 13-million users around the world, Kobo has experienced triple-digit growth year-over-year. The company is a driving force behind the adoption of eReading around the world with its award-winning eReaders and tablets, free apps for tablets, PCs and smartphones, and extensive network of booksellers and leading retailers.

Kobo Aura HD will be available for pre-order in North America starting April 16 at www.kobo.com and will be in-stores in Canada and the United Kingdom starting April 25. International availability will begin in May.
For more information about Kobo Aura HD and where to buy, visit www.kobo.com/koboauraHD.

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Kobo unveils limited edition Aura HD e-reader: 6.8-inch HD screen, ships April 25th for $169 (hands-on)