Full Review of the Kobo Aura H2O
Aug
26

Full Review of the Kobo Aura H2O

By

Kobo H20

Kobo has an obsession on what constitutes the perfect e-reading experience and they have been feverishly working towards this ideal. They have slowly been evolving their product line to fall in line with the quintessential five B’s of bookselling; Bath, Backyard, Bedroom, Bus and Beach.

The brand new Kobo Aura H2O e-Reader is the most complete device the Toronto based company has ever released. It was designed to be able be completely submerged in five meters of water, for up to fifty minutes, which finally allows users to safely read in the bath and beach.

We spoke to Kobo CEO Michael Tamblyn in prelude to the formal unveiling and he mentioned that “The H2O follows the same design principles of the Kobo Aura. When the Aura first came out we expected that the premium 6.8 inch screen would only account for 2% of our companies sales, and within a few months it captured 25%. We are hoping to replicate the success of the Aura with the H2O, which is slimmer, lighter and can be used on vacations.”

Hardware

hardware

The Kobo Aura H2O features a 6.8 inch e-ink Carta touchscreen display with a resolution of 1430×1080. Carta Imaging Film offers a 50% improvement in contrast ratio over previous generation of e-Paper displays. This allows for faster page turns and the ability to turn pages in a digital book, without the need of constant screen refreshes.

The Aura HD and Aura H2O e-readers are not using a capacitive touchscreen display, which means it does not have pinching and zooming capabilities. Instead, it is employing Infrared technology from Neonode.

One of the main benefits of the H2O e-Reader is the ability to enjoy eBooks, graphic novels or newspapers in lowlight conditions or complete darkness. Unlike a smartphone or tablet that has an LCD screen that emits light from behind a layer of film, the H2O has five LED lights on the bottom of the bezel. It shines upwards, insuring even light distribution and makes it easier to devour books without eye strain.

Kobo has managed to attain the prestigious IP67 certification for their first waterproof device. It will basically allow users to have the e-Reader completely submerged in five meters of water for an hour, with the MicroUSB and MiscroSD ports closed. This makes the H2O the most complete, well-rounded device the market and eliminates the need to send off your reader to a third party and pay over $60 for them to waterproof it for you. During underwater tests I found that even completely submerged in water, you can still turn pages and access the core functionality.

IMG_6195

Underneath the hood is a Freescale i.MX507 1GHZ processor and 512MB of RAM. It ships with 4GB of internal storage and can be expanded further via a MicroSD for up to 32GB of additional memory. Basically, if you max your storage, you can store over 30,000 books on your e-Reader and not have to charge it for up to two months.
Prior models of the Kobo Aura and Kobo Aura HD has the MicroSD, MicroUSB and status indicator light on the bottom. This model still has the slots in the same place, but has a new waterproof flap that snuggly closes in order to truly make it waterproof.

On a hardware level my only complaint is that the screen is not flush with the bezel like it is on the Kobo Aura or the Tolino Vision. In a world of tablets and smartphones, it could be a weird adjustment for people go from that to a sunken screen.

Software

IMG_6162

The Kobo Aura H2O features a home screen that is heavily dynamic in nature. If you create a new bookshelf, buy an eBook or start reading a newspaper an entry will be automatically created right on the home screen. This enables users to be able to quickly jump into reading digital content, without the need of jumping through a lot of hoops. Underneath the book title on your home screen a percentage rating is generated, depending on how far you are in the book.

Kobo has added a sync button right on the home screen and this button accomplishes a few things. If you purchase an eBook on your smartphone or tablet via the Kobo App, all of the content will automatically be downloaded to your H2O if you hit the sync button. Additionally, it is also used to query the Kobo servers for any potential firmware updates and prompt you for an upgrade.

One of the things I liked about the new sync system is the visual cues it provides. Prior models of Kobo would just have a loading animation, with no indications on what it was doing behind the scenes. Now, when it syncs it gives text based updates on the top. By default, it will say it is syncing reading life, awards and firmware updates.

h20 settings-wet

I noticed a number of small bugs that are easily solved by tweaking some options in the setting menu. By default, the H2O will prompt you to wipe off the screen if it becomes wet. This notification appears when you load up a PDF file and does not disappear. Likely, this is occurring because of the oil in your hands, but you  can turn it off by going into “Reading Settings” and deselecting the Water Notification flag. Also, on the main screen you see curated content by Kobo, recommended reads and eBooks they recommend. There is an option to turn this off, but once it is disabled it is impossible to re-enable it.

Finally, Kobo has maintained their Reading Statistics system on the home screen. This gives you a sense of progression and monitors your reading habits. There are plenty of metrics to keep track of, such as how long it takes you to read a specific page of text or the average amount of time it takes to read a book.

e-Reading Experience

Reading 1

Kobo does an amazing job in making their e-readers appealing to both casual and hardcore users. They have plenty of advanced options that the competition simply cannot match, such as the ability to load in your own fonts. They also have a bunch of sliders that allow unparalleled flexibility in determining how much weight you want your fonts to have and configure the margins and line spaces.

The Aura H2O was designed to excel at reading the two most popular electronic book formats, PDF and EPUB. They also have support for manga, graphic novels and comic books with CBR and CBZ, so users will be able to download them from the internet and easily load them on their reader. When it comes right down to it, it reads: EPUB, EPUB3, PDF, MOBI, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, TIFF, TXT, HTML, RFT, CBZ, and CBR.

When you are reading a book, you have a number of options you can employ. Aside from font and customization options you can long-press on a word and get an instant definition of it. If you speak another language, you can look the word up in Japanese, Italian, German, Dutch, and many more. When long-pressing a word, you get an anchor that will allow you to select a single word, sentence, or entire paragraph. You can then highlight it or add a note. When you add a note, a virtual keyboard appears that allows you to manually add one.

Have you ever wanted to know more about a particular character, or learn more about the world they live in? “Beyond the Book” is a program Kobo unveiled in late 2013 and is quite similar to Amazon’s X-Ray feature, Beyond the Book allows a user to find more information about part of the book, providing similar topics, books, and authors. Not all titles have the Beyond the Book, so if your specific eBook is missing it, please do not fret.

PDF

The Kobo Aura allows you to pinch and zoom to isolate specific bodies of text, but this model does not have this feature, primarily due to the fact is not using a capacitive touchscreen. Instead, you have to double tap the center of a specific document to enable zoom. A small bar is on the bottom of the screen, which you can think of your magnification settings, this allows you to manually configure the zoom level. While you are zoomed in there is a preview pane in the top left hand corner. You can think of this pane as a snapshot of the specific page you are on, which helps orientate on the exact position in the PDF. If you have zoomed in and want to maintain your settings, you can flip to the next page and your exact zoom level is still preserved.

Many PDF files are massive in size and eclipse 150MB, such as eTextbooks, role playing games and medical journals. The Kindle Paperwhite e-reader really buckles under the weight and but the H2O handles them like a boss. We normally load in a 50 MB science journal and a 189 MB D&D Monsters Manual, both of them handled them fairly well.

When you start amassing a large library of eBooks, collection management becomes a big issue. Kobo has a system that allows you to create custom bookshelves, where you can select the eBooks you want to include. For example, you can create a bookshelf to house all of your Fantasy and Science Fiction titles and another for Literary Fiction.

When it comes to buying books, Kobo simply has the most massive ecosystem in the world. They have over 4 million digital titles, which not includes eBooks but also kids’ books, graphic novels, newspapers, magazines, manga and comics. They officially sell this content in over 84 countries and if you don’t live in a supported country, you are automatically sent over to the one closest to where you reside. I found the Kobo Store used to not load all of the cover art and text based assets quickly in prior models, the H2O loads everything very quickly.

Wrap up

glowlight

The Kobo Aura H2O is the byproduct of multiple generations of e-readers, and the constant refinement of software and hardware. The H2O is considered to be the most complete e-Reader Kobo has ever produced.

When it comes to freedom, the H2O provides it in spades. Not having to fret over spilled coffee or getting sand stuck under the screen is liberating. You can read it just as easily in direct sunlight as you can in complete darkness, e-reading technology just took a giant leap forward.

Kobo sometimes receives a lot of flak for their abysmal customer service when it comes to hardware repairs or errors in purchasing books. We have seen thousands of comments on our news site about most people experiencing the same type of errors, with no resolution in sight. The company has tried very hard over the years to simplify the process, and are closer than ever with their live chat and 1-800 numbers, but they still have a long way to go.

In the end, if you have a Kobo Glo, Kobo Touch or even a Kobo Aura, I would recommend you upgrade to the H2O. There isn’t any new e-ink technology on the horizon that you should be saving yourself for, and the only new thing that will be out next year is a Kobo e-Reader that will likely have Wacom support and be bundled with a stylus for note taking.

The Kobo Aura H2O comes out October 1st in Canada and the United States for $179. It comes out at the same time in the Uk costing £139.99 and in Europe for €179.00.

PROS

Reads many popular eBook formats
Waterproof
e-Ink Carta screen
You can bring it anywhere and read anytime
Global eBook system that appeals to a worldwide audience

CONS

Beyond the Book not available in most modern best sellers
The lack of pinch and zoom may turn some people off
Constant water droplet notifications are annoying.

Rating: 8/10


Michael Kozlowski (4314 Posts)

Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about electronic readers and technology for the last four years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the Huffington Post, CNET and more. Michael frequently travels to international events such as IFA, Computex, CES, Book Expo and a myriad of others. If you have any questions about any of his articles, please send an email to michael@goodereader.com


  • Enna

    “The Kobo Aura H20 features a six inch e-ink Carta touchscreen display with a resolution of 1430×1080. ” Screen is 6.8″, not 6″.

  • Pam

    I typed a wonderfully long thank you about your review. But in the signing in all that was lost. :( Mentioned that a had one of the original Kobos (with button to turn page) and seriously considering upgrading to the Aura H2O. Thanks guys! Cheers!!

  • http://goodereader.com/blog/ Good E-Reader

    Whoops, made the adjustment. Also, we posted a new picture under “hardware” that shows the back of the unit.

  • Claude Champagne

    I’m eager to see you compare it to the Aura HD !

  • MassDeduction

    the article repeatedly calls it the Aura H20 (as in H-twenty). I rather think they mean to call it the Aura H2O (as in H-two-oh, or water).

  • sizuco

    Looks like a great device, but you should add “expensive” to the cons – $180 for an ereader in this day in age is a bit steep.

  • http://goodereader.com Michael Kozlowski

    Well this is the same price the original Aura HD debuted for. Kobo calls it a “premium e-reader” but since it bucks the trend of your standard six inch device with 6.8 inch screen, i think its justified, but will inevitably come down.

  • http://goodereader.com Michael Kozlowski

    Thanks, made the adjustment!

  • http://goodereader.com Michael Kozlowski

    We intend on comparing to the the Nook Glowlight, Kobo Aura HD and others.

  • Jab

    I was really looking forward to this device, but the dunken display May turn me off. I will wait until I can hold one in my hands.

  • http://goodereader.com Michael Kozlowski

    Yeah, personally, i wish all e-readers were designed like the Kobo Aura or Tolino Vision. The screen flush with the bezel and capacitive touchscreen display is a step in the right direction.

  • Yo’av

    Looks promising, a little hesitant about it because of price and that the zoom feature is not available… Look forward to the comparison reviews.

  • Jab

    It also does have its drawbacks. I frequently unintentionally touch the screen on the aura. Something that happened a lot less on the glow. And I also frequently unintentionally change the font size through pinch and zoom while adjusting the brightness with two fingers…

  • http://www.tohodo.com/ Tom

    Thanks for the review. Two things: “Carta Imaging Film offers a 50% improvement in contrast ratio over previous generation of e-Paper displays. This allows for faster page turns and the ability to turn pages in a digital book, without the need of constant screen refreshes.” I’m not sure how the improved contrast results in faster page turns with fewer refreshes — these two things don’t seem related. Also, the reason this device has a sunken screen is because the Neonode IR tech requires it (the IR shoots out from the inner sides of the bezel to form a touch detection grid). In fact, I’m surprised to see the screen not sunk any lower as it is on my Neonode N2 — it seems Neonode’s tech has really improved since they stopped making smartphones ;).

  • Mehdi

    Thanks for the very first review of Kobo Aura H2O. Requesting a side-by-side demonstration of screen quality and reading experience of this one with Kindle Paperwhite 2 because they both have the same display tech (e-ink Carta) but with different resolution. Thanks again guys!

  • Dave

    “It was designed to be able be completely submerged in five meters of water, for up to fifty minutes” is actually an incorrect statement. The Kobo Aura H20 is IP67 certified making the eReader waterproof up to 30 minutes in 1 metre of water (port cover closed).

  • Laura Rainbow

    2 weeks ago I dropped my bellowed Kobo Aura in the sea. I was (and still am) heartbroken. I kept it in rice to try to dry it out. Have decided yesterday to mourn and bury it. And ordered another identical. This morning couldn’t believe my luck when I saw the announcement about H2O. Hastily I cancelled my order but now I am not sure if I have done the right thing. How big a deal is not to have screen flush with the bezel. Is the difference in weight/ size very noticeable? (I have very small hands). Help!

  • Albin

    Call me greedy, but the “perfect e-reading experience” would be a high-end e-ink device running Android that would permit installation of the Kobo, Nook, Kindle and (here in Canada) library Overdrive and any other Google Play supported app on the same machine.

    The various ins and outs and costs versus benefits of e-ink readers being chained to specific retail catalogs and file formats has kept me reading ebooks on my phone.

  • Apathetic

    http://waterfi.com/ waterproof any electronic device for $100 at distances much greater than 3 feet.

  • ernest ernest

    This is why I’ll continue to use my two Sony PRS readers with Calibre for portable epub reading… At least until their batteries wear out. After four years batteries still last 2 to 3 weeks! I still occasionally get kindle books and use my iPhone for reading. BUT it is not optimal though. I love e-ink tech more for reading… less eye strain and distractions.

  • Ramiro Fernandez

    And of course if they used capacitive screen like the Aura, it would be useless under water :)

  • abbibi

    It looks lovely!

    …where’s the 5 inch version?

  • Beckfield

    The Kobo website seems to indicate that the H2O does not have a button to turn the light on/off, like the Aura HD does. Is this true?

  • http://goodereader.com Michael Kozlowski

    There is no physical buttons on this at all, aside from the power button. The glowlight is turned on via software.

  • http://goodereader.com Michael Kozlowski

    There isn’t any. Apparently the Mini did not sell that well, and Kobo told me they have no plans to make another five inch model.

  • http://goodereader.com Michael Kozlowski

    I totally agree! Onyx and Icarus have made open Android readers. I doubt a company like Kobo would go this route, because they are heavily invested in their own ecosystem.

  • http://goodereader.com Michael Kozlowski

    We are filming this video for you this Friday, and hopefully will be up by the weekend.

  • http://goodereader.com Michael Kozlowski

    Yeah, apparently Neonode is focusing on the printer segment right now and in-car dashboard stuff.

  • Beckfield

    Thanks, Michael. I didn’t expect such a quick response here. You can ignore my email. :)

  • cb

    So I am wondering about the score of 8 for the H2O. The review seems to say the H2O is the best device since Gutenberg and then gives the H2O an 8. This is lower than the Paperwhite 2 (9), and the Aura HD and the Aura (both 8.5). The step-up to Carta and waterproofing leads to a lower score? ‘splain that one to me, Michael!

  • http://goodereader.com Michael Kozlowski

    There are some bugs with the firmware, even though the e-reader was not wet, fingerprints would set of the water notification system, making you have to either disable it, or having to deal with closing a pop-up window every five minutes. Beyond the Book, which is Kobos Amazon X-Ray for eBooks does not work in a huge amount of titles, such as the new JK Rowling Book, the silkworm and other super bestsellers, whereas X-Ray does work in these titles.

    The Hardware of the Aura H20 is sound, but Kobo is rather notorious for having buggy firmware and the software side of things not matching up to the build quality of said hardware.

  • abbibi

    That is terrible news!

    I guess that explains why they were on sale for so long…

  • allochi

    Laura, if there is one thing I noticed between Kobo Aura and Kobo Aura HD is that the later has clearer font, I’m not sure it’s the extra DPI, I think it’s the extra layer of touch + flush screen. Kobo Aura HD had a brighter background, but I didn’t like how it felt on my hand. With Carta e-paper update, I think you will love the new one if you liked the Kobo Aura. For me, I will wait the Kobo Aura Carta update.

  • cb

    Thanks for the quick response! Odd that the H2O has the wet detection when it is waterproof, and the other Kobos, which are not waterproof, do not. Is having buggy wet detection software really worse than having none at all? After all, it can be turned off.
    Looking forward to a Paperwhite compare. How does the H2O display, especially contrast, compare to the Aura, Aura HD Pearl ad the Paperwhite Carta? Thanks again!

  • Freddie

    Damn it! :( That would explain why I can’t find any covers (or accessories of any kind) for my Mini. Everywhere I’ve looked has been “out of stock” for months now. :(

    The Mini was the first eReader that was available in the “impulse buy” price range ($50 CDN). Great little piece of hardware, at just the right size for sticking in your back pocket/jacket pocket. Was hoping they’d make one with a light. Guess that won’t be happening.

  • Freddie

    The Mini has a similar sunken screen. Personally, I like it, as it makes it easier to grip the bezel without accidentally touching the screen, as you can feel the lip delineating the two.

    My phone (LG G2) as extremely tiny bezels that are level with the screen and I’m constantly touching the sides as I reach across the screen, accidentally pressing icons I don’t want to. (Yes, that’s bad touch software on LG’s part, but still.)

  • Sean Lawrence

    Is there any way to highlight multiple sentences that do not amount to a paragraph? Am I limited to highlighting a word, a sentence or a paragraph, or can I highlight any chunk of text?

  • 93terp

    The status of the sync is NOT new with the Aura H2O! I have the Aura HD w/firmware version 3.3, and when I sync I get the status (i.e. updating reading life, updating rewards, etc…). This functionality has been available on the Aura HD for several firmware updates now.

  • http://www.gardenezi.com Julie Lake

    Very helpful review for when I have to upgrade from my 2 year old Kobo Glo. It’s not clear whether the H20 has backlighting, like the Glo? One question – I find my Glo very difficult when it comes to going backwards and forwards several pages – the little round thingy on the sliding bar doesn’t slide evenly or responsively. Is it possible to move to another page just by inputting a number? And, if so, how? My old Hanvon Reader was much easier to use in this respect – you just typed in a page number and, as with a computer, there it wentl Thanks for a good review.

  • http://www.gardenezi.com Julie Lake

    I see you have already sort of answered my backlighting query Michael though I’m not sure what you mean by “turning it on with software”.

  • ETShockey

    I would suggest that there is a difference between design and certification. To be certified, a product must meet minimum criteria. While the quoted statement may or may not be correct with respect to the actual design of product capabilities, it suggests the product exceeds the minimum certification criteria. Implication … the product should continue to function upon retrieval from the deep end of the pool.

  • http://www.tohodo.com/ Tom

    Hi Michael, since I don’t have access to the Aura H2O, could you please me know if the built-in dictionary has a definition for the work “grok”? If yes, what is the definition? This is sort of my litmus test to gauge the quality of a dictionary. The dictionary is very important to me and I’d like to compare it with my Kindle’s Oxford dictionary, which is one of the best IMHO.

  • Laura Rainbow

    Thank you Freddie, that’s encouraging.

  • Laura Rainbow

    Allochi, all I can say is, now I can’t wait for the 1st Sept to order H2O:-)

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  • danny relic

    Hi, great review. I’m considering between the Kobo Aura 6 inch and this new Kobo aura h20. My question is simply this: which device is overall better? Does the higher screen resolution & carta technology of the h20 make it the better choice ? Does the better contrast of the h20 translate to better quality text? Or does the flat screen flush of the aura make it a better reading experience. ?

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  • Danish Tom

    Hello, thank you for the review.
    Nonetheless I try to find a really important info for me prior to buy this device : is this able to host apps ?
    In particular I’d like to read my instapaper saved pages on the Kobo, but offline, like you do on the iphone with the app for exemple.
    Also I’d like to use something like Reeder on it (it’s a RSS reader also capable to save things offline), but I can’t find anything about it..
    I consider a e-reader device should be capable to display anything to read, and not only patented ebooks coming from the store. I would like to save and read many content offline, while in the train for exemple.
    Thank you if you have an answer

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  • jalyst

    Has a compare between the 2 (KPW2 & this) been done yet?

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  • Linda

    Eeek! Couldn’t care less about the latest Apple releases but I’m giddy
    about this! Lost my trusty Kobo Touch on vacation last summer and miss
    it dearly. Have been really tempted to replace it with a Glo now that
    the price has come down so far (and I really like the quilt backing on
    the older Kobos) but wanted to see what they would come out with new and
    WATERPROOF IS BRILLIANT. Not usually an early adopter but I think I’ll
    be taking the plunge on the H2O!

  • http://goodereader.com Michael Kozlowski

    Yeah the H20 is fairly sweet, easily the best 6.8 inch e-reader ever made.

  • http://goodereader.com Michael Kozlowski

    You can’t install apps, but it does come with POCKET – Read it Later.

  • http://goodereader.com Michael Kozlowski

    I think the 6.8 inch screen makes it easier to read, although the Kobo Aura i think provides a better experience.

  • http://goodereader.com Michael Kozlowski

    There is a little button on the top of the UI that allows you to turn the light on or off, and control the brightness levels.

  • http://goodereader.com Michael Kozlowski

    Yeah, check out our Youtube channel http://youtube.com/goodereader/

  • butterfly

    Thank for reviewing!
    Did you notice some PWM-flicker?

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  • Ba

    Hello,

    Thanks for that nice.

    By the end of your review you talk about the possibility of a kobo with stylus for note taking. Do you have any further informations on a release date and/or specs ?

    I can’t believe there are not more Stylus e-readers, note taking is for me one of the biggest advantage of that kind of device.

  • Ba

    Review. Thank’s for that nice review. Otherwise my second line is incomprehensible.

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