Kobo’s new Aura One, the waterproof 7.8-inch ereader, has won over most reviewers.

I don’t know how heavy the demand will be, but as of today, you can preorder from Kobo.com and Indigo.com. Brick-and-mortar store sales are to start September 6 in the United States and a bunch of other countries, although the Best Buy chain apparently won’t stock the Aura One until September 30.

Here’s some additional background and availability information for the U.S. and elsewhere. Price is $230 in the U.S. with free shipping, and $249 CAD in Canada.

The B question

Should you buy a Kobo Aura One? Depends.

If you’re a recreational reader and would enjoy a comfortable 7.8-inch E Ink screen about the size of an iPad Mini’s LCD, the Aura One could be the ereader for you. I say this after spending almost two weeks with the One, reading everything from a how-to to a Philip Roth novel.

A Kobo news release accurately sums up the One’s glories: “Those who like the size of a hardcover book with spacious pages will enjoy reading on the largest premium Carta E Ink touchscreen currently available on the market, with 300 ppi for print-quality resolution. Housed within the device’s thin, lightweight design (195.1 x 138.5 x 6.9 mm; 230g), the edge-to-edge 7.8” screen allows for an enjoyable reading experience with more words to a page, which means fewer page turns.” I myself can read with the Kobo in just one hand, but unless I’m close to a carpeted floor, I would rather not risk dropping it.

The Kobo Aura One is waterproof for real. Unlike the Aura H2O, the One doesn’t force you to mess with rubber covers for the ports. The parts inside are waterproof. Bathe and sunbathe with confidence. The Aura One can remain in two meters of water for 60 minutes.

Another positive is that although the One lacks a memory card slot, it can hold around 6,000 books—the Kobo estimate—in its 8 GB of storage.

What’s more, the Aura One doesn’t just have front lighting to reduce eyestrain and perhaps boost your chances of enjoying a good night’s sleep if you’re reading just before you nod off. It can also summon up varying degrees of pinkish and reddish light instead of the usual whitish variety. The latter kind contains blue rays said to interfere with sleep. What’s more, I’ve found that at times Kobo’s “ComfortLight Pro” further decreases eyestrain.

Another plus: The Aura One is like other Kobo devices and offers far more typographical options then do Kindles, absolutely pathetic in this area. I myself appreciate the ability to vary the bolding level by way of a slider; Kindles outrageously lack even an on-off switch for bolding.

On top of everything else,  the Aura One will be integrated with OverDrive’s library book service in early September. Overdrive is by far the largest supplier of library ebooks, so the One could indeed make your digital adventures more joyful at your local public library.

Searching with the Aura One to buy a book from the Kobo store, you may find you can instead check it out at no direct cost to you (yes, you do pay anyway—via your taxes).

But you can’t limit your hunts to library books. The obvious workaround is to look for your books first via your library’s website, then search for them on the Aura One and effortlessly download them.

Needless to say, if Kobo wants to go all the way in wooing librarians and patrons, then it should make the workaround unnecessary.

I also hope that in the future, library patrons will be able to enjoy similar integration on other Kobo readers.

In fact, I’d like to see OverDrive allow similar and ideally better arrangements on devices of all brands if this open approach isn’t available already at OverDrive’s end.

Overdrive earlier offered library ereading on Sony E Ink readers  when the latter company was still selling them in the United States.

Even now, the One will at least let you see books that your library is spotlighting. But that isn’t the same as first-class searching for your own particular purposes.

10 negatives

While I am gung ho on the Aura One for my own recreational reading, I do need to point out various negatives:

  1. Battery life is less than 15 hours of use with the WiFi on, not great by E Ink standards. I’m not so sure of even that if you crank up the front light. Go to the power options and change the cut-off times if this bothers you. It might help.
  2. I’d have liked the same wonderful page-turning buttons I found on the Kindle Oasis. No buttons on the Aura One. It’s a matter of preference. I’m pro button!
  3. The maximum bolding level is sufficient, but it could be even higher for people like me with contrast sensitivity issues—that wouldn’t get in anyone else’s way. And speaking of typographical options, the font size slider could be smoother so you don’t jump so quickly from one size to another.
  4. PDF reading is better than on a six-inch device but no match for a 9.7-inch iPad.
  5. Compared to my Kindle Oasis and probably my Paperwhite as well, the Aura One isn’t quite as responsive—whether the issue is page turns or smooth selection of text. Occasionally the Aura One will not recognize my finger tap to go on to the next page. Those mess-ups are not frequent enough to be a real annoyance, but the Aura One does not quite fare as well in the area of text selection. The result is that the One is not as convenient as for amassing a collection of texts highlights and notes as it could be.
  6. You can’t use your annotations as easily as you can with Kindle, which will let you email individual highlights and notes to yourself—or even all the items at once. Granted, third-party websites can capture your Kobo notes, and you can do do certain tricks within Calibre. But export isn’t nearly as seamless as it is with Kindles. If Kobo is to develop its K-12 market, a natural, given Overdrive’s prominence as an ebook supplier there, then it urgently needs to improve annotation export—so important to students, researchers, and writers. Think of all the ebook critics who talk about loving marking up paper books with yellow highlighters. Kobo should respond at least as well as Amazon did.
  7. Kobo hardware badly needs to play better with books from nonKobo sources. For the text selection features to work as smoothly as possible, you need to convert books into the Kobo-optimized KePub format. Calibre lets you do format-switches, but KePub is still one more hassle. In addition, thanks to the Digital Millennium copyright act,  people in the U.S.  cannot legally break encryption to do format conversion even for noninfringing purposes. Kobo could help by leaning on publishers as much as possible to drop encryption-based DRM. Social DRM could be one compromise. It lets publishers track pirated books, but at the same time people can own books for real, enjoy them on any device, and convert formats.
  8. On top of everything else, you apparently can’t use Kobo’s desktop application to pick up non-Kobo books from the Aura One for syncing to all your Kobo devices and apps. Perhaps I’m missing something. But if I’m not, Kobo badly needs to catch up with Amazon, which does sync “personal documents.” Of course it would be great if Amazon didn’t separate non-Amazon books into a different category, but all in all, Kindles and Fires still get better along with third-party books than Kobos do. Speaking of the desktop application, Kobo should be issuing a new version in September. Relief ahead for sideloaders?
  9. You probably won’t find quite the same prices and selections at the Kobo store is you do at the Amazon store. This actually could be higher on the list. By pushing for social DRM, Kobo could lower its support costs and at the time enjoy more pricing flexibility without alienating customers.
  10. More cases and other third-party accessories, needless to say, will be available for Kindle readers than for the Aura One. I’ll be most interested in seeing if I can find a case to make my Kobo drop proof.

Don’t be put off, necessarily, by the number of negatives I’ve listed. What annoys other people may not bother you. If you want an ereader for first-class display of library books for recreational reading, the Aura One could be just the ticket. What’s more, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kobo in the near future made improvements such as easier export of annotations.

Meanwhile, I can’t wait until September 6—or whatever the exact date turns out to be—so I can enjoy my Aura One with library books.