Kobo Aura H2O: Does It End The Oasis Domination?
If you are in the market for an e-reader you have probably notice that Amazon dominates the digital reading market. From the Amazon Kindle e-reader to the robust Amazon Kindle marketplace to Audible, Amazon has basically cornered the market. But what do you do if you don't want to be tethered to Amazon? Well, it just so happens that there is an up and coming company that also makes some really good e-readers.
Kobo, now owned by Rakuten, has quite the lineup of quirky and unique e-readers as well as a large and still growing marketplace of digital books. Having been around for a while now, Kobo is stepping into the spotlight by bringing normally high-cost features to more affordable price points. One of those such devices is the Kobo Aura H2O. The H2O is now on its second iteration, meaning that they've smoothed out nearly all of the issues with the first generation and we are left with a solid, waterproof device that costs a mere ~$179.99. For comparison, the 8GB Kindle Oasis, Amazon's waterproof e-reader, is ~$249.99. That's a full $70 difference. Granted, the Oasis does have some additional features that may or may not be relevant to you, but the H2O is certainly a force to be reckoned with.
The H2O is a super solid device. With generous storage, customization and the aforementioned waterproofing, Kobo has pulled out all the stops here.
The average storage on most e-readers is 4GB. If that sounds small to you it's probably because you are thinking in terms of smartphones, tablets, and PCs. On most devices, your pictures, videos, apps, and documents are all competing for your storage space. If you have ever owned a 4GB smartphone (does that even exist?) you'd quickly realize that just the operating system would take up a majority of the space available, leaving you with nothing. That's why smartphones generally come with at least 32GB of storage, and laptops generally come with 128GB minimum. More and more, however, we are seeing smartphones with 64GB, 128GB, and even 256GB. Some even have a slot for a micro SD card reader for extended storage.
If you're starting to feel like you're getting ripped off with 8GB, don't. E-readers are a whole different beast. You aren't going to be loading apps, viewing images, watching videos or really doing anything that you would do with most of your devices at home. Instead, e-readers exist for one very specific purpose. Reading books.
Because of the uniqueness of e-readers, you can get a lot for relatively low costs. Expensive things like large storage are unnecessary because ebooks don't take up a lot of space. Ebooks take up just a couple of MB, and since there are 1000MB in a GB, you can pack a whole lot into 8GB. Kobo estimates that your Aura H2O can hold about 6,000 books. Even an avid reader is sure to find this ample storage.
You might only just be getting used to waterproofing in electronics. High-end Cellular devices like the iPhone X and the Samsung Galaxy S9 are IP68 water resistant certified. Meaning that you can take them into bodies of fresh water for a limited amount of time without worrying about damaging them. There is one major flaw with the method of waterproofing used in smartphones, however. The method relies on making the housing of the phone airtight so that water can't reach the electronics. If the seal is broken an water reaches the circuitry, your device is pretty much done.
Kobo wanted to make sure that you could read your favorite books in the bathtub with as little of a chance as possible to ruin your device. In order to do this, Kobo has partnered with HZOto waterproof your device from the inside out. Using a process called Vacuum Deposition, HZO waterproofs the circuitry of the H2O so that water doesn't reach them, even if it gets into your device.
ComfortLight PRO is a feature that Kobo uses which enhances the backlight and give you a more comfortable reading experience. If you leave the light settings on auto, the H2O will automatically change the screen from slightly orange, or what Kobo calls candlelight, to the regular white LEDs throughout the day.
This automatic adjustment makes it easier for you to read your books at the times of the day where light is likely dim. This is especially handy at night because blue light makes it difficult to fall asleep. If you've never experienced a feature like this in a mobile device before, it's similar to the night mode feature in many smartphones. As it's a gradual shift, you may not even notice, so don't worry about your screen looking too orange, and if it does bother you for any reason, you can turn it off in the settings.
The average screen size on e-readers is 6". While 6" is by no means a bad size for an e-reader, a larger screen means more words per page and less page turns. If you are someone who likes to read for hours on end, you will appreciate this feature.
This really falls down to personal preference, but we like to see that Kobo caters to a wide audience with their multiple screen sizes across their devices.
Your font is important when it comes to reading. Kobo realizes this and that's why they created TypeGenius. TypeGenius is a set of 11 different fonts that you can adjust in the settings. It's a nice touch for people like me who are picky about their reading experience. My eyes aren't so great so some fonts are difficult for me to see.
They also take it a step further and add some additional settings that allow you to adjust the sharpness of your text and make some other visual tweaks as well. This will allow you to truly customize your e-reader to fit your specific preferences.
This is Kobo's answer to Bookerly, the font found in all of Amazon's Kinde devices. While both companies have a unique take on the reading experience, I have to say that, while I actually really like Bookerly, I really like the ability to change your font a lot better. Since there are people who don't like bookerly, or like other fonts better, this feature gives the H2O the edge in overall readability.
Where the H2O, or any Kobo device, really shines is in its ability to read nearly every ebook format. With Kindle, you are tethered to the Amazon Kinde bookstore, this means that if you have books offline that you'd like to load up onto your e-reader, you are out of luck.
Kobo, on the other hand, supports EPUB, EPUB3, PDF, MOBI, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, TIFF, TXT, HTML, RTF, CBZ, CBR. This allows you to load everything from visual novels, comics and manga, documents and traditional novels for offline reading. This coupled with Kobo's own store means that you have lots of different options for sources that you can obtain ebooks from
The Battery life on e-readers is excellent. With the advances in e-ink displays, the screen takes up very little battery. It's a refreshing change from the super high-resolution displays that we see in smartphones and tablets and it's the H2O's secret to outstanding battery life.
If you aren't familiar with e-ink, it's a screen that is designed to mimic paper. The screen displays an image like the menu or the text of your book and then doesn't require any further power until you change the screen by selecting something or turning the page. This ingenious software and hardware trick grants e-readers weeks of battery life as opposed to hours.
This, of course, does not take into account the backlight brightness, so if you are someone who reads in very brightly lit areas or just prefers the brightness up high, your mileage may vary, so keep in mind that if you buy the H2O and your battery is draining faster than you'd think, make sure that your brightness settings are on auto to preserve as much battery as possible.
I've owned a few e-readers over the years, mostly Kindle devices, as one thing that I've always found vexing is that even though I just paid over $100 for an e-reader, I'm still stuck with Amazon ads. Now, these ads aren't really intrusive as they're on the lock screen, but I still find it irritating and it makes it feel like I don't truly own the device.
Kobo changes for me by just not including advertisements at all in their H2O, or in any of their devices. Kobo believes that if you buy one of their devices, that you own it and it should be open and customizable to suit you and I happen to agree with this.
At this price, there's not a whole lot to complain about. Nevertheless, there are still a few things that I don't like that would make the experience of the H2O perfect.
While the size of the H2O is nice, I would have been even nicer to see a full 300 ppi screen in a device that is almost $200. Instead, they've included a 265 ppi screen. Ppi stands for pixels per inch and the higher that number is, the sharper and clearer the text on the screen will be.
This is by no means a deal breaker and I can see why Kobo did this as they've packed so many features into this device and still kept it rather inexpensive for what you get. Whether you notice a difference or not will depend on how sensitive your vision is. For me it's noticeable, but only slightly.
No USB Type C
As USB Type C becomes more and more prevalent in mobile technology from laptops to tablets and smartphones. I find it increasingly irritating that in order for me to charge everything that I have with me I need to carry around a micro USB cable. This is a small gripe as the H2O doesn't need to be charged every day.
For me, it is important that I have chargers for my gadgets as I am not home often and I'm also very forgetful when it comes to charging my devices. USB C has become a blessing to me because it allows me to have just one or two cables and I can charge everything I own. Having a micro USB cable in addition to USB Type C means that I have an extra thing that I can forget.
This is a blessing and a curse. Support for audiobooks would allow Kobo to remain competitive with Amazon since a few of their devices supportAudible but it's definitely not a deal breaker. This is because Audiobooks take up a lot of space. Much more than a standard ebook. Where 8GB is more than plenty of storage for your favorite ebooks, you will only be able to store just a couple of audiobooks. Still, MP3 support would have been a nice touch in the spirit of customizability and versatility.
Comparatively small store
The Kobo store is not nearly as old as the Kindle store, nor do they have as much pull to acquire big-name authors in almost every category like Amazon does. Still, their store is growing every year and it is pretty large even today.
This is largely offset by the ability to load your own books. If you can't find what you need in the store, simply acquire your book elsewhere, like the author's website directly, and load it up manually.
No LTE option
This is something that as someone coming from a Kindle with LTE I miss in Kobo devices. LTE in an e-reader allows it to keep your place synced across all of your devices so that you can switch from your tablet to your smartphone to your e-reader without a hiccup.
This can still be achieved over WiFi but as someone who is largely mobile, I don't always have access to WiFi, meaning that it's easier for me to just do all my reading from the e-reader.
For ~$180 you get a whole awful lot in the H2O. It rivals the Clara HDin functionality plus gives you the addition of waterproofing and I really appreciate that. So is it worth buying? I'd say that if you are trying to escape the Kindle store or you area first time buyer that you'd genuinely enjoy the H2O. If any of the cons are deal breakers for you but you'd still like water resistance, the svelte yet pricey Oasis from Amazon is also an option.
What do you think? Do you own an e-reader, do you have a Kobo device? If so, how do you like it? Let us know in the comments!
- Aura H20
- Kindle Oasis