The Kobo Libra 2 is a brand new e-reader that has just become available in late October, 2021. This device has a few major selling points, it has double the storage from the original Libra 1 and it is now possible to buy audiobooks from the Kobo bookstore and listen to them via wireless headphones or an external speaker, such as a Sonos sound bar. It is only slightly more expensive than the Libra 2, by about $10 in Canada and the US.
The Libra 2 features a 7 inch E INK Carta 1200 display with a resolution of 1264×1680 with 300 PPI. What exactly is this new e-paper technology? E Ink Carta 1200 delivers a 20% increase in response time over E Ink Carta 1000, and an improvement in the contrast ratio of 15%. E Ink Carta 1200 modules consist of a TFT (thin film transistor), Ink layer and Protective Sheet. The touchscreen is actually incorporated into the module stack. Traditionally, the capacitive touch technology is placed on top of the display module. This one is built into it, which helps reduce costs.
The e-reader screen is not completely flush with the bezel, there is a very small incline, a small dip.. The screen is protected by glass substrate, which protects the e-paper display. I have often found that there are normally problems with using glass that is covering e-paper. I have noticed with bright overhead light, you will get reflections on the screen and also under direct sun.
Underneath the hood is a 1 GHZ single core processor, 512MB of RAM and 32 GB of internal storage. It has USB-C to charge the device and has a respectable 1,500 mAH battery. You will be able to connect up to the Kobo Bookstore, Overdrive and access Pocket via WIFI. It has Bluetooth 5.1 in order to connect up a pair of headphones to listen to audiobooks.
This device is waterproof with an IPX8 rating, so it can be submerged in fresh water for up to 60 minutes and a depth of 2 meters. Do people really read in the bathtub? Kobo has never really published any studies on it. I know from talking to hundreds of people about waterproof e-readers over the years they appreciate that it they can read with sticky fingers when eating or dumping a glass of wine or coffee all over the screen. You can simply just wash the e-reader with tap water and easily clean it off. Most e-readers, if they have lots of water droplets on the screen or if its totally submerged, normally the touchscreen does not work, because the water or droplets register as touchscreen interactions. This is a moot point with the Libra 2, since it has physical page turn buttons, which will work just fine.
Kobo launched an audiobook subscription service in 2017 and membership costs $12.99 per month in Canada and $9.99 in the US. It comes with a with a 30-day free trial period. Customers will get one credit a month with their subscription and they can be redeemed for any audiobook title on the platform. You can also purchase Kobo Audiobooks individually and shop with confidence with their Price Match Guarantee. Their apps for Android and iOS were quickly updated with an audiobook player. So why did Kobo bring audiobook’s to the Libra 2 and Sage?
A couple of weeks ago, before the Libra 2 was announced, I spoke at length with Ramesh Mantha, the VP of products and devices at Kobo. He stated that providing support for audiobooks was not expressivity done to compete with Audible, who has provided audiobook support on Kindle e-readers for the past four years. Although the Kindle had first mover advantage, Audible is only available in a few select countries, where Kobo operates worldwide. “We want to compete everywhere where Kindle and Audible isn’t.”
The decision to provide audiobooks on e-readers was not done right away. Since 2019 they have been asking their Kobo Insiders, a private, invite only group where the most hardcore talk about books and e-readers, various questions about future e-readers. There was overwhelming support about the inclusion of audio. Kobo conducted focus groups, talked to users individually and looked at the market. “People think about Kobo as their book place, less distractions and no popups and frivolous notification’s, something a phone can’t do.” Kobo introducing audiobooks on the Libra 2 took a lot of work, they had to basically create an audiobook player from scratch, such as the MP3 decoder and only used a few opensource APIS for the engine. The end result will be impressive, users will be able to enjoy the same benefits of the apps, such as adjusting the speed of the playback and a nighttime mode to automatically shut playback off. The inclusion of audio on the Sage and Libra 2 was about timing, stars aligned.
When users open up their Libra 2 out of the box and either create an account or login with an existing one, clicking on the shop is a gateway of digital content. The first thing that people will see is the ebook store, with a carefully crafted selection. There is a brand new audiobook tab, next to ebooks. The selection is also currated by real humans and there are all sorts of categories to refine your purchases. When you download a sample or outright buy an audiobook, it will appear in your library. There are all sorts of sorting options by format, author name, series or collection. It is important to note that you cannot sideload in audiobooks, the audio player is only compatible with things you download directly from Kobo.
Overdrive is a major selling point on Kobo, since you can just enter your card number in the settings menu and then browse your local branches collection of digital books. You can then borrow them and read them, all on your Libra 2. Right now, you can not borrow audiobooks from Overdrive. A couple of weeks ago, I spoke to Ramesh Mantha, the VP of products and devices and the impression I got was that this feature is coming, but it will likely be in the New Year.
The entire reason most people will gravitate towards e-readers is because the e-paper displays are as close as you can get to real paper, but in the digital form. Your eyes will not get tired from long reading sessions, like they would from staring at your smartphone, tablet or computer. The long battery life is also a very compelling point, you only need to recharge it every couple of weeks, depending on usage. If you only read a few chapters a day, you can get away with over a month.
Kobo is one of the best brands out there for sideloaded content. You don’t need to exclusively buy or download directly from their bookstore. They support The Kobo Libra 2 supports 12 fonts and 50 different font sizes. You can sideload in your own ebooks or buy them from Kobo. It supports EPUB, EPUB3, PDF, FlePUB, MOBI, CBR and CBZ. When you open a sideloaded book, you get all of the options you would in a normal book, such as being able to adjust the font type, font size, line spacing and weight. There is also a series of advanced options to customize your reading experience further, giving you a nice before and after view, before you save the changes. Kobo is also one of the few brands that support the sideloading of fonts, so you aren’t stuck with the defaults.
The Kobo Bookstore has millions of free and paid titles, the company operates their own self-publishing platform, Kobo Writing Life and those are also included in the bookstore. Kobo is basically the global number two player, behind Amazon and the Kindle, so they are doing everything right. Their selection and prices are basically dictated by the publisher, so there is little to no price difference between buying from Amazon or Kobo.
One of the really nice things about reading on the Libra 2 is the physical page turn buttons. Many brands have been axing this over the years. Kobo and Pocketbook are pretty well the only ones that actually include these buttons on virtually every model. Physical buttons offer a nice tactile feel, and touching them, instantly turns the page. It is quite easy to hold it with one hand, and simply hit the button to go up a page. This pages reading on the bus, sky train or subway quite easy.
The Kobo Libra 2 takes all of the best elements of the Libra 2, and takes them ever further. You get double the storage, which makes a big difference when buying or downloading audiobooks. If you are not a big into audio, the extra space is great for a big ebook or PDF collection.
It has a great design and there are all sorts of sleep covers that are available, in a wide array of colors, which helps personalize the reader. Should you buy it? If audiobooks are a big draw, pull the trigger and get it. If you have a Kobo e-reader more then 2-3 years old, you will notice faster page turns, higher resolution due to the new Carta display.
The Libra 2 is basically a dedicated e-reader, used to read ebooks, if you need a device that is more capable, such as a quadcore processor and stylus support, the Sage is likely the best of the two.
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.