Kobo Aura H2O Review


If you like taking your books to the beach or reading in the tub, having an e-reader is convenient, but isn’t as forgiving as a paperback edition if it gets drenched. You could easily revive a paperback with time and a hairdryer, but electronic devices are a little more fickle. For those that fear bricking their e-readers, Kobo has a unique product for you to consider: The Aura H2O. It can be left in water up to a meter for 30 minutes, making it the perfect companion for those poolside readings or spending an evening soaking in the bathtub.

If that unique proposition wasn’t enough to tip the scales in its favour then consider this: It has the crispest screen on the market with edge lighting that makes nighttime reading rival Kindle’s Paperwhite.

kobo h20 with water


As far as first impressions go, the Kobo Aura H2O looks blocky and bulky. But there’s an asymmetrical 3D pattern on the back of the device that helps distinguish its otherwise boxy shape. The back of the H2O also has a soft, rubberized texture that felt nice in hand and gave a little extra grip to the device while reading. The frame is wide, but it provided a nice place for a thumb to rest out of the way when you aren’t tapping the screen to turn the page. Its design is simple, but practical.

Kobo back

It’s a bit heftier than the Kindle Paperwhite (212 grams) at 233 grams, but not enough that was noticeable. Users will be able to pick up the Aura H2O and read standing without the feel of fatigue during their commute–I felt as if I could go 30 minutes more.

One button sits at the top of the device to power it On and to wake it from sleep. At the bottom of the device, a small flap pries open to reveal the micro USB and microSD slot. It was easy to open, but you’ll have to remember to close it before embarking to the beach—the flap acts as a seal to protect your internal components from getting flooded, should the e-reader be dropped in liquid.

Storage and Ecosystem

The microSD slot has the potential to add up to 32GB of storage space on top of the already included 4GB of internal storage. That’s another 30,000 books, newspapers, and magazines, allowing for about 33,000 novels total. For those that prefer to get DRM-free ebooks or ebooks from someone other than the bigger sellers (i.e. Kindle, Kobo, Barnes and Noble), you’ll be delighted to hear that the Kobo Aura H2O supports many more formats than Kindle.

The list includes EPUB, EPUB3, PDF, MOBI, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, TIFF, TXT, HTML, RFT, CBZ, and CBR. You can even import your articles from Pocket and read them on the train. However, during my time reading two books with the Aura H2O—one the standard EPUB format and the other a MOBI—I found that there were some formatting issues with the MOBI book and issues showing the percentage read on the home screen. I also couldn’t annotate or quickly tap to look up word definitions while in this format. Page progress and basic settings, like customizing the font, size, margins, justification, and line spacing posed no issues with the MOBI format. However, EPUB file types gave me no issues with any of the above features. So, when you can, go for EPUB to get the most out of your experience.

The Kindle does have an advantage over the Kobo, and that’s the bookstore. Unfortunately, Kindle still has a better, more familiar ecosystem for book browsing, which is what has helped the Kindle stay on top. There are around 3 million ebooks in the Kobo store, but it’s not as easy to find what you’re looking for if you’re just browsing the virtual shelves. But if you like to go outside of the conventional ebook marketplaces, Kobo will support your needs—whatever format they may be.

Display and Reading Experience

The Kobo H2O has a crisp 6.8-inch 1,430 by 1,080, 265ppi screen that is the closest reading experience I’ve had to a real paperback book. Words on the page looked so clear and defined against the off-white backdrop. If you’re looking for the top hardware on the market, Kobo Aura H2O is the best you can buy.

Kobo brightness

The edge lighting was a delight to use while reading in bed. The light seemed to be spread evenly throughout the screen—you’ll be hard-pressed to find dark or overly bright spots. The easy-touch lighting gestures made lowering or brightening the display seamless in the dark, just one tap at the center of the screen and move your finger up or down the left side of the display. It’s especially helpful if your partner likes to turn out the lights in a room without warning.

Gestures to swipe and touch to turn pages or navigate worked without error. The Kobo Aura H2O’s 1GHz processor was well at work here to make sure pages loaded in a timely fashion.

The reading stats on the home screen will provide a wealth of information for anyone looking to become a better speed-reader. This feature lets you know how long you’ve spent reading a book, average time spent per session, and average pages per minute. I’ve always wanted to pick up the pace on my reading, and Kobo helped me know my stats after each session, so I could consciously push myself to apply my learned tactics.

The Kobo Aura H2O will also last an estimated two months on a single charge if you read 30 minutes a day. This number will fluctuate based on how much you use the light and how often you leave the 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi connection on. But it’s certainly better than the reading experience a traditional tablet would give you.

Hidden Features

There’s more to do on the Kobo Aura H2O that read, buy more books, and check out you’re reading stats. In the Menu under Settings, you’ll find among a selection listed Beta Features. In here you can play Chess and Sudoku, draw with Sketch Pad and go outside of the Kobo ecosystem and onto the web. Who says e-readers just have to be for reading.

The Sketch Pad and web browser had a noticeable amount of lag when swiping—the Kobo Aura H2O took a while to catch up to my finger’s movements on the page and often needed to refresh. The web browser would be useful in a pinch if you needed information and you didn’t have a smartphone or proper tablet on hand. However, the Chess and Sudoku apps worked wonderfully and provided a nice break from reading.

Bottom Line

The Kindle ecosystem may be difficult to part with if you’re already well-integrated into Amazon’s world. It’s unfortunate that you can’t transfer your purchases from there to a competing e-reader. However, if you’re willing to make the switch, the Kobo Aura H2O is one of the sharpest e-readers on the market right now. Its display is tops and the lighting for nocturnal book worms will be a delight over any night light you may own. The Aura H2O also supports more formats, allowing you to be free from restricting yourself to one ecosystem and get your books wherever you please.

Its waterproofing features may appeal to a unique audience, but I implore anyone who hasn’t invested in the Kindle universe to consider the Kobo Aura H2O.


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Natalie Shoemaker

Natalie found her passion for writing about tech when she started with PCMag. She has also written for Geek, GDGT and TechnologyTell.

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