April 19, 2018

Kobo Launches E-reader Integrated with OverDrive

Kobo Aura ONEKobo on September 30 will launch the Aura ONE, a dedicated e-reader that promises seamless searching and one-click downloading of library ebooks via OverDrive. Using a review unit provided by Kobo and a personal New York Public Library (NYPL) account, LJ explored the process.

Initial library account sign in on the Aura ONE is comparable to the current OverDrive Media Console app. The Aura ONE’s settings menu includes a dedicated listing for OverDrive, and when users tap on this selection, they’re greeted with an interstitial page advising that this feature enables users to “access your public library’s digital catalogue directly…any time” and explaining that they’ll need a Wi-Fi connection, an OverDrive account, and a library card to get started. If a user already has a library card, selecting “sign in to OverDrive” will open a search screen with a few location-based suggestions to help users find their library. After users enter a library card number and PIN code, the device is ready to download library ebooks.

From there, the checkout process is essentially one-click. A simple filter bar below the search field must be set to “Show: OverDrive” rather than “Show: All” but after that, entering a title, author, or keyword into the general search field will return a scrollable list of titles licensed to the library with current availability signaled by “borrow” or “place a hold.” Tapping “borrow” completes the full transaction as advertised. Signing up or signing into an Adobe ID account is not required. Upon returning to the device’s home screen, the title’s cover art is displayed prominently in the top left corner. Users can start reading immediately.

Tapping “place a hold” results in a pop-up informing users that their title is unavailable, but they can join a waitlist.

Users can also search Kobo’s selection of paid ebook content and explore curated lists and suggestions based on their reading history. Tapping on a title leads users to a synopsis page where they can rate a title, check out reviews from other readers (or write their own), buy the ebook, or check to see if the title is available through their library.

Although the search and one-click checkout process is very simple and straightforward, library account management features are minimal. A “books” menu lists all titles and previews currently available on the device. Library ebooks are clearly listed as OverDrive titles, along with their expiration date. Titles checked out on other devices using OverDrive Read can be synced on the Aura ONE, but titles that have been downloaded to other devices are not listed on the Aura ONE. The OverDrive feature that enables users to return ebooks early is listed as “remove” on a drop down menu, and users must also select “remove from Kobo account” to complete the return, which may confuse some readers.

User preference

Multifunction tablets have overtaken dedicated e-readers in the ebook market in recent years. The Pew Research Center’s 2015 Technology Device Ownership survey reported that tablet ownership had risen to 45 percent of U.S. adults, while only 19 percent of adults reported owning an e-reader (down from 32 percent the year prior). And OverDrive’s Media Console apps have greatly simplified the sign up and check out procedures for users of iOS, Android, PC, and even Kindle Fire devices.

However, many people continue to prefer e-ink readers for the low-glare, distraction-free reading experience.  And as WIRED magazine noted in a 2015 review of the Kobo Glo, “Kobo and Kindle are at this point the only mass-market e-readers, full stop.” Most competitors have exited this once robust market.

With the entry-level Kindle regularly priced at $79.99, Amazon has come to dominate sales of dedicated e-readers. But as librarians are well aware, checking out a library ebook on a Kindle e-reader remains a tedious process involving, at minimum, signing into both a library account and an Amazon account, and working through a redirect to Amazon’s website to complete the checkout process. First-time borrowers also need to sign up for an Adobe ID. If these steps are completed on a device other than the Kindle, users must then “side load” the content by connecting the Kindle to a computer. The process can seem complex and intimidating, especially to patrons who are new to it.

By drastically simplifying the library ebook checkout process on an e-ink device, the Kobo Aura ONE certainly seems to have found a niche in the market. And since parent-company Rakuten recently acquired OverDrive, making it a sister company of Kobo, this relationship seems likely to continue as Kobo develops new devices. Priced at $230 USD at launch, the Kobo Aura ONE’s price is in line with Amazon’s premium Kindle Voyage ($200) and new Kindle Oasis ($290).

At 7.7” x 5.5” x 0.27”, the Aura ONE is similar in height and width (but not thickness) to a trade paperback, bucking the direction Amazon has been heading with smaller Kindles. Kobo has said that the Aura ONE was developed with extensive input from  users, and that the larger size was a common request. Other unique features include ComfortLight PRO, an enhanced front-light system. Designed with the latest sleep science in mind, the Aura ONE gradually reduces blue light exposure throughout the day, ultimately transitioning to a reddish-orange background for late-night reading. Or, users can turn off this automatic feature and choose their own light settings. The devices are also IPX8-rated waterproof for up to 60 minutes under three feet of water, although LJ did not test this capability.

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (menis@mediasourceinc.com, @matthewenis on Twitter, matthewenis.com) is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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  1. Donna Jensen says:

    Great news! Thanks for the article. I have wondered why it is more difficult to get an ebook from a library than to buy one. One question, would it be rude to point out the awkward wording of the first sentence? I am a closet editor… :)

    • It’s not as difficult to download to a Nook or other non-Amazon reader. It has been deliberately made difficult, especially for users of a Kindle, because they would rather you BUY the book. Speedbumps . . .

  2. This price point doesn’t make any sense. “I know, I’ll buy a top-end-priced eReader to bypass 1 step for checking out library ebooks… if my library uses that specific platform… if I don’t already have a kindle (which works easily with that platform).”

    Is that how the development team pitched it?

  3. Checking out a Kindle Book using Overdrive is not as complicated as it sounds. I actually prefer it, because I can check out the book from work using my work computer and, when I get to the Amazon website, choose “Deliver to my iPad”. When I get home, the eBook is waiting for me on my iPad. You don’t have to plug a device in to a computer and “side load” it unless it is a device without wifi, as far as I know. There is also no need for an Adobe ID when you are using the Kindle app. If a library user already has an Amazon account, than the Kindle option is really pretty simple in my opinion.

    It does sound like Kobo has upped their game though, and this tablet may be a good option for new users. I’m glad that they thought about simplifying the checkout experience for library users.

    • Hi Jimi,

      Thanks for commenting. The downloading process described in the review refers to Amazon’s line of dedicated e-ink devices, like the basic Kindle, Kindle Paperwhite, Kindle Voyage, and Kindle Oasis. I definitely agree that the downloading process has become much easier with tablets and smartphones using ereader apps (including apps for Kindle Fire). My editor and I felt that this device merited coverage because it is the only e-ink device currently on the market that integrates library ebooks directly (you don’t have to use the device’s browser to access your library’s catalog, or checkout the title on a computer, log into Amazon, and send it to your device via wifi or USB cable). Hope this clarifies the review. I’ve already sent the review device back to Kobo, but I’d be happy to answer any other questions if I can.


  4. Will users be able to side-load on this? I’m intrigued, but if I can’t load ARCs, I wouldn’t use it.

    • Hi Elizabeth,

      Unfortunately, I did not test the side loading features. But reports from other reviewers indicate that content can be side loaded via Micro USB, much like any other device in Kobo’s Aura line. Note that Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader was disappointed in how the Aura ONE handled PDF files: http://the-digital-reader.com/2016/08/31/kobo-aura-one-pdf-ereader-no-just-no-video/

      (separately, note that several sites that reviewed the Aura ONE in August described the OverDrive checkout process as complex or non-functional. From what I understand, the OverDrive integration was not completed until mid-September. I let Kobo know that I was planning to review this feature, specifically, and asked if they could please send me a review unit when the integration was fully functional. This arrived at LJ’s offices on September 19. So they may still be working out a few final issues right now).

  5. Using an iPad when I travel. I belong to 5 libraries. Sometimes do kindle books but it’s more hassle than it’s worth, so generally ePub. Overdrive has become a nightmare with the latest “update”. Have to repeatedly enter library info where before it was seamless. Books won’t download. Spending hours troubleshooting. Impossible to find a contact number for customer support. Have been thru troubleshooting steps including deleting ( and losing history) and reinstalling.
    Have a book thats showing as checked out and ready to download, but it times out every time. Can’t return it because it’s not on the bookshelf. What a load of crap.

  6. Do you know whether checking a book out via Overdrive’s Libby app will automatically deliver to Kobo Aura One device? I currently own an H2O, which is great but doesn’t receive checked out books wirelessly like Kindles. Great review. Thanks.