Kindle Paperwhite vs Kobo Aura HD

We just discussed Kindle vs Kobo heating up with ZDNet calling Kobo Aura HD ‘the best eReader’. It’s time to do a Kindle Paperwhite vs Kobo Aura HD review.

Disclaimer: I only own Kindle Paperwhite and Nook Glowlight and other Kindles and Nooks and the older Kobos. I don’t own Kodo Aura HD. So please keep that in mind.

Kindle Paperwhite vs Kobo Aura HD – Context

We are comparing Kindle Paperwhite and Kobo Aura HD for the crown of ‘best eReader’. We aren’t considering Tablets at all. We won’t give much weight to the price difference though we will discuss it.

Assume you have $169 and have to buy one eInk eReader. Will it be Kindle Paperwhite or Kobo Aura HD?

Kindle Paperwhite vs Kobo Aura HD – Kobo Aura HD advantages

Kobo Aura HD has the following main advantages –

  1. The HD screen. This is definitely a big advantage and a very clear one. 1440 by 1080 pixels on Kobo Aura HD is considerably better than 1024 by 758 pixels on Kindle Paperwhite. Additionally the 265 pixels per inch on Kobo Aura HD are Retina display level and much sharper than the Kindle Paperwhite’s 212 pixels per inch.
  2. The Reading Experience will be better on Kobo Aura HD. The combination of the HD eInk screen and better lighting (Note: This is according to the ZDNet review – there are individual differences in screens) will make for a clearly better reading experience on Kobo Aura HD.
  3. More in-built memory and a microSD card slot. Kobo Aura HD has 4 GB of memory while Kindle Paperwhite has just 2 MB. Kobo Aura HD also has a microSD card slot. This can be very very useful if you have a ton of books.
  4. Kobo Aura HD is a latest generation eReader. If you buy Kindle Paperwhite now you definitely know the screen is a generation behind Kobo Aura HD. You also have the added fear that Kindle Paperwhite 2 and Nook Glowlight 2 might be much better. With the Kobo Aura HD you are at least assured you’ll have a latest generation eReader for a year or so.
  5. By creating the ‘no compromises, best reading experience’ $169 Kobo Aura HD, Kobo has shown that it is focused on readers. Amazon seems to have forgotten readers in its pursuit of Tablets and Phones and Casual Readers and who knows what else. It might very well be the case that Kobo does a better job for readers over the next 4-6 years.
  6. ePub support which means you can buy from any store out of Nook, Sony, Kobo and the other ePub Stores. It also means your library is in ePub format and you can move freely to a Nook or Sony Reader in the future. With Kindle you are stuck with Kindle Store.
  7. [Separate since it’s important] Kobo books can also be read on any other eReader that supports ePub with Adobe DRM. That includes Nook eReaders and Sony eReaders. This means that if you don’t like the next Kobo eReader you can easily switch. With Kindle you’re locked into the Kindle ecosystem (unless you decide to leave eReaders and go to Tablets).

What’s most interesting to me is that the Kindle Paperwhite Product Page and Kindle Paperwhite Reviews focus on two main strengths – the screen resolution and the reading light. Kobo Aura HD clearly beats Kindle Paperwhite on screen resolution and perhaps beats it on the quality of reading light too. Basically, Kindle Paperwhite’s two biggest strengths are now weaknesses. Kudos to Kobo for lighting a fire under Kindle Paperwhite. This will force Amazon to do something big for Kindle Paperwhite 2.

Kobo Aura HD also has the following advantages –

  1. Kobo Aura HD’s screen is 6.8″ and is slightly larger than the Kindle Paperwhite’s 6″ screen. Makes it closer to the size of a real book.
  2. Kobo Aura HD’s ridged back is apparently easier to grip.
  3. Kobo Aura HD’s light can be turned off. Additionally, there is a dedicated light on/off button. Doesn’t seem like a big deal until you are in bed and trying to start/stop reading quickly and conveniently.
  4. Kobo Aura HD supports cbz and cbr formats for comic books, while Kindle Paperwhite does not. Note: There might be a way to get comic books on Kindle Paperwhite – not sure about this area. Support for comic books is big for people who read comics.
  5. Kobo Aura HD comes with Kobo’s Reading Life ‘social reading’ feature. This gives you lots of reading stats and you also have the option to share these socially.
  6. Kobo Aura HD has more font sizes and styles. Note: To Be confirmed after actual use – However, the choice of 10 font styles and 24 font sizes and the option to choose font sharpness and weight definitely seems better than Kindle Paperwhite’s font options.
  7. Kobo is a very dynamic company and isn’t afraid to try new things. Whether it’s adding features like Kobo Reading Life or it’s taking a chance with the Kobo Aura HD (Amazon and B&N were probably offered the screen first). You know you’ll get something exciting and new from them every year.
  8. Kobo Aura HD is available in black and white. It might also be available in Espresso color too (whatever that is). Kindle Paperwhite is only available in black.

As you can see from these lists, the Kobo Aura HD is a real challenger to the Kindle Paperwhite.

Kindle Paperwhite vs Kobo Aura HD – Kindle Paperwhite advantages

Kindle Paperwhite has the following main advantages –

  1. Kindle Store has the most books and the best ebook prices. When it comes to range of books and price of books, Kindle Store is the best.
  2. Kindle Store has the most free books. Indie Authors sign an exclusive deal with Amazon in return for the ability to promote their books as ‘free books’ for 5 days per 3 month period. That means two things – the most free books are in the Kindle Store (most are indie author books), the most cheap indie author books are in the Kindle Store (because they sign the exclusivity deal).
  3. Kindle customer service is stellar. Kobo Customer Service is supposed to be atrocious. Chances of you needing customer service are low – perhaps 10% to 20% of people will have any real issue. If you do, then you’ll be in trouble with Kobo. I’ve seen 2-3 reports myself of really bad customer service and none of great customer service.
  4. Kindle Paperwhite is backed by very solid infrastructure. You get reading apps for various platforms like iOS, Android, PC, and Mac. You get features like WhisperSync that sync your place in the book across devices.
  5. Amazon is probably going to be around longer than Rakuten (Kobo’s parent company). Additionally, Kindle is probably going to be around longer than Kobo. The demise of Sony eReader and the ongoing gradual decline of Nook shows that the #2 and #3 players in the eReader market aren’t as safe a bet as the #1 player. On the flip side, Kobo is very aggressive and hungry and it seems to want the #1 spot more than Kindle does.
  6. It’s a bit hard to compile a proper list of biggest strengths because Amazon spends so much time focused on the screen and the reading light. Now that they aren’t advantages, there’s not that much left apart from the store and the infrastructure.

Kindle Paperwhite also has the following advantages –

  1. I haven’t used the Kobo Aura HD so this might not be true for it. Kobo devices tend to be shoddily made. The best, when it comes to build quality, are Sony eReaders. Nook eReaders are also good. Kindle is not very good but decent. Kobo was weakest. Perhaps with Kobo Aura HD it’s changed. Perhaps not. If you can try the device out in person, I’d strongly recommend that.
  2. Kindle Paperwhite is slightly lighter (213 grams versus 240 grams) and slightly more compact (Kindle Paperwhite is 169 mm x 117 mm x 9.1 mm, while Kobo Aura HD has Length: 175.7 millimeters, Width: 128.3 millimeters, Max Depth: 11.7 millimeters, and Edge depth:  7 millimeters).
  3. Kindle Paperwhite comes with lots of features like X-Ray which lets you get information on characters in books. With the combined information of Shelfari and (in the future) GoodReads, this will be a hard feature for other eReaders to match.
  4. IF you’re an Amazon Prime member then you get access to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and can loan out one book a month out of a selection of titles. There are a lot of books available but only around 100 current and past New York Times Bestsellers and the Harry Potter titles.
  5. Free WiFi at AT&T Hotspots across the US.
  6. Kindle Paperwhite has a limited app store. It’s now closed so there will not be new apps – However, there are a few hundred apps and games available.
  7. Kindle Paperwhite supports Doc and Docx formats while Kobo Aura HD does not.
  8. There is a Kindle Paperwhite 3G version available for $179 (or $199 without Ads). There’s no Kobo Aura HD with 3G.

It’s clear that Kindle Paperwhite has a lot of advantages of its own. It’s interesting to see Amazon once again in a familiar position – Not having the best hardware but leveraging a better store and a better infrastructure to remain competitive.

Kindle Paperwhite vs Kobo Aura HD – The Question of Kindle Paperwhite 2

The biggest thing looming over this Kindle Paperwhite vs Kobo Aura Review is the fact that Kindle Paperwhite 2 is probably scheduled to arrive in September or October 2013.

That means, in 3 or 4 months, the discussion will be Kindle Paperwhite 2 vs Kobo Aura HD vs Nook Glowlight 2. If you aren’t in a rush, then it’s best to wait for the Kindle Paperwhite 2 and Nook Glowlight 2 launches in September or October. Since Kobo, Amazon, B&N all buy eInk screens from the same company (PVI/eInk) it’s likely we’ll end up with the same HD eInk screen on all three devices. Then it comes down to smaller features and store and book prices and infrastructure – a war that Kindle will perhaps win easily.

Kindle Paperwhite vs Kobo Aura HD – Price and Quality of Reading Experience and Total Cost of Ownership

Price is obviously a factor. Kobo Aura HD is $169. Kindle Paperwhite without Ads is $139. Kindle Paperwhite with Ads is $119.

First, let’s add $10 for the wall charger (unless you plan on charging from a computer always). That means Kindle Paperwhite without Ads is $149. At that price Kobo Aura HD at $169 is a much better option. You get the HD screen and a microSD card slot and 2 GB of extra memory. The Reading Light is also supposed to be more evenly spread without glitches.

Kindle Paperwhite with Ads is $129 after factoring in the wall charger. That’s $40 cheaper than the Kobo Aura HD and will be very tempting for those on a tighter budget. It clearly beats Kobo Aura HD for such readers.

Finally, when factoring in Total Cost of Ownership it’s worth including two things – number of free books, resale price.

Kindle Paperwhite wins on both. Kindle Paperwhite will have much better resale value due to Amazon being a much trusted company. Kobo Aura HD has the HD screen – However, very few people know of Kobo or Rakuten. Kindle Paperwhite has a LOT more free books. Amazon has a special program for authors that leads to exclusives for Amazon. If you plan on surviving on free and cheap books, Kindle Store is the best choice and Kindle Paperwhite wins over Kobo Aura HD.

Kindle Paperwhite vs Kobo Aura HD – Which should you buy?

This is a really tough question. Some answers are easy –

  1. If money is no object, and you want the absolute best reading experience, get Kobo Aura HD. This is a really big deal. Kindle and Nook were forgetting about ‘the best reading experience’ and going for ‘the cheapest reading experience’. They were forgetting hard-core readers and targeting casual readers. It’s really good to see Kobo go for the best reading experience and cater to hard-core readers.
  2. If you already have a library of books from Kobo, Nook, or Sony – get Kobo Aura HD.
  3. If you want to be able to buy books from Kobo or Nook or Sony or another ePub store – get Kobo Aura HD. Same if you think that down the line you might want to switch to a Nook eReader or a Sony eReader. Kobo does not lock you in.
  4. If you want to do more than just read – Don’t buy either. Get a Tablet.
  5. If you have a tight budget – get a Kindle Paperwhite with Ads for $109 + charger for $10. Consider the Nook Simple Touch on sale for under $50.
  6. If you have a library of Kindle Books – get a Kindle Paperwhite.
  7. If you want the best customer service – get a Kindle Paperwhite. Note: Keep in mind that customer service might not come into play at all. However, if and when it does, Amazon is much better than Kobo.
  8. If you want lots of cheap and free books from indie authors – get a Kindle Paperwhite.
  9. If you want social features and statistics on your reading habits – get Kobo Aura HD.
  10. If you need a microSD card or want 4 GB instead of 2 GB – get Kobo Aura HD.
  11. If you want the lightest and most compact eReader – get Kindle Paperwhite or Nook Glowlight.
  12. If you want the cheapest reading option – pick a $69 Kindle WiFi or get the Nook Simple Touch when it next goes on sale (it drops to $49).

The other answers are difficult.

The safest options are –

  1. Wait for Kindle Paperwhite 2 and Nook Glowlight 2 to launch. Make a call then with all the information available on Kindle vs Nook vs Kobo.
  2. Buy Kindle Paperwhite and assume that the better customer service and better infrastructure and services and the better store are worth more than the HD screen of the Kobo Aura HD.
  3. Buy Kobo Aura HD and assume that if you need customer service it won’t be great but you’ll live with it. Note: This is an easier call if you have a store nearby that sells Kobo Aura HDs.
  4. Buy both Kobo Aura HD and Kindle Paperwhite, if your budget allows it.
  5. Buy one of the very cheap eReaders for now and wait to see what the next generation eReaders from Amazon & B&N (Kindle Paperwhite 2 and Nook Glowlight 2) are like. The Nook Simple Touch (the one without glowlight) is often on sale for as low as $49 and Kindle WiFi is $69.

I’d suggest #1 or #3 or #5. Truth is that having a HD screen on your eInk eReader is a big deal. If you get a Kindle Paperwhite you will know you’re missing out on the obviously better HD eInk reading experience. If you can wait, it’s worth it to see what Kindle Paperwhite 2 and Nook Glowlight 2 are like. If you can’t wait, either grab a Nook Simple Touch on sale for under $50 or go with the Kobo Aura HD.


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