Whether you already own an e-reader or you’re considering joining the digital book revolution, making sure you get the best e-reader for your money is essential.
During the pandemic, publishers reported an increase of about one third in eBook consumption. And as the UK Government announced that a zero VAT rate would apply to all e-publications, including eBooks and e-magazines in April 2020 – which makes them 20 per cent cheaper, bringing them in line or costing less than traditional paper versions – there really has never been a better time to get in on the trend.
Of course, when it comes to e-readers, the first thing people think about is Amazon and its line of Kindles. But Kobo has been in the e-reader business since 2010 when it launched its very first model, the Kobo touch. The company has since gone on to release several different models, including the Kobo glo, Kobo clara HD and Kobo aura HD.
Kobo started life as a cloud-based e-reading service from the Canadian bookshop chain, Indigo Books and Music called Shortcovers. But in 2009, it rebranded as Kobo and launched as an independent company. In January 2012, the Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten bought Kobo and got to work growing its user base. To date, Kobo operates in 160 countries and has around six million eBooks and 94,000 audiobooks on offer.
Like other eBook suppliers such as Amazon, Apple and Google, when you download a book from Kobo, the book is protected with digital rights management (DRM). This means that the book you’ve downloaded will only work on the device that it was initially intended for. So, Kobo books will only work on the Kobo, and books from the Amazon store will only work on the Kindle. However, if you don’t have your Kobo e-reader to hand, then you can access your downloads on an iOS or Android phone or tablet by downloading the Kobo app.
The Kobo libra H2O was first launched in September 2019. It came after the introduction of the Kobo forma in 2018, which had a lot of criticism thanks to its clunky 8in screen and expensive price tag. But it seems Kobo learnt from its mistakes, and launched the libra H2O.
We used the Kobo libra H2O exclusively for two weeks as our main e-reader. We also looked at all the aspects that make an excellent e-reader, such as battery life, display, screen brightness and how good the eBook store was. We used it for at least an hour per day to measure how well it performed. Read on to see whether we think it’s a serious competitor to the Amazon kindle.
Pros: Lightweight, water-resistant, comes with a nighttime light setting
Cons: No audiobook support, micro USB charging
The Kobo libra H2O that we tested has 8GB of storage which should hold around 5,000 average sized books. It comes in either black or white, but you can extend the range of colours with a SleepCover which you can purchase in black, grey, rose and aqua.
Unlike Amazon with its kindle unlimited service, there are no subscription options for heavy readers with Kobo. However, Kobo does have a public library service which means you can connect to your local public library and borrow titles directly to your Kobo device. This service is called OverDrive, and it’s completely free if you have a library card. Although there is one downside if you’re a member of multiple libraries – you can only link one membership with your Kobo account.
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Kobo doesn’t just limit your options to their book store, either. You can download EPUB, CBR, CUZ and PDF format files, as well as being able to purchase books from any outlet that sells Adobe DRM-protected eBooks. This is unlike Amazon, which limits their files to just AZW and Mobi formats. But the Kobo store is pretty good, and with over six million books on offer, you should be able to find what you’re looking for.
It has a 7in Carta e-ink HD display with a 300ppi resolution. The screen offers a great reading experience, and the text is crisp and super sharp.
For nighttime book lovers, it has what Kobo calls ComfortLight pro. This means the backlight goes from blue to yellow, which mimics the sun’s natural progression. This setting is automatic, and the Kobo will provide the optimal brightness depending on the time of day. So, if you’re reading in the dark, this will reduce both eye strain and blue light exposure, and we found this a nicer e-reader to use when reading just before we went to sleep.
If you don’t want to indulge in the ComfortLight pro, you can turn it off and manually choose your light setting. If you’re reading in bright sunshine, there is an option to turn the backlight off completely so you can read your book without any glare.
The H2O is very light, and the casing feels great to hold – it has a slightly texturised rubber back so it will feel secure in your hand. The design is different from other e-readers on the market as the bezel is larger so you can get a better grip, making it easier to use one-handed.
The larger bezel also has two page-turn buttons, so if you don’t want to scroll using the touch screen, you can use these buttons to turn the page. This may seem a bit pointless, but actually, when you just want to use one hand or you have a lot of pages to scroll through, they do come in handy. We found ourselves using the buttons rather than the touch-screen throughout the whole testing period.
The controls are soft to press and highly responsive. The exciting thing with the Kobo is that it’s reversible, so you can turn it any way that feels comfortable. This is a particularly useful feature for left-handed people as the buttons can still be accessed while using just one hand.
It also has a built-in gyroscope so you can turn it a full 360 degrees. That means you can read in either portrait with the buttons to the side of the screen or in landscape mode with the buttons above or below. This is a really good feature, especially if you like a large font, as landscape mode will give you more reading space. The power button is located on the rear and is perfectly placed to avoid any accidental shutdowns when you’re in the middle of reading.
Courtesy of the 8GB storage and 512MB of RAM, you can store around 5,000 eBooks on this device. Plus, it has a freescale solo lite 1GHz processor which means it’ll work quickly and efficiently too. However, there is no audiobook support with this model, which is a bit of a let down, but you can still access Kobo audiobooks by downloading the app to your iOS or Android device.
The Kobo interface also has two navigation areas which can be accessed by either swiping up or swiping down. The top navigation will give you full access to the settings where you can adjust brightness, automatic rotation, as well as adjusting letter spacing, typeface and font size. The bottom navigation will give reader stats such as reading speed, time to complete the chapter, page numbers and location markers. There are also other reading features such as looking up words or adding annotations which can be accessed just by highlighting the word or section in question.
This model also features an enhanced eBook scrubber which makes flipping back and forth throughout the book without losing your spot effortless. This is a great feature for students who may need to reference a part of a book or for use in cookbooks and other reference books.
As the name may suggest, this e-reader is waterproof and has added HZO protection (which protects the device from corrosive liquids). It meets all the requirements of the IPX8 rating, which means it’s waterproof for up to 60 minutes in two meters of water. If you are planning on reading whilst underwater, then you can’t use the touch-screen when this device is submerged, but the page turn buttons work fine.
We’ve already talked about how you can use your device with your local library, but another feature that we absolutely love is that it has integrated access to pocket – an app for saving and managing reading material. So if you want to save articles, blog posts or news items on your computer, you can then read them on your Kobo at your own convenience.
The battery life on the Kobo libra H2O is superb. It has a 1,200mAh battery which was barely reduced during our two week test period. We are confident that the several week battery life quoted by Kobo will stand up. We used it for at least an hour a day for two weeks with moderate brightness, and not even a quarter of the battery was used. We even left the Wi-Fi on, so turn that off, and your battery will last even longer.
The battery uses a micro USB to charge, and the port is situated on the top end of the large bezel, so it can still be used whilst charging. However, a full charge only takes around two hours.
We loved the Kobo libra H2O. It was comfortable to use, super responsive, and there were plenty of choices when it came to content, thanks to its wide range of format support. This model matches all the premium features found on other brands of e-reader while maintaining a reasonable price.
It’s also a must if you enjoy reading before bed because the ComfortLight pro really does make this a pleasant reading experience. The automatic light settings will mean less eye strain and less pesky blue light, which can disrupt your sleep.
If you’re an avid reader who likes a subscription service like kindle unlimited, or you’re already deep into the Amazon ecosystem, you may find a kindle would suit your needs better. However, if you’re a bit more relaxed about where you get your content, and you want to be able to access online articles or content in other formats, then the Kobo is a no-brainer.
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