Rakuten Kobo Clara HD E-reader: Su­pe­rior to the Kin­dle Paper­white, ex­cept for one thing

It’s the con­tent.

PCWorld (USA) - - Reviews - BY SÉAMUS BEL­LAMY

Rakuten Kobo’s Clara HD e-reader ($130 from Rakuten Kobo) costs $10 less than its main com­peti­tor, the ad-free ver­sion of the Kin­dle Paper­white (re­viewed here [ go.pc­world.com/knpw] and avail­able, of course, from Ama­zon [ go.pc­world.com/ampw]). The ca­sual ob­server could be for­given for mis­tak­ing one for the other, as they share sim­i­lar di­men­sions and the same dis­play size.

But Kobo’s done some­thing with the Clara HD that Ama­zon hasn’t both­ered to do with its Kin­dle Paper­white in some time: in­no­vate. Boast­ing a num­ber of need­ful fea­tures that the

cur­rent gen­er­a­tion Paper­white can’t match, the Clara HD is a su­pe­rior de­vice in al­most ev­ery way.

Whether you should buy it—or dump your Kin­dle Paper­white for it—is a more com­plex ques­tion that we’ll wres­tle with as you keep read­ing.

HARD­WARE

The Clara HD def­i­nitely wins on hard­ware. With its trim di­men­sions (6.2 x 4.33 x 0.3 inches) and 5.85-ounce heft, the Clara HD is a feath­er­weight com­pared to the Kin­dle Paper­white. Add to that the tex­tured plas­tic back, and the Clara HD is a com­fort­able hold, even one-handed, for long pe­ri­ods of time.

The Clara HD packs a six-inch, 300-ppi Carta E-ink dis­play, just like the Paper­white does. While read­ing the same book on both de­vices over the course of a week, I didn’t note any dif­fer­ence in the sharp­ness of text. The same can’t be said, how­ever, for images: the Clara HD dis­plays pho­tos at a much higher res­o­lu­tion.

The Clara HD’S front light­ing bests the Paper­white as well. Its eight white LEDS pro­vide more con­sis­tent il­lu­mi­na­tion than the lat­est-gen­er­a­tion Kin­dle

Paper­white’s front light­ing can. What’s more, the Paper­white is only ca­pa­ble of il­lu­mi­nat­ing its dis­play with white light. Not so the Clara HD. Given the propen­sity for white- and blue-spec­trum light to keep folks awake at night, Kobo’s or­ange Com­fort­light PRO front light­ing is a win for any­one who wants to wind down for the night by read­ing in bed.

Buried in­side of the Kobo Clara HD is a 1GHZ Freescale Solo Lite pro­ces­sor and

512MB of RAM. For an E-ink de­vice de­signed to serve up text, this is a pretty zippy chipset. As for stor­age, you’ll find 8GB of flash mem­ory un­der the hood. That’s twice as much as a stan­dard Kin­dle Paper­white has on­board.

Kobo makes no di­rect claims as to the bat­tery life of the Clara HD. How­ever, with its Wi-fi turned off and its light­ing set to no less than 70

per­cent I found, after ap­prox­i­mately two hours of read­ing a day, spread over a seven-day pe­riod, the e-reader’s bat­tery was still sit­ting at around 60-per­cent ca­pac­ity.

You should know that un­like Kobo’s re­cent Aura One ( go.pc­world.com/ ara1) and Aura H2O Edi­tion 2( go.pc­world.com/ar20) e-read­ers, the Clara HD is not wa­ter­proof. With the Clara HD’S rel­a­tively low price, this lack of wa­ter re­sis­tance shouldn’t be a sur­prise. A Kin­dle

Paper­white won’t sur­vive a swim, ei­ther.

HOW TO USE THE KOBO CLARA HD

The Clara HD can han­dle EPUB, EPUB3, PDF, MOBI, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, TIFF, TXT, HTML and RTF files.

As with Kobo’s other re­cent e-read­ers, the Clara HD comes with only one phys­i­cal but­ton, for power. Page turns, as well as all other in­put, are made by tap­ping the Clara HD’S dis­play. The bevels around the de­vice’s dis­play are wide enough that mis­tak­enly touch­ing a but­ton takes work, but not so wide that turn­ing a page one-handed while read­ing is a chore.

The e-reader’s on­screen user in­ter­face is spar­tan and easy to nav­i­gate. The top of its home screen is lined with a drop-down menu that pro­vides ac­cess to your li­brary, Pocket ar­ti­cles (more on that in a mo­ment), and a Set­tings menu. There are icons for man­ag­ing the de­vice’s back­light­ing, Wi-fi, and bat­tery life, and op­tions for search­ing your de­vice’s mem­ory or sync­ing your books bought from the Kobo Store to the cloud.

Speak­ing of the Kobo Store, you’d scarcely know it’s there. Un­like Ama­zon’s sub­si­dized, ad­ver­tis­ing-rich in­ter­face, the Clara HD’S UI doesn’t force new book sug­ges­tions down your throat. If you want to buy a book, the Kobo Store is ac­ces­si­ble via a link at the bot­tom of your de­vice’s home­page.

In ad­di­tion to read­ing books, it’s also pos­si­ble to con­sume ar­ti­cles saved to a Pocket ac­count with the Clara HD. Kobo’s Pocket in­ter­face is so slick that it makes a Kin­dle’s abil­ity to sync con­tent from an In­stapa­per look ar­chaic by com­par­i­son.

Un­for­tu­nately, the way that the Clara HD han­dles e-books bor­rowed from a lo­cal li­brary, via Rakuten’s Over­drive Ser­vice, leaves much to be de­sired. Bor­rowed books must be side-loaded, in the form of an Adobe Dig­i­tal Edi­tion, from a com­puter. The method for us­ing the same ser­vice on a Kin­dle is much less har­row­ing. Con­sid­er­ing that Rakuten owns both Over­drive and Kobo, this is in­ex­cus­able.

KOBO CLARA HD VS. KIN­DLE: IT’S THE CON­TENT

There’s just one big prob­lem with the Clara HD: the Kin­dle. Ama­zon’s Kin­dle is the dom­i­nate e-reader in North Amer­ica be­cause Ama­zon dom­i­nates the ebook and dig­i­tal pe­ri­od­i­cal mar­ket. The com­pany al­lows its users to share their con­tent with their fam­ily and loan ebooks to friends.

Ama­zon Prime mem­bers are of­fered a se­lec­tion of free books to read on a monthly ba­sis.

The Kobo Store doesn’t come close to touch­ing any this. You can for­get about buy­ing mag­a­zines in the Kobo Store, too.

That said, some peo­ple want noth­ing to do with Ama­zon, and Kobo’s se­lec­tion of books is grow­ing ev­ery day. Chose your ebook seller ac­cord­ingly.

BOT­TOM LINE

If it were just about the hard­ware, this would be an easy de­ci­sion. De­spite cost­ing only a few bucks more than Ama­zon’s Kin­dle Paper­white, the Rakuten Kobo Clara HD is a su­pe­rior e-reader in al­most ev­ery way.

But Kobo can’t com­pete with Ama­zon’s ex­pan­sive book­store of­fer­ings, pe­riod. If you can find what you want to read in the Kobo Store, you’ll be happy with your pur­chase. If, how­ever, you have an ex­ten­sive Kin­dle ebook li­brary, an Ama­zon Prime sub­scrip­tion, or an ad­dic­tion to mag­a­zines, you’d be bet­ter served by a Kin­dle, such as the Paper­white that com­petes closely with the Clara HD.

The Clara HD’S dis­play can be il­lu­mi­nated by white or sooth­ing or­ange front light­ing.

Kobo’s on­screen UI is re­spon­sive and easy to use.

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