The Kobo Aura H2O is a solid addition to the ereader market. It’s light, it’s easy to read, and it has decent battery life. However, all of this can also be said of the cheaper Amazon Kindle Paperwhite, so in a market where ‘Kindle’ has become a synonym for ‘ereader’, it’s vital for the Kobo to offer something that sets it apart.
As suggested by the name, for the Aura H2O that trump card is waterproofing. The H2O is not just splashproof, it’s full-on waterproof. Drop it in the pool and it’ll be just fine. That is a serious bonus for people looking for a device to take on holiday, or for those who like reading in the bath. And waterproofing is something that Amazon hasn’t managed on any of its devices yet.
Of course, unless you spend half your life in the pool or in the bath, waterproofing alone isn’t enough to justify a purchase, and fortunately it’s not the only thing the Aura H2O has going for it.
Kobo Aura H2O (2017) price and release date
- Available now in UK and US, from July in Australia
- It costs $179.99 (£149.99, AU$239.95)
- More expensive than Kindle Paperwhite
The Kobo Aura H2O is currently available in the UK and US from the Kobo website and from select retailers. If you’re in Australia you’ll have to wait until July for it to be available.
The Kobo Aura H2O is a mid-priced device, both within Kobo’s own range and within the wider ereader market. The H2O is cheaper that Kobo’s flagship Aura One, but more expensive than the Aura, the Touch, and the previous model of the H2O.
Set against the Kindle range, meanwhile, the H2O is cheaper than both the top-of-the-range Oasis and Voyage, but more expensive than the Paperwhite and the Amazon Kindle (2016).
- IPX8 waterproofing means you’ll never worry about water
- Intelligent backlighting helps you sleep better
- Anti-glare HD E-ink screen is a pleasure to read
As we’ve mentioned, the new Kobo Aura H2O’s waterproofing is incredibly robust. Kobo clearly realised that waterproofing was the previous H2O’s USP, and went to town when it came to designing the 2017 model.
It’s rated IPX8, which means it can withstand up to 60 minutes under two meters of water. To test this feature we left the Aura H2O completely submerged for 55 minutes and it was perfectly fine when we took it out.
This means that if you accidentally drop it in the swimming pool, it should still be okay even if you only realise 45 minutes later, and that’s a major draw if you’re the type of person who loves reading in the bath, or by the pool. It also means that if your Kobo gets covered in sand at the beach you can just wash it off.
The charging port doesn’t have any kind of cover; we’re not entirely sure how it would react to getting filled with salt from seawater, but presumably a rinse under some clean fresh water would clean the port out.
As day turns to night, the screen of the Aura H2O turns from a cool blue to a warmer orange hue. The reasoning behind this function is the same as for features such as Apple’s NightShift: blue light has a negative impact on sleep, so removing blue tones from screens before bedtime will help you sleep better.
While we didn’t notice any significant improvement to our sleep when using the H2O before bed, we didn’t notice any sleep disturbance either, which is probably the desired effect.
The only drawback with this feature is that at times the colored lighting felt artificial, and it could take some getting used to if you’re used to reading on paper.
That said, the ability to read in any lighting is a massive benefit of backlit ereaders, and Aura H2O excels in this respect. The 6.8 inch e-ink display looks crisp and clear, even in bright direct sunlight.
- Compact and easy to hold in one hand
- Dimpled plastic on back for grip
The design on the Kobo Aura H2O is reassuringly solid without being heavy. The shape and weight of the device mean you can easily hold it in one hand, making it the perfect companion to take with you on public transport.
We did notice that after about an hour of reading one-handed it became a little tiring on the thumb, but that’s not the biggest inconvenience.
At 8.9mm the Aura H2O is thicker than the Aura One (6.9mm), which isn’t surprising considering Kobo had a much larger body in which to spread the innards around with the One.
Compared to its Amazon counterparts, the H2O is thinner than the Kindle Paperwhite (9.1mm), but thicker than the Kindle Voyage (7.6mm).
It’s also worth noting that the H2O is heavier than both those Kindle devices, at 210g compared to the Paperwhite’s 205g and the Voyage’s 180g, but like we said we found the weight very comfortable, even when reading for extended periods.
The back of the device is covered in a dappled plastic that aids grip. This is both a blessing and a curse – it helps you to grip the device, but it easily catches dust and dirt, so while the device is dust-proof it’s difficult to keep completely clean. We imagine this becoming more of an issue if you stash your Kobo in a sand-infested beach bag.
There’s only one button on the Aura H2O, a blue power button on the back of the device, leaving the front clear and uncluttered for your reading pleasure.
- Easy to read even in direct sunlight
- At 265 pixels per inch, it’s lower-res than Kindle counterparts
- Larger screen than all the Kindle devices
If you’re unfamiliar with e-ink displays, they’re quite a different experience to a screen on a phone or a tablet. While it’s not exactly like looking at paper, there is something not exactly digital about the screen that makes reading on one much more pleasant.
One of the significant differences between a regular screen and an e-ink one is the ability to read comfortably in direct sunlight, and the Aura H2O’s display is a particularly good example.
While we were using it there wasn’t a single environment, from bright sunlight to pitch black, in which we couldn’t read the Kobo.
Thanks to Kobo’s ComfortLight PRO technology, the backlighting on the H2O responds not only to the ambient light but also the time of day, changing the color of the screen to remove blue hues as it gets closer to bedtime – you can manually set your bedtime too, so the device knows when to start the color shift.
The resolution of the Kobo is a generous 1440 x 1080, with the text looking smooth and clear even when enlarged to the max, with eight words filling the page. That number isn’t quite as high as its Kindle counterparts equating to 265 pixels per inch versus 300 pixels per inch for the Paperwhite, Voyage and Oasis.
Whether this matters will be a case of personal preference – resolution isn’t quite as important on an ereader as it is on a phone or tablet that you’re using for watching high-definition video content – but we can say that the H2O’s lower resolution didn’t bother us in the slightest.
The display on the Aura H2O is a very pleasant 6.8 inches – that’s not quite as big as the massive Aura One, but it is almost an inch bigger than all of the Kindle devices, and if you’re used to paperback books the screen will feel closer to the typical page size.
- The battery should comfortably last a week on a single charge
- Easy to charge using supplied USB cable
- Not the best battery life, but easily enough to get through a book
Kobo claims the battery on the Aura H2O will last close to two months based on 30 minutes of reading a day with ComfortLight PRO and Wi-Fi turned off, but frankly we can’t see many users having their device set up in this way.
In the week we spent with the H2O we saw the battery drop from 100% to 63% with fairly intense use.
Of course, if you were on holiday and reading all day every day the battery would probably only last a week (if that), which would mean charging would be necessary.
The H2O’s Kindle competitors make fairly similar claims, and return fairly similar results. The Paperwhite, for example, claims a battery life of six weeks, but we found that it could only achieve that level of endurance when the brightness was set to its lowest and Wi-Fi was off.
Unfortunately we didn’t have the Aura H2O for long enough to test Kobo’s ‘two-month’ claim, but we did play around with the easy-to-access battery-saving functions, which made a difference to how quickly the charge dropped – although as mentioned this requires turning off key functions, which is limiting on a device that only does one thing to start with.
Charging is easy via the USB-to-micro USB cable that’s included in the box – plug this into a USB port and a blue LED will tell you that the device is charging.
When we charged our review model from 63% to fully charged it took about an hour and 45 minutes. Extrapolating from that, you’ll be looking at about six hours for a full charge if starting from empty using a computer’s USB port.
- Easy-to-search back catalogue of books
- Limited selection in comparison with the competition
There are no two ways about it: the Kobo store is more limited than the Amazon’s Kindle store. The Kobo store still has over five million titles, and all the latest bestsellers, but it pales in comparison with Amazon’s offering.
Also, the Kindle store usually has reductions on the books it sells (especially during Black Friday), meaning the same titles will probably end up being a more expensive from Kobo. Kobo does have sales, but they tend not to be as extensive nor as generous.
If you've had a Kindle in the past, and have purchased a large catalog of books through Amazon's service you won't be able to transfer these purchases to the Kobo. You'll have to start your library from scratch. The same is true if you currently have a Kobo and are currently mulling a switch to Kindle.
Some Kobo devices offer access to its Overdrive app, which allows users to ‘borrow’ ebooks from their local library. The H2O unfortunately doesn’t have this feature, so you’re limited to the books you’ve bought.
It’s a shame Kobo hasn’t brought this feature to this device, as it’s a competitor to Kindle’s Unlimited service, which offers unlimited access to over 1 million books for a monthly fee.
- Easily customisable reader experience
- Simple-to-use controls for easy navigation
- Intuitive bookstore with recommendations and useful lists
One of the things that makes the Kobo Aura H2O a real pleasure to use it how customizable the experience is. On top of the previous mentioned font size, you can also change the font itself.
You have the choice of ten different fonts, including the open source dyslexic font, which is quite a revelation if you are a dyslexia sufferer and have never come across the font before.
There are four different options for how to control page turns, meaning it can work for right and left handed people equally well, and if you prefer tapping the bottom of the screen to change page, you can do that too.
Likewise, if you want to see your progress as page number, percentage, or time left in chapter, the choice is yours.
With e-ink displays there is a slight ghosting of the previous screen that carries over when you turn the page. Every so often the page will refresh, the screen with flash black and load the next page.
With the H2O you can choose how often this process happens, so if you find the ghosting jarring you can make the page refresh every turn, or if you feel that the flash of black takes you out of the reading experience you can reduce it to once every six pages.
Highlighting and Dictionary are both useful features, and the ability to make notes on highlights is brilliant, especially as you can search notes to link together disparate parts of a book that relate.
There is a delay between making a menu selection and the H2O responding which does take a little getting used to, especially if you are expecting it to respond like a tablet. This is most obvious when navigating between pages of the menu.
The Kobo does a good job of recommending books that it thinks you will like based on your previous reading choices. If you would rather read something completely new but don’t know what you’re looking for, there are a number of different recommended lists, including a Top 50 and the New York Times Bestseller lists.
Activity trackers give you all of your stats so you can see how many hours you have been reading for, average minutes per session, and average pages per minute. Our device showed 0 for most of these results no matter how much we read, which was disappointing.
There is an awards page where there are gaming style awards for different reading achievements, which is a fun feature, although not something that we necessarily need from an ereader.
Unlike some of the Kindle readers, Kobo does not offer cellular connectivity on any of its devices, meaning the only way to download new books is to connect to Wi-Fi.
This will mean that if you’re going away on holiday to somewhere with no Wi-Fi you will need to plan ahead, although with 8GB of storage there is plenty of capacity for even the most voracious reader to be satisfied.
The Kobo Aura H2O is a genuine pleasure to read. It is difficult for any product to stand out in a market so completely dominated by Kindle, but Kobo does a good job with both the Kobo Aura One and the H2O.
The H2O doesn’t quite have the same amount of unique features as the One, so the strengths it does have it shouts loudly, going so far as to actually call the product H2O.
As the one thing that Amazon hasn’t managed to deliver yet, it makes sense to really sell the H2O on its waterproofing.
The waterproofing isn’t a light ‘spill your drink on it’ kind of waterproofing either, it delivers waterproofing in spades. As previously mentioned, we tried to drown the H2O for 55 minutes and it was literally like water off a duck’s back. The device showed absolutely no sign that anything was out of the norm the second we took it out of the water.
The screen is crisp and easy to read, with a glut of options for customising your reader experience, from font type and size to refresh rate and backlighting, meaning if you can’t calibrate it to a setting you’re happy with we’d be very surprised.
The backlighting has the clever ComfortLight PRO, that changes the hue of light illuminating the screen to remove blue tones so that readers that enjoy a book before bed won’t have their sleep disturbed by looking at a screen before nodding off.
One of the major drawbacks with any Kobo reader is the bookstore in comparison with the Kindle store. As discussed on the previous page, the Kobo store is more limited in its selection of books and also the discounts it offers.
If you think this may be a deciding factor for you, the best thing we can recommend is to look at the Kobo and Kindle stores and check if they have the type of books you usually read and how much they are on each store.
Who's this for?
This is a device for someone who is new to the ereader market, who wants a device that they can throw in a beach bag, read by the pool, drop in the bath, and not worry about too much.
If you already have the original Kobo Aura H2O or Aura One and are thinking about upgrading we’d say don’t bother. There isn’t enough of an improvement to make it worth the investment.
Should you buy it?
The Kobo Aura H2O poses an interesting question about priorities. It doesn’t have the best battery on the market, it doesn’t have the best screen on the market, it doesn’t have the best bookstore on the market, but it does have a feature that none of its competitors can match, its waterproofing.
We know that we have talked a lot about the waterproofing on the H2O but if you are the type of reader who wants to read in the bath, or by the pool, or on the beach and not have to worry, this really is a game-changer. Does it make it worth the compromises? We think it does.
There are, as we've said, several competitors to the new Aura H20, so make sure you check out its rivals below.
The Paperwhite is Amazon's most popular ereader and for good reason. It's arguably the best value ereader on the market. What's more, with the 2015 upgrade, the Paperwhite now has the same resolution screen as the more flagship Amazon devices.
At $119 (£109.99, AU$190) it's a quality ereader for significantly less than the Kobo Aura H2O, while benefitting from Amazon's superior bookstore. It's also worth noting that Kindles are often included in Black Friday deals so if you can wait until then you can get one for even less.
Read the full review here.
Kobo Aura One
The Aura One is different from the other ereaders on the market because of one significant thing, its size. Its screen dwarfs all the others on the market, so if little screens annoy you, this is the ereader for you.
What's more it has the same waterproofing as the H2O, so if you like the sound of the H2O but are looking for a more luxe version, then you need to check out the One. The premium product does come at a premium price though, the One is $229.99 (£189.99, AU$349.95)
Read the full review here.