Kobo Aura H2O Review: In Depth

We review Kobo’s new water-resistant eReader, the Kobo Aura H2O.

Kobo’s Aura H2O is one of the world’s first water-resistant eReaders, which is kind of surprising when you think about how many bookworms like to read in the bath or at the beach. In fact, the only other waterproof reader we could find in the UK was the PocketBook AQUA, a basic device that lacks the Aura H2O’s HD screen and other cool features.

So, is the Kobo Aura H2O worth taking on your hols? Here’s our full review.

Kobo Aura H2O: Design

With its lightweight 233g build and soft, rubbery rear, the Kobo Aura H2O is comfortable to hang onto for extended periods, comparable to Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite. The wide design may make it tricky for anyone with dainty hands to clutch around the back, but the bezels are thick enough to hold at the side instead.

Our only qualm was the front frame, which picks up fingerprint grease marks and scuffs quite easily. Thankfully it’s just as easy to clean.

The stand-out feature of the Kobo Aura H2O is its water resistance: the eReader is IP67 certified, which means it can be dunked in a metre depth of water for a full half an hour without suffering any ill effects. So basically, you can get stuck into some gritty 50 Shades knock-off in the bath without worrying about dropping and breaking the damn thing.

As always, we filled a tub with London’s finest tap water and chucked the Aura H2O inside and the device survived just fine. The Aura even threw up a message warning that the screen was damp, and may not work as normal until it was dried off.

To keep the eReader water-resistant, Kobo has covered the micro USB port with a flap that fits firmly into place and keeps out any water. The Aura H2O’s 4GB of on-board storage is expandable via micro SD memory card, with the slot also found beneath that flap.

Kobo Aura H2O: Interface

We quite like the Aura H2O’s simple, streamlined desktop, which acts as a hub to the Kobo Store as well as your library of amassed ebooks. The library allows you to sort your titles into collections, always handy when you’ve downloaded a ton of books, and there’s a search function to zip straight to a specific item.

We also like how you can quickly access the main settings such as screen brightness, Wi-Fi and battery levels, as well as the built-in dictionary and stats on how much reading you’ve done.

Kobo Aura H2O: Browsing the Kobo Store

The Kobo store is your one-stop shop for millions of books, which can be purchased and downloaded directly through the Aura H2O. From the desktop you can quickly browse your favourite genres, check out new releases or even see the top 50 books, so there’s plenty of ways to search for your next read.

That said, it isn’t quite as user friendly as Amazon’s Kindle Store. For instance, the top 50 books and new releases lists don’t actually show how much a book costs until you click on it. Good luck searching for the million free books too; for that, you’ll need to browse on your computer.

Amazon’s store has a lot more reviews from customers, so you’ll have less chance of accidentally picking up a stinker. We also found that Amazon was cheaper in many of the searches we tried. For example, the latest Lee Child Jack Reacher novel costs an already-excessive £7.49 on Amazon, but will set you back a frankly outrageous £11.99 on Kobo.

Bear in mind that Amazon price matches on ebooks too, so you’re unlikely to find a book that costs less on Kobo. We tried, over and over, and Amazon was always the cheaper option (or in a few cases the prices were identical) for old and new novels alike.

The Kindle store also boasts a much more extensive selection of books, although Kobo’s range isn’t to be sniffed at, with plenty of new bestsellers and classics on offer.

Kobo Aura H2O: Web browsing and offline reading

If you want a break from the books, the Kobo Aura H2O also lets you read web content offline with its Pocket feature. You’ll need to sign up for an additional Pocket account to use it, but it’s a quick and easy process. Then all you need to do is save articles using your computer’s browser or the mobile Pocket app, and they’ll automatically be synced to your Aura H2O to read offline.

Articles are presented in full, complete with photos, and if you have a web connection you can still tap links to follow them or save them for later reading.

Browsing the web on an eReader is never really a smooth experience, but the Aura H2O does a commendable job when you’re in a pinch. You scroll up and down with a swipe of your finger, and a few screen spasms aside, it works surprisingly well. We found we could access all of the usual menus on, although of course you can’t play video.

Kobo Aura H2O: Screen

One of the highlights of the Kobo Aura H2O beyond its water resistance is the 6.8-inch HD touchscreen display. The 1430 x 1080 resolution of the E-Ink screen gives 265 dpi, which might not be quite as sharp as the new Kindle Voyage’s 300 dpi display, but it’s more than sharp enough for reading even tiny text.

We also downloaded some graphic novels, which looked gorgeously crisp. Obviously it’s a black and white panel, so any colour is lost in the migration, but that didn’t affect our enjoyment.

The Aura H2O is backlit, so you can read it at any time, even in a pitch black room. On top brightness levels it’s powerful enough to light up a small room and with zero glare you’ll have no problem reading in ridiculous sunlight.

Kobo Aura H2O: Performance and battery life

The Kobo Aura H2O takes a little while to power up and when the device boots up, you’re dropped onto your main desktop. Thankfully you can hibernate the Aura at any time rather than powering down, which means you can wake it in a second and be dropped straight back into whatever book you were reading.

Performance is a mixed bag, sadly. Tapping your way through menus can be quite frustrating, filled with unwarranted pauses that make you wonder if that last screen tap actually registered. Even flipping between pages can occasionally result in a two or three second stutter if photos are involved. Typing is also an arduous experience: you’ll have to punch the virtual keyboard slowly and surely, or else occasionally wait while the Aura H2O catches up.

The Aura H2O also really didn’t like it when we stuck on a couple of graphical novels in PDF format. Thankfully, the CBR versions worked a lot better, with fast loading and smooth scrolling.

You can quickly charge the Aura H2O by hooking it up to a computer or the mains via micro USB. Battery life is indeed great, as long as you don’t boost the screen brightness up to max and keep it there. Even then, you’d still get well over 24 hours of continuous use, but keep the screen dim and you’ll fare much better, with days of regular use before you have to recharge. Perfect if you’re buggering off on holiday.

Kobo Aura H2O: Verdict

If you want an eReader for chilling in the bath (or shower, or sea, or any other wet place) then the Kobo Aura H2O is pretty much your one and only choice. The water resistance is a great little feature that we can’t believe hasn’t been done before 2014.

With long battery life, a bright HD screen and an intuitive interface, there’s plenty to recommend here, especially if you want an eReader for enjoying graphic novels or offline webpages. However, the Kobo Store sadly falls flat compared to Amazon’s Kindle equivalent, with its overpriced books and lack of customer feedback, while performance is occasionally stiff.

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