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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Reads many popular eBook formats
e-Ink Carta screen
You can bring it anywhere and read anytime
Global eBook system that appeals to a worldwide audience
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.
Michael Kozlowski has written about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve years. Newspapers and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times have picked up his articles. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.