Kobo Aura H2O full review

Kobo Aura H2O review

It’s what you’ve been waiting for: a book you can read underwater. Ok, maybe you haven't, but the Aura H2O is the first waterproof eReader that will shrug off sand and sea, and won’t care if you drop it while reading in a hot tub. Is it the right eReader for you? Our Kobo H20 review will tell you all you need to know.

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Kobo Aura H2O review: design and features

Aside from its water and dust resistance, the Aura H2O has another notable feature: its 6.8in screen. It’s largely the same as the one found on the Aura HD and feels quite a bit bigger than all the 6in eReaders including Amazon’s range.

It has the same 1430x1080 resolution as the Aura HD – and the Amazon Voyage – which means text is nice and sharp. From a normal reading distance the difference between this resolution and a ‘non-HD’ eReader isn’t as marked as you might expect, though.

The bigger dimensions mean you have to pinch it between your thumb and fingers as it’s a bit of a stretch to rest it on your palm with thumb on one side and fingers on the other.

The touchscreen handles all interactions, so there are no page turn buttons – just a power button on the top edge.

Hidden behind a waterproof flap at the bottom are a microUSB port, a microSD card slot and a reset pinhole. The ability to add storage isn’t really the benefit here, since the 4GB of internal memory should be more than enough. The advantage is that it’s more convenient to copy PDFs and other documents onto a card and pop it into the Aura H20 than to connect it via USB.  

There’s support for a wide range of file types including ePub, Adobe DRM, PDF, MOBI, RTF, HTML, TXT and CBZ and CBR comic-book formats. The only obvious omission is DOC, but it’s easy to convert Word files to RTF.

See also: How to borrow ebooks from your local library

Kobo Aura H2O review: Software

If you’ve used a touchscreen eReader, you won’t have any difficulty getting to grips with the Aura H2O. You tap on the right to advance a page, on the left to go back and at the top or bottom to display the menu bars.

You can change the font, size, line spacing and margins to make pages appear exactly how you like, and even choose the justification.

Should you want to, you can select passages in a book, highlight them, add notes or share them on Facebook. You can also search for those words or phrases on Google or Wikipedia.

Tap the graph icon and you’ll get stats such as the progress through the current chapter, time left before you get to the next chapter and a fun graph of the length of all the chapters in the book, plus an estimate of how long it will take to finish the book.

The latest software update includes a new page turning option which makes it easier to go forward and back if you’re holding the H2O one-handed.

On the home screen is a search bar which lets you find books in your library, or search the Kobo store for new books to buy. The store has a wide selection and prices are similar to Amazon’s.

Kobo Aura H2O review

The home screen is a little like Windows 8’s modern interface and changes all the time. The book you’re currently reading is shown prominently, but there are other sections for book recommendations based on what you’re reading. Shortcuts appear when you use other features including those from the ‘beta’ section which has a web browser, a drawing app and chess and Sudoku games.

A handy feature is the ability to access articles saved to your Pocket account. Pocket lets you mark web pages to read offline – these can then be synched to the Aura H2O. Given this, the web browser is a bit redundant and it’s also very slow and frustrating to use.

You can arrange your book library however you like, including sorting them into collections. This could be useful if you have a lot of books and want to view them by author, genre or topic. You just enter a name for the collection and select which books should be in it.

As with other Kobo eReaders, there’s an Awards section accessible from the home screen which gamifies reading: you earn badges for reading more.

Kobo Aura H2O review: The bad stuff

The Aura H2O is certainly talented, but it isn’t perfect. There’s no auto brightness, for example. However, our biggest complaint is the lack of processing power. Compared to even the £59 7th-gen Amazon Kindle, the Kobo feels sluggish.

Menus take longer to display and controls, such as the brightness slider, aren’t always responsive. You’re left wondering if you’re tapping or swiping in the right place, whether you’re pressing hard enough, or if the screen simply isn’t that responsive to touch.

The screen is also quite slow to update – page turns take noticeably longer than on the Voyage, for example – and because it doesn’t completely refresh on every page turn there’s a faint ‘ghost’ image of the previous screen visible until it does refresh. You can see text and menu bars (if you’ve used the menus) appearing a little like the show-through you get with a newspaper or magazine where the text and images from the other side of the page can be seen.

Finally, the backlight isn’t as even as we’d like. It’s not bad at all, but the bottom edge is a little darker than the rest of the screen.

Kobo Aura H2O review: Verdict

Kobo Aura H2O review

The main reason to buy the Aura H2O is for its water resistance. And for that you do pay a premium. In fact, it’s hard to find the H2O at its recommended price of £140 – many places are selling it for £25 more. The best place to go is WHSmith which stocks all Kobo eReaders.

For some people, this would be a price worth paying, but the H2O’s unresponsive interface is a big problem. Unless you need an eReader that’s waterproof and has an SD slot, you’re much better off going for a Kindle Paperwhite which is both cheaper and much more responsive.

See our Best eReaders of 2014 chart


Kobo Aura H2O: Specs

  • 6.8-inch (1430 x 1080-pixel, 265 dpi)
  • 1 GHz ARM processor
  • 4 GB flash storage
  • micro SDHC card slot (32GB max)
  • 802.11 b/g/n
  • Micro-USB port
  • 179 x 129 x 9.7 mm
  • 233g

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