Reading in the bath is probably the most noble pastime there is. Noone's going to bother you, you have a good book, it's nice and warm, you're marinating in your own filth... Anyway. The Kobo Aura HD was already an excellent e-reading device, but the Kobo Aura H2O, like the name suggests, adds a whole bunch of waterproofing to make this e-reader even more hardy than a Thomas Hardy hardcover.
What Is It?
- Screen Size: 6.8-inch
- Screen Type: Carta E-Ink HD e-paper (touchscreen)
- Resolution: 1430x1080 pixels
- Battery: Up to 2 months
- Storage: 4GB, up to 32GB microSD
- Charging: yes (microUSB 2.0)
The $229 Kobo Aura H2O is the updated iteration of the Aura HD, and as such it's built around a 6.8-inch e-paper touchscreen with an extremely high 1430x1080pixel resolution. It's roughly the same size, too, at 129mm tall, 79mm across and 9.7mm thick -- about the size of your common or garden 7-inch Android tablet but a fair bit smaller than an iPad mini.
The back and front bezels of the Aura H2O are hard-wearing, soft-touch rubberised plastic, with a quadruple-plane geometric design that really looks quite modern and attractive without screaming for attention. Beyond a Kobo logo on the front and back, a power button, and a microUSB port behind a waterproof door, there's not too much else to remark on about the Aura H2O's looks.
That Kobo panel, the 6.8-inch Carta E Ink HD touchscreen, is your portal to anything you might want to do with the Aura H2O. Because it's a touchscreen, any buttons -- potential points of ingress for any sneaky water droplets -- are unnecessary, and that contributes to the H2O's 1-metre, 30-minute IP67 waterproofing certification. As you'd expect, the Aura H2O's interface is straightforward and grid-based and easy to understand, but more on that later.
The other talking point that the Kobo Aura H2O has is its continually-refined-and-improved Comfortlight screen lighting. Now able to light up almost the entire length and breadth of the screen with no perceptible difference in brightness, Comfortlight is what makes your e-reader visible in the dark -- perfect for a few hours of study on a long-haul redeye flight, or just for a quick reading session while your partner is already fast asleep in bed.
What's It Good At?
Kobo Aura H2O on the left, Kindle Paperwhite 2 on the right.
The screen on the Kobo Aura H2O is beautiful. There's something about e-paper that is just attractive; it doesn't have the depth of a colour LCD or OLED display, and no sandwiched layers of glass hiding everything, so it looks way more like a piece of paper than the name and specifications might suggest. Kobo has done a brilliant job on the Comfortlight system, too, with a front-light that is basically the perfect tone of white. It makes outdoor and night-time reading possible and fun.
The waterproofing, too, is a godsend. It sounds like a simple addition, and it is, but being able to use your e-reader in the bath is just really nice. In the same way that I think waterproofing is one of the most important things to consider when you're buying a new smartphone, I actually think you should give the Aura H2O that extra little bit of consideration.
The interface of the Aura H2O is straightforward; you get a home screen that's actually quite close to the Windows 8.1 Start screen, with large tiles to access your library, the Kobo store, top 50 titles, and so on. When you jump into a title, it's presented cleanly, with little fluff around the edges to distract you -- and you can adjust text size, kerning, margins and so on until you find a setup that you're happy with.
What's It Not Good At?
Kobo's software onboard the Aura H2O doesn't deal with PDFs very well. It slays ePUB and MOBI like there's no tomorrow, but it doesn't automatically resize PDFs or optimise the text within to appear on the H2O's screen layout (which you can adjust impressively minutely for the more flexible text file formats).
It's (very slightly) disappointing that Kobo hasn't gotten onboard the Amazon Kindle bandwagon of worldwide 3G connectivity for its Aura e-readers. Granted, it's not hard to find free Wi-Fi almost anywhere these days, but the Kindle Paperwhite 3G's ability to download a book just about anywhere is enviable. Wi-Fi does the Kobo Aura H2O just fine, at least.
It's also worth doing a little research into which books you think you'll want to read, and then compare prices across the different book-sellers. Amazon is rarely easily beaten, and if you're buying a lot of books, you might be better off with a non-waterproof Kindle. If you're an occasional reader, then you may as well eat the difference for the quality and the versatility of the Aura H2O.
The Aura H2O is waterproof, but once you get the screen wet, you have to clean it off in some way -- whether that's by wiping it off with a dry or damp cloth, or by shaking the water droplets off, or by drying it with sheer willpower -- before you can use it again. You can tap away at it while it's completely underwater, just not while it's partially underwater.
Should You Buy It?
The $229 Kobo Aura H2O is a niche device. It's an e-reader, sure, but it's only differentiated from its competition by the fact that it's waterproof. And that's a genuinely useful feature, but is it enough to make it a must-buy? Probably not, for most people. If you consider it an added extra, albeit a good one, that's probably the best way to look at it.
It helps, though, that the Aura H2O is an objectively good e-reader, when considered in abstract. Its screen is beautiful, its Comfortlight works well and makes it possible to view the display in dark or bright light equally, the design is straightforward and attractive, its interface is simple.
Amazon may have the edge on the range and price of books available on its service, but Kobo has a waterproof slate that is just good fun to read. If you want to buy an e-reader -- and you should, because they're so much nicer than reading on a tablet -- then the Kobo Aura H2O is well worth your consideration.