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Kobo Aura H20 review

Reading in the bath is no longer a risky maneuver with Kobo's waterproof H20.

Kobo Aura H20
Kobo Aura H20
MSRP $179.00
“The Kobo Aura H2O offers one of the most authentic reading experiences of any ebook reader and it even has a cool design. The reader’s special features are what set it apart from Amazon’s offerings.”
  • Waterproof
  • Bright screen
  • Comfortable to hold
  • Less browser-friendly store
  • Wide bezels

Most people read on tablets and phablets nowadays, but some people still love to read on a good old ebook reader. Most will probably gravitate towards the well-known lineup of Amazon Kindles, but Kobo is worth a look.

The Kobo Aura H2O is one of the brightest, most attractive readers around and, to top it all off, it’s waterproof. The Aura H2O may offer superior protection against the elements, but how does the overall reading experience compare to that of the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite?

Comfy to hold

The Kobo Aura H2O has a very distinctive look and feel. The back features a cool angled pattern that adds pizazz to the sparse, minimalistic design. The angles also offer a comfortable place for your hands to rest and give good grip for one-handed use. The texture is slightly rubbery and doesn’t pick up fingerprints.

Although the bezels around the screen offer space to rest your thumbs, they are much bigger than we’d like and make using the device one-handed almost impossible. The bezels also make the device look squat and square from the front.

Since the Aura H2O is waterproof, the charging port and MicroSD card slot are covered by a flap, which seals the openings off from water and other elements. The result is a smooth, seamless device. Overall, we think the Kobo Aura H2O looks classy and feels good to hold, though you’ll have to grip it with both hands.

Bright display and crisp text

The Kobo Aura H2O has a 6.8-inch touchscreen with Carta E Ink technology. The screen’s resolution comes in at 1430 x 1080 pixels with 265ppi (pixels per inch) to make text clear and easy to read. The screen is front-lit and looks much whiter and brighter than the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite. We really liked the larger screen for reading and found that we much preferred it to the smaller Kindle.

It was easy to flip pages with a simple swipe or tap and we didn’t notice any delays.

The Kobo features ComfortLight technology that makes it easier to read in the dark, much like the Paperwhite from Amazon. It doesn’t strain your eyes or blind you either, like some tablet or smartphone screens do in low light. The screen also looked great in full sunlight, which is something no tablet or smartphone can say.

The Aura is powered by a 1GHz processor and comes with 4GB of internal storage, which can be expanded via a MicroSD card slot up to 32GB. So you should be able to put 3,000 ebooks on the Kobo without a MicroSD card and an additional 30,000 ebooks with the card in. That should keep even the most voracious reader satisfied.

The Kobo Aura H2O supports all the usual ebook formats, including EPUB, EPUB3, PDF, MOBI, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, TIFF, TXT, HTML, RFT, CBZ, and CBR. As a result, you can read many more types of files on the Aura H2O than you can on the Kindle. Those of you who are multilingual will be glad to know that ebooks are available in English, French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, Italian, and Portuguese on the Kobo store.

Epic battery life and fully waterproof

Perhaps the best thing about the Kobo Aura H2O is its incredibly long battery life. Kobo says the Aura H2O should last up to 2 months before needing a recharge, which works out to 30 minutes of reading each day, if you turn the page once every minute. We’ve read an entire book on the Aura H2O and let it sit around idle for a while and it still has enough battery to last a few more weeks. The Kobo is one of the only devices we don’t have to remember to charge every night and it certainly makes life easier.

Kobo Aura H20

One of our other favorite things about the Aura H2O is that it’s waterproof. We took it to Brighton Beach in Brooklyn for a day on the beach and didn’t have to worry about it getting wet (though we did keep it out of the ocean to avoid losing it). The new Kobo also joined in on a bubble bath without incident. Even when the Aura H2O did get wet, it continued to function normally, as promised.

Reading experience

Reading on the Aura H2O is a breeze. It’s easy to flip pages with a simple swipe or tap and we didn’t notice any delays, even when we were reading Gone Girl at warp speed. As with any ebook reader from Kobo, you can adjust the font size, line spacing, margins, and justification. The Aura H2O also offers 12 different font styles for those of you who like typography.

We’ve read an entire book on the Aura H2O and it still has enough battery to last a few more weeks.

You can tap on words to get definitions, select sections of text to highlight, or add annotations. Kobo also gives you your reading stats, so you know how much you’ve read, when you’ll hit the next chapter, and how many more hours of reading you’ve got until you finish the book. This seems like the kind of feature that would help a speed-reading college kid cram in all the required reading before an exam.

If you don’t plan to take the Kobo with you everywhere you go, you can also download its companion apps for iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows. The apps will sync your bookmarks, so you’ll be able to continue right where you left off.

Getting reading material

If you’ve used a Kobo before, you can access all your ebooks from the Kobo Cloud. Those of you who’ve never used one of the company’s ebook readers can choose from the 3 million plus ebooks, newspapers, and magazines on the Kobo Store. Kobo’s store isn’t as easy to navigate as the Kindle bookstore and its list of recommended content is less polished than Amazon’s.

However, if you plan to download various ebook files onto your ebook reader from other sources, the Kobo Aura H2O holds a distinct advantage over the Kindle, which only supports Amazon’s files.


Even though the ebook reader seems to be fading fast, Kobo and Amazon are still producing high-end devices for that market. If you prefer reading on an ebook reader to reading on a tablet, the Kindle Paperwhite and Aura H2O are really your best options. The Kobo Aura H2O offers one of the most authentic reading experiences of any ebook reader and it even has a cool design. The reader’s special features are what set it apart from Amazon’s offerings.

We really enjoyed the Aura’s larger screen and the ability to put almost any file we wanted onto the device. The impressive battery life and waterproofing also offer clear advantages to those who like to read outdoors.

However, if you prefer a smaller size and don’t really need the waterproof feature, Amazon’s Kindle bookstore still outshines that of the Kobo when it comes to ease of use.


  • Waterproof
  • Bright screen
  • Comfortable to hold


  • Less browser-friendly store
  • Wide bezels

Editors' Recommendations

Malarie Gokey
Former Digital Trends Contributor
As DT's Mobile Editor, Malarie runs the Mobile and Wearables sections, which cover smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, and…
Hands On: Kobo’s Aura e-reader commands a premium for bookstore freedom
kobo aura review press

With a nice screen, Pocket integration, and a smaller footprint than the Kindle, Kobo’s Aura is a fine alternative e-reader. But its $150 price is steep considering good alternatives are available for as low as $99.
In the US, Amazon’s trio of dedicated Kindle e-readers dominate the market, alongside the lesser-known (but still well received) Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch.
But Kobo, owned by Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten, seems determined to gain a stronger foothold in the e-reader space with its new Aura, a $150 E-Ink reader expected to land in stores on September 16. The company announced it on Tuesday in New York City, alongside three new LCD-screened, Android-based tablets Arc tablets.
Unlike the Kindle or Nook, the Aura boasts wide file support so that you’re not stuck getting all your books from the same store, and comes integrated with Pocket, a service for easily sending Web articles directly to your e-reader for later. But are these features enough to break the strong grip of its monolithic competitors and justify the higher price? We spent the night and early morning tapping and swiping through Kobo’s latest e-reader to find out.
Light and portable
The Aura, like other recent E-Ink readers, is a fairly compact device, at 5.9 x 4.5 x 0.3 inches (H x W x D), with a textured plastic back. The devices on display at the Kobo event were all black, but the company says pink will also be an option.
The Aura is comfortable to hold in one hand, and doesn’t feel heavy, at 6.1 ounces—a bit lighter than the Kindle Paperwhite’s 7.5 ounces.
A two-finger swipe up or down in the center of the screen lets you control the lighting on the fly as you read.
Two buttons sit on the top edge of the Aura: A recessed black button toggles the screen’s front lighting on or off, and a red slider switch puts the Aura to sleep with a short pull, or powers it on or off with a longer pull and hold. We like the button layout here, but aren’t exactly fond of the power button’s red hue on an otherwise monochrome device.
There are no buttons on the sides of the Aura, just a micro USB port on the bottom for charging and manually loading files, and a MicroSD slot where you can add up to 32GB of storage to the built-in 4GB. That’s twice the storage that you’ll find on the Kindle Paperwhite, but even 2GB is enough to store close to a thousand text-based books, and both devices will store your purchases for access via Wi-Fi. So while we applaud Kobo’s added storage and expansion options, most users will probably never take advantage of the extra space.
The Aura’s front is dominated by a matte 6-inch display that runs from edge to edge, meaning the screen isn’t recessed inside the bezel. Kobo didn’t specify the screen’s resolution, but at the same advertised pixel density as the Kindle Papwerwhite’s 6-inch screen, it’s pretty safe to say the Aura’s screen is 1024 x 768. It also can display 16 shades of grey, just like the current Kindle.
Without having the other devices in front of us, it’s difficult to say exactly how well the Aura’s white ComfortLight stacks up against the Paperwhite or the Nook with Glowlight. But to our eyes, the Aura’s light looks very even at varying brightness levels, whether in a dark or light room.

Rather than requiring you to dig through menus to adjust the brightness, a two-finger swipe up or down in the center of the screen lets you control it on the fly as you read. The light does flicker noticeably when it’s being adjusted, though, with can be jarring to your eyes if you’re, say, in a dark bedroom.
As we’ve come to expect with E-Ink devices, pages seem to turn about a half second after you swipe. Like recent Kindles, the device doesn’t always completely blank out the screen with every page turn, which makes for a less visually jarring reading experience. This technique does leave some slight image ghosting on the screen at times, especially if you’re looking at graphics-heavy content with blank screen space, rather than a page full of just text.
Navigating around the Kobo can feel a bit slow, but we blame the screen technology more than the guts – it’s powered by a 1GHz Freescale i.MX507 CPU.
Battery life
Battery longevity is always tough to test on e-readers, given that under ideal usage, they last for days or months. Kobo says the Aura should last for “more than two months” without a recharge. But that’s based on 30 minutes of reading per day with Wi-Fi off.
At best, the Aura is just slightly better than the Paperwhite or Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight. 
After spending a few hours setting up the Aura with the Wi-Fi on, logging into our Kobo account, syncing our books, and doing a bit of reading with the light on (but set mostly at low levels) we managed to take the Aura from a full charge down to 85 percent.
So it seems like you’ll probably need to charge the Kobo every week or so, unless you’re meticulous about switching the Wi-Fi off (which would be easier if there were a dedicated button for doing so) and you don’t often use the ComfortLight. But all that also depends on whether you’re a casual reader or a dedicated bookworm.
Clip the Web for offline reading
One of the ways Kobo helps to set the Aura apart from the Kindle and Nook is a just-announced partnership with Pocket (formerly Read It Later). Pocket’s apps and browser extensions let you quickly and simply save Web content for reading on other devices or at a later time.
We played around a bit with Pocket’s integration on the Kobo Aura, saving a few Digital Trends articles from the Chrome browser on our desktop. Sure enough, with the Wi-Fi on, the next time we picked up the Aura, the articles were ready to read there, formatted nicely into multiple pages, just like a book, including in-line images.

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There's a lot to consider when buying a new Android phone. Do you want a big screen? How much do you value camera performance? Are you a big-time gamer? Need a long battery life? We've compiled a list of Android phones to fit everyone's needs, regardless of your priorities or preferences.

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