Growing up, I loved reading. I had tons of books, some big, some small. My biggest issue was always having to carry around the books that I was reading and never having enough space in my bag for much of anything else. Because of the weight, I would literally bottom out backpacks. That was until the e-reader. E-readers allowed me to store tons of books, read in the dark and not have to worry about folding a page or using bookmarks.
Pictured: A Thing Of The Past
Are you an avid reader like me? Do you ever tire of page turning or book lights? Are you in the market for a new e-reader that will solve all of your problems, all while allowing you to store more books in your backpack than the public library? Well, boy, do we have some great news for you!
Kobo, owned by Rakuten, has an e-reader that is not only priced affordably but also includes more features than nearly anything else in its price point. The Kobo Clara HD, introduced as a competitor to the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite, is a well-built e-reader with some tricks up its sleeve. It comes with excellent battery life, support for multiple file formats, and weighs less than most smartphones. All for $130. So let's review shall we?
For just ~$130, the Clara HD is surprisingly good. It's fast, light and feature packed. It supports features that nothing else in its price range touches, as well as features that you'd expect in a device in this price range.
Build quality is important when we are talking about an ultralight device that you will likely take all over the place. Thankfully there appears to be some quality control across pretty much all e-reader manufacturers.
The Clara HD is pretty much exactly what you would expect. It has a black plastic body and a plastic, recessed screen. This means that it can likely take some drops without much worry. Aside from plastic being incredibly hard to shatter, the screen is also recessed into the frame, which means that if it drops face down, the screen won't even touch the ground in most situations.
The bezels are thick but we don't consider this a con in an e-reader. Bezels make it easier to hold when reading and allow you to grab the sides or the bottom with one hand comfortably so that you can hold it in pretty much any position that you desire.
On the bottom of the device is a plastic power button, as well as a micro USB port. While the bottom of the device is an odd place for a power button, it's unlikely to impact how you use the device, and it's centered so if you are like me and generally rest devices on your pinkies, you aren't going to accidentally press it when you are reading.
The display on the Clara HD is plastic like I mentioned above, it's not my favorite material but it gets the job done. It's a 300 ppi, or pixels per inch, display meaning that you are going to get sharp, accurate text that is easy to read. The Clara HD also supports multiple fonts out of the box, so if you aren't happy with what you see initially, you can customize it to your liking.
The size of the display itself is 6", which means that you are going to have a similar experience to reading a paperback book. The e-ink display is nice because it conserves battery and is easy on the eyes. E-ink essentially displays static images, meaning that once the image is on the screen, it doesn't move or refresh until you turn the page or change the screen, unlike LED tablets and smartphones that refresh constantly and are much harder on your eyes.
The Clara HD includes backlighting, meaning that you can read in the dark without having to bring along a reading light, or having to turn on a lamp when you are in bed. The backlight emits a soft glow so it's unlikely to wake up your partner or anyone else and it uses ComfortLight PRO.
ComfortLight PRO reduces blue light and makes the screen slightly more orange. Blue light messes with your eyes and makes it harder to fall asleep, something that is quite vexing if you like to read right before bed. At first, the light will look strange but after a day or two, you will not even notice a difference. It's similar to night mode on some smartphones. I have it enabled on my Galaxy S9 and any time I look at a smartphone without a blue light filter it looks washed out to me, but it's optional in pretty much any device that as it, so if you prefer the standard lighting, you can have it your way.
When compared to Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite, Kobo's Clara HD has twice the storage. At 8GB your Clara HD will be able to hold about 6000 books when you account for the storage required for the operating system. This is nice if you are concerned with outgrowing your storage capacity and having to delete books for other books or upgrade your entire device. Something that you are unlikely to have to do here.
Because of the e-ink display and the relatively low specs of the Clara HD, the battery in this device will last the average person a few weeks. This means that you can throw it in your bag, take it to work or hiking or camping or even on a road trip without worrying about bringing around extra cables.
The Clara HD has some unique features that set it apart from other companies and make the device more versatile than some other e-readers out there.
One of the best things about the Clara HD is the support for almost every file format that you can imagine. Support for EPUB, EPUB3, PDF, MOBI, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, TIFF, TXT, HTML, RTF, CBZ, and CBR means that whether you are reading books, magazines or comics, the Clara HD has you covered.Another thing that sets the Clara HD apart is its lack of advertisements. If you've purchased a Kindle before, you are probably familiar with the lock screen ads. While the Kindle lineup includes some great devices, it's irritating that you have to either live with the ads or pay even more money to have them removed. Especially since you already paid full price for the device
While its true that the Clara HD has a lot of really good things going for it, we still have some gripes. While it's true that nothing is perfect, especially when it's inexpensive, we feel like these are things that could have been easily included.
While it does have WiFi, Kobo opted out of Bluetooth or any form of audiobook support in the Clara HD. This is a bummer for those looking to take the load off of their smartphone in favor of a dedicated device that handles all of their reading, or listening, needs.
While it's not a huge deal breaker, Amazon does include Bluetooth and Audible support in their least expensive Kindle, which is under $100. Something to consider when selecting a new e-reader. Weirdly, the Kindle line doesn't have Audible support in any of their mid-range e-readers, so this is still a pretty good deal for the price if you can live without audiobooks.
No USB C
It's 2018 now and nearly every device from headphones, to tablets and smartphones, and even laptops have USB C. This makes it surprising that the Clara HD includes a dated Micro USB port.
Unfortunately, there is no way around this if you are looking for an e-reader that charges with the same cord as everything else that you own as there is no e-reader as of yet that includes USB C. Why this is I can't imagine, but since e-reader technology moves at a much slower pace, and has fewer hardware requirements than smartphones and PC's, there will probably always be some sacrifices.
Not Water Resistance
Safely reading by the pool or in the tub is still a privilege reserved for those who are willing to shell out the cash for a higher end Kobo device or a Kindle Oasis from Amazon. While not a giant issue, it would be nice to see some kind of water resistance make its way to devices that cost over $100.
If you are someone who likes to read near the water, extremely cautious, as this device is unlikely to survive a dunk and probably won't fair well with any substantial spills either.
As someone who has had Kindle e-readers in the past, I have become spoiled by the cellular offering that comes with most Kindle devices. It lets you keep your place across pretty much any device as well as access the Kindle store from virtually anywhere, as long as you have signal, all for free.
Kobo does not include this feature in the Clara HD, which is only really disappointing if you had that feature to begin with. Certainly not a deal breaker, but something to consider if you are on the go a lot and don't have frequent access to WiFi.
Who It's For?
So with all of the pros and cons, who is this device for? This device is for someone who is new to e-readers and is looking for something that ticks most of the functionality boxes without breaking the bank. If you are picky about fonts or have your own library of books stored on your computer or smartphone, you will get along well with this device. If you like clear, sharp text, the 300 ppi display will be more than enough to get you through lengthy reading sessions without a problem.
If you are a veteran ebook reader and have experienced e-readers before this is also a good fit. If you have a Kindle and find it restrictive or don't like being blasted with ads every time you turn it on, you may find yourself much more at home with the openness of Kobo. And don't worry, if you don't have your own library of books, the Clara HD has its own bookstore with an expansive selection of books to choose from.
Who It's Not For
The Clara HD is not for anyone who is looking for a new e-reader but is tied to the Kindle bookstore. If you are married to Audible, or just love audiobooks as your primary method for consuming books, this device will be sorrowfully disappointing.
This device is also not for you if you plan on being in the water while you read. While this covers a small group of people, it's still important to note that this device can not take a spill or a dunk and any contact with water, whether it be from a tub, pool or spill, is likely to spell the end for your Clara HD.
Rakuten has been manufacturing e-readers under the Kobo brand for quite some time now. It hasn't always been easy for Kobo. Their first devices were clunky and overshadowed by Amazon's Kindle lineup. That being said, Kobo has come far from where it began and now has a respectable lineup of devices. The Clara HD sits at the bottom where price is concerned, yet it still manages to bring excellent features and thoughtful design to readers.
If you meet the criteria above, we absolutely think that you will love the Clara HD. Just keep in mind that if you are coming from Amazon, you will not be able to natively take your Kindle ebooks with you, and you will not have support for audiobooks or cellular data.
As always we'd love to hear from you. Do you have a Clara HD or another Kobo device? Do you have an Amazon Kindle? Have you been able to find the books that you love in the Kobo store? Let us know in the comments which brand you prefer and why.