The Aura One isn’t just an e-reader for people who’ve never bought an e-reader before, it’s an e-reader for people already in the market and ready for an upgrade.

That’s how Rakuten Kobo Inc. CEO Michael Tamblyn positioned his firm’s new flagship device at its launch Aug. 17. After using the Aura One for several weeks, I have to say that this device stands up as having something to offer to new e-reader users and upgrade-seekers alike. Perhaps it’s because Kobo took the time to work with some of its best customers to understand what e-reader users were looking for in a device.

Device and design

Operating the Aura One couldn’t be simpler. There’s literally one button, to turn it on or off. You’ll see the cover image of the book you’re currently working on when the device is “asleep.” After turning it on, it’s a simple touch screen interface.

Choosing to provide a larger screen than most e-readers seems like the riskiest design choice Kobo has made here. I can operate the device with one hand by cradling the corner of it in my palm and using my thumb to turn pages, but many people will need to grip this device with two hands. The upside of having a larger screen is the ability to fit more text on a single page, and a better screen for reading graphic novels.

If you dig into Kobo’s settings menu, you can adjust where to press on the screens to turn pages or open the main menu. The interface is dedicated almost entirely to either reading, or finding content to read, which is as it should be.

Kobo previously dabbled with social networking features, but ultimately decided they were too much of a distraction from reading. (I’m guessing they were also not widely adopted.) The embedded five-star ratings and reviews for books in the store makes sense.

The Aura One includes a light-up screen with an interesting twist. During the day, the hue of the light is blue. As you get closer to bedtime, the hue shifts to a more red tone. Kobo says this encourages alertness during the day, and avoids disrupting your sleep at night. (Blue light signals your brain to stop the production of melatonin, which is critical to promoting sleep.)

The option to manually control the strength and hue of the light is there, but I was happy just to turn on the automatic settings and read away.

Perfect for the bath – or the canoe

Kobo made the Aura One to be waterproof so you can take it into many situations where you might hesitate taking electronic equipment, or for that matter a paperback book. The technical rating is IPX8, which means it’s good to last for up to 60 meters under two meters of water. But all I needed to see was a dunk test to know I could soak this thing without a problem.

The Kobo Aura One is rated as waterproof for a two metre depth for up to 60 minutes.
The Kobo Aura One is rated as waterproof for a two metre depth for up to 60 minutes.

Kobo likes to suggest you could use this to read in the bath, but since I’m more of a shower person, I put waterproofing to the test on a camping trip. I threw the Aura One in a backpack and canoed off into the backcountry without a care. Despite it raining on the last day of the trip, the e-reader was no worse for the wear.

Free books.. what a concept

Perhaps the best feature on the Aura One for me is the ability to access library books directly through the store. Thanks to its March 2015 acquisition of Overdrive, Rakuten has now integrated your local library’s catalogue of e-books right onto the device. You create an account using your library card, and then when you search the store for books, an option to borrow it instead of buy it is displayed – so long as its available from your local library.

Having a device that can instantly let me download any book for free almost makes me feel like I’m getting away with something. Consumers have been trained to expect to shell out for content in these digital on-device stores, and the fact Rakuten is giving me an option other than paying money for something I want almost seems anti-capitalistic.

When I wanted to read the fourth book in the Game of Thrones series, A Feast of Crows, I discovered that buying it wasn’t an option in my region. Yet I could borrow the e-book via the Overdrive option – so adding this capability has widened the selection of material available to Kobo users overall.

Some bells and whistles

Integration with online article-saving service Pocket is the icing on the cake for the Aura One. I have a handy If This Than That script set up that saves any links in tweets I favourite to my Pocket account for later reading. Being able to access those on the e-reader was really nice, and encouraged me to read longer articles too.

It’s worth a reminder that Kobo apps are also available for iOS and Android, so even if you forget your e-reader, you can keep reading that book you have on the go.

You can’t ignore the price on this device if you’re shopping for an e-reader. At $249.99 it’s one of the more expensive ways into the e-reader market. But given that the product is so premium and the experience delivered so good, I think it’s a good investment. If you’re looking to buy your first e-reader, this won’t let you down. If you’re already invested in the Kobo ecosystem and feel ready for an upgrade, now’s the time.

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