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 and available, of course, from Amazon). 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. 

Note: This review is part of our roundup of the best e-readers. Go there for details about competing products and how we tested them. 

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.  

comfortlight Seamus Bellamy/IDG

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

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. 





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