E-Readers Are Supposed to Be Dying, but Kobo Keeps Making Fancier Ones

Innovation in e-readers is actually alive and well.

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The conventional wisdom about e-readers is that they are slowly getting pushed to the bargain bin, doomed to a life of obscurity at the hands of thinner, lighter and cheaper tablets.

Just don’t tell that to Kobo, which continues to push the boundaries on the lowly e-reader. The company has just announced the Kobo Aura, a $150 e-reader with some fancy technologies for reading digital books.

The Aura is not the most expensive e-reader Kobo produces. That distinction goes to the Kobo Aura HD, a $170 reader with a 6.8-inch, 1440-by-1080 resolution display, which launched in April. But the non-HD Aura is thinner and lighter (0.32 inches and 0.38 pounds, compared to the HD’s 0.46 inches and 0.53 pounds), and it features a completely flat front panel instead of the recessed screens found on most e-readers. It also maintains some of the benefits of the Aura HD, such as “ComfortLight” backlighting, which supposedly provides more even brightness levels than other tablets.

There’s no guarantee that Amazon and Barnes & Noble won’t launch their own higher-resolution, premium e-readers this year. Even if they do, the very existence of these devices proves that there’s life left in the e-reader market. Certainly, more people are having all their reading needs met by multi-purpose tablets, but that doesn’t mean dedicated readers won’t become more sophisticated or that people will stop buying them. They still serve a purpose due to their superior battery life and better readability, which might explain why e-reader ownership is still on the rise.

And as I’ve said before, there’s no reason for companies like Kobo and Amazon to stop producing e-readers. These companies make their money by selling e-books, not by selling hardware. As long as people are using their readers to buy books, it’s in the interest of hardware makers to provide a better reading experience every year.

E-readers are especially important for Kobo, whose hardware sales are 80- to 90-percent e-readers, according to the BBC. While the company is trying to get into into the tablet market, it’s a much more cutthroat business. I’m looking at the company’s newly-announced Kobo Arc 10HD ($400), Kobo Arc 7HD ($200) and Kobo Arc 7 ($150), and struggling to think of anything remarkable to say about them. Their tech specs are decent, but not great, and their prices aren’t anything new in the Android tablet world. I can think of many more interesting Android tablets (Google’s Nexus 7, HP’s Slatebook X2, and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8.0, to name a few), but no e-readers that are more noteworthy right now than Kobo’s Aura.

It’s a weird sort of reversal from what we’re used to in the tech world: With Kobo’s new products, the e-reader, rather than the tablets, has the best story to tell.