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Kobo Aura H2O 2017, First Take: A waterproof e-reader that's easy on the eyes

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Written by Sandra Vogel on
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Kobo Aura H2O 2017

  • Editors' Review
  • Specs

Kobo has been active in the UK e-reader market for long enough to achieve good recognition, although it's much less well-known than Amazon with its Kindle devices. Kobo's latest offering updates an earlier device, hence its rather odd name -- 'the new Aura H2O'. The original Aura H2O appeared in late 2014.

Much has happened in e-reading in the interim. The popularity of reading in general has soared, and, in the UK at least, ebook sales have fallen while paper book sales have gone up. Amazon has launched its premium Kindle Oasis. Even more of us have mobile phones and tablets, which means wider access to free reader apps from Kobo and Amazon. And ebook lending from libraries is starting to become a 'thing'.

This makes it an interesting time for dedicated e-readers: is the tide turning against them? Kobo clearly believes there's room for its £149.99 'new Aura H2O'.

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The new Kobo Aura H2O supersedes the 2014 model of the same name.

Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

What makes the Aura H2O stand out from the crowd is its waterproofing, courtesy of HZO. Protection is to IPX8 level, which means Kobo's device can withstand immersion in 2 metres of water for up to 60 minutes. That's surely enough to secure it against accidental drops in the bath and sets it aside from all of Amazon's Kindles. I tested this feature by leaving the Aura H2O in a sink of water for half an hour, and it came out working perfectly.

There's another rather neat feature for people like me who tend to read long into the evening. The rather smart ComfortLight PRO gradually reduces blue light as the day wears on. Having this change happen automatically was useful, although those who find it irritating are free to switch over to manual mode and change the light settings as they see fit. I would have liked an auto dimmer for the backlight to complement this feature as it's slightly annoying to have to manually adjust this.

The design is uninspiring but ergonomic. The black fascia lacks any buttons -- the power button is on the back. At 207g it's a comfortable hold for extended periods; the stippled back helps with grip, while it's small enough at 129mm by 172mm by 8.8mm to slip into a bag or even a large pocket.

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A stippled rear panel helps you grip the Aura H2O.

Image: Kobo

The screen measures 6.8 inches across the diagonal, which is a little bit larger than Amazon's £109.99 Kindle Paperwhite, £169.99 Kindle Voyage and £269.99 Kindle Oasis, all of which are 6 inches across. All those devices have a 300ppi resolution, compared to the Aura H2O's 265ppi. The differences don't really matter, though: I found reading on Kobo's device a pleasurable experience.

The touchscreen caters for navigation through both books and the device menu, whose conventions are very similar to those on Amazon's Kindle. Kobo offers 11 different fonts, and other tweaks like fiddling with line spacing provide a good level of customisability.

There's 8GB of internal storage, which Kobo says is enough for 6,000 ebooks, supported formats including EPUB, EPUB3, PDF, MOBI, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, TIFF, TXT, HTML, RTF, CBZ and CBR.

Kobo says the battery lasts 'for weeks', which isn't a particularly useful metric. I got between four and six days between charges during the testing period, but voracious readers will find they need to charge more frequently than casual ones. A standard Micro-USB connector means that any old cable will do the charging job.

There's a charge light on the right of the upper bezel, and it's dim enough not to attract attention if the device is charging on a bedside table overnight. That's a good thing as it does seem to take hours to get from low battery to a full charge, and overnight is the best option. The sleep screen reports battery charge level as well as how much of the current book remains to be red. Both are neat touches.

On the other hand, having become quite used to borrowing ebooks from my public library I was upset to find the ubiquitous library lending app Overdrive not supported here. Kobo reserves Overdrive support for its flagship Aura ONE. Running Overdrive across its full range could be a winner for Kobo, as ebook library borrowing takes hold in the UK.

The new Kobo Aura H2O is just as pleasant to use as its Kindle rivals. The Kindle Oasis remains my go to e-reader, although its premium pricing puts it out of the comparison league here. Kobo steals a march on Kindle with its waterproofing, but misses a trick by leaving Overdrive out of the mix.

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