The Kobo Aura H2O is a top-end ebook reader, one that's a bit cheaper, but a bit chunkier, than the Amazon Kindle Voyage.
It's possibly the ultimate ereader for homebodies, really making the most of its super-high-resolution screen and offering water resistance for reading in the bath. Even if that's not your thing, the Kobo Aura H2O is a top ebook reader regardless.
However, unless the £139 Kobo Aura H2O’s specific skills appeal, you may be better off saving a few hundred pennies and opting for the cheaper Kindle Paperwhite.
Kobo Aura H2O – Design and Features
Among ereaders, the Kobo Aura H2O is fairly large, but this is deliberate. It has a significantly bigger screen than any of the Kindle models and its body design cares more about comfort than being incredibly thin.
For most people, this is no bad thing. Ebook readers are generally too small to fit in a pocket, and if you’re using a bag, there’ll probably be little practical difference between the 9.7mm-thick Kobo Aura H2O and the 7.6mm-thick Kindle Voyage. We found it easier to hold one-handed while reading on your side than a Kindle Voyage, for example.
Want an ebook reader you can fit in a back pocket or coat pocket, though? This isn’t it.
It seems to have deliberately chunky bezels, giving you enough room to rest a thumb, and the back is contoured to fit your hand.
The Kobo Aura H2O is made of soft-touch plastic, like most top ereaders. This is much smoother-feeling than bog-standard plastic. It feels great.
A generous-size body give you a firm grip but otherwise there are no other elements to help out your handling of the Kobo Aura H2O. You turn the page using the IR touchscreen, which, unlike the Kindle Paperwhite's, doesn't support multi-touch gestures. There are no buttons either, so having such an ergonomic body is a good thing.
The USP of the design, though, is found on the bottom. There’s a rubber-sealed plastic flap down there that covers the Micro USB and microSD slots. Simple as it is, this is what lets you use the ebook reader in the bath without worrying.
We’ve used many non-waterproof ereader models in the bath without incident over the years, but with the Kobo Aura H2O you can drop it in without issue. Kobo has tested the reader by submerging at 1m depth for 30 minutes.
Like other non-resistive touchscreen devices, the Kobo Aura H2O won’t function properly with water all over the screen, but we do think waterproofing is a valid extra.
There are no missing features as a result either. You get 4GB internal storage, with the option to boost this by up to 32GB. Why you would need such storage is another matter. For 99 per cent of people, 4GB is enough.
Battery life is excellent, too. Being that bit chunkier and heavier than some lets the Kobo Aura H2O fit in a two-month battery, based on using it for 30 minutes a day. That’s longer than the Kindle Voyage, matching the Kindle Paperwhite.
While waterproofing is the feature that’s going to win the Kobo Aura H2O the most attention, its screen is just as noteworthy. It’s a 6.8-inch E Ink Carta display of 1430 × 1080 resolution, a minor upgrade to the old Aura HD model.
To decode this a bit for non ereader nerds, this is the same basic tech as the Kindle range, with the latest-generation panel and excellent resolution. It’s the non-widescreen equivalent of Full HD, which is a lot of pixels for a 6.8-inch ereader display. To put this into context, we were perfectly happy with 800 x 600 pixel ereader screens until a couple of years ago.
This resolution actually makes a lot more sense here than in the Kindle Voyage, where it is arguably overkill. Not only do you have more screen space, a larger page, the Kobo Aura H2O also gives you much more control over the size of fonts and page margins. You can fit absolutely loads of text on the page if you want.
To be fair to Amazon, its Kindles’ default settings suit most readers, but if you find you need to turn the page more often than you’d like, the Kobo Aura H2O is a very worthy alternative. Even very small text looks smooth too, until you get so close it’s uncomfortable.
Used side-by-side with a Kindle (any Kindle), Amazon’s ereaders start to look as though they spoon-feed you a singular reading experience – despite a few customisation options.
Screen quality is excellent. As well as being sharp, the Kobo Aura H2O’s combination of E Ink Carta screen and good front light offer excellent contrast. You can also choose how often the screen refreshes. As standard the Kobo Aura H2O performs a full refresh every six pages, but if you can’t stand screen residue, you can set it to refresh every page or two.
Residue and screen refreshes are things you have to contend with when using any E Ink device. A refresh effectively resets the screen, and until it is you'll often see very slight residue of what the screen has displayed before.
Just like other lit ereaders, the Kobo Aura H2O uses side-firing LEDs whose light is passed through a guide layer that spreads it around the screen. We were very pleased with the brightness and consistency of the ereader’s light.
It is tonally more consistent than our Kindle Voyage model, which is bluer towards the bottom, and there’s just a slight dimming towards parts of the very bottom of the screen. This is where the LEDs live, so the light is not 100 per cent under the control of the guide layer at this point.
This is among the best ereader screens we’ve seen, although that’s no less than we’d expect given the £140 price.
Software is perhaps the most convincing reason not to buy the Kobo H2O. There’s nothing drastically wrong with it, but it doesn’t have the features of liveliness you get with Amazon’s Kindle infrastructure.
We’re talking predominantly about the bookstore here, and how it delivers books. Prices often seem to be a bit higher with Kobo, promotions aren’t anywhere near as regular and while the interface looks quite polished, it seems to do a lot less with the information it has.
On the Kindle Store, one book will spark you off to a half-dozen more books you might want to check out, with the Kobo bookstore you really need to know what you’re after for the most part.
There’s also no auto sync – Kindles let you buy from a browser and the books simply appear on the device – and there's no integrated lending, no newspaper subscriptions and no Netflix-style book "streaming" service. Kindle has all of these things, and if they’re going to enrich your reading, maybe you should go with the crowd and side with Amazon. The Kobo bookstore is fairly basic.
However, it’s good for reading your own book collection. As well as supporting EPUB – missing from Kindles – it can handle Mobi files. When downloading books online, this is more-or-less all you need.
Other types on the list include EPUB3 (a potential successor to EPUB), PDF, CBR, CBZ and a bunch of web and image files. Adobe DRM is also supported, meaning you can use UK library ebooks. That so few people seem to know this even exists tells you a lot about how well-implemented and advertised this sort of service is, though.
If a slightly low-tech store isn’t an issue, though, there’s plenty to like about the Kobo Aura H2O. What it does more than just about any other ereader is monitoring stats. Even on the fairly simple front screen of the interface it tells you how many per cent you are through a book, and roughly how many hours it’ll take you to read the rest.
There’s also a general reading stats section that tells you how many hours in total you’ve read on your Kobo Aura H2O, how many books you’ve finished and so on. Kindles don’t do anywhere near as much as this. There are also sketch pad and web browser apps, but as usual these are more-or-less useless — any basic phone does the job better.
There's still work to do here, though. Moving through the interface of the Kobo Aura H2O is a bit slower than it is with a Kindle, despite the ereader having a 1GHz CPU just like the Amazon models.
The software feels a little less robust in parts than a Kindle too – we got a few error messages we’d never see these days on a Kindle – however, during reading the Aura H2O feels great. Page turns are quick enough, and the customisation of both page layout and page turn mechanics means you can get the thing feeling just as you like.
If you find Kindles that bit too small, or read in the bath all the time, the Kobo Aura H2O is a great ereader pick. Once we’d tweaked the screen’s layout a bit we found that we could comfortably fit more text on the screen than with just about any other model available on the high street.
Fewer page turns mean an overall more relaxed read, while the chunky edges make the Kobo Aura H2O easy to rest on your fingers. Yes, it’s a bit thicker than most, but we like the hardware.
What’s holding it back a little is the software. Kobo’s bookstore is fine enough, but lacks the dynamism of the Kindle Store. So if you’re going to find most of your next reads by just browsing through its shelves, you may find the Kobo Aura H2O a little lacking.
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It doesn’t have the software of a Kindle, but this could be the perfect ebook reader for relaxing reads in the bath.