I’m not going to re-hash the e-reader landscape in any great detail. Declining demand e-book readers as all purpose tablets take over has been talked about to death. The shift has claimed a major casualty in Sony’s (SNE) Reader line, and the vultures are circling Barnes and Noble’s (BKS) Nook.
The resulting Kobo Aura HD was priced far above the most expensive Kindle e-reader, but as I pointed out in my Kobo review, features like a bigger display at tablet-like resolution made it the best e-reader you could buy.
Amazon reacted quickly to the unexpected success of the Kobo Aura HD and recently released its own premium e-reader, the Kindle Voyage.
The Kobo Aura H2O just started shipping, and it builds on the original Kobo Aura HD’s appeal by adding a key feature the Kindle Voyage lacks: It’s waterproof.
I’ve spent three weeks with the new Kobo Aura H2O and put it through its paces — including dunking it in water. Read our Kobo review to see if this premium e-reader is worth its $179.99 price tag.
Kobo Aura H2O Review: Ups the Ante on Last Year’s Kobo Aura HD
It would be tough to make last year’s Kobo Aura HD a whole lot better. Its display was slightly larger than anything else out there, and considerably sharper. The ComfortLight system with light projected across the screen from the sides provided class-leading night reading capability.
Rather than wade into a spec war with the Amazon Kindle Voyage, Kobo opted instead to add a key new feature, making the Aura H2O waterproof — thus the name.
This makes the device ideal for commuting (no fear of rain), the beach (no fear of water or sand), the bath (no fear of dropping it) and the pool (no fear of being splashed).
And yes, I tested the waterproof claim. I turned on the Kobo review unit, set it in the sink and filled it up with six inches of water. It functioned underwater and when I pulled it out, was prompted to wipe the display with a dry cloth. Everything was fine, no damage. Just remember to make sure the rubber flap covering the ports is securely closed.
The new e-reader is slightly thinner and lighter than last year’s model. There’s no word of this in Kobo’s marketing material, but I also found the Kobo Aura H2O’s display had a higher contrast, with a whiter page and slightly darker text.
Kobo Aura H2O Review: Kobo Ecosystem
Amazon has the world’s biggest e-book store, but Kobo is no bit player with over 4 million titles available. Its e-readers can also be used with e-books from Google (GOOG) Play and anything purchased from Sony’s now defunct e-book store.
One advantage the Kobo Aura H2O retains over Kindle devices is an unmatched level of control over the reading experience.
While The Kindle Voyage offers six fonts and eight different sizes, the latest Kobo Aura has 10 fonts in 24 sizes with the ability to customize further with font weight and sharpness settings. This makes it easy to optimize your reading experience.
Kobo also continues to invest in its Reading Life software, including social links — share your e-book thoughts or reviews on Facebook (FB) — tracking your reading stats, recommendations and links from key words in e-books to related online material.
Kobo Aura H2O Review: Specs
- 6.8-inch Carta E Ink HD touchscreen at 1430 x 1080 resolution (265 dpi)
- 1 GHZ processor
- ComfortLight side-lighting system
- 1P 67 certified waterproof and dustproof
- 4GB internal storage, microSD card expansion slot
- 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi
- 10 fonts, 24 sizes with weight and sharpness customization
- Supports EPUB, PDF, MOBI, TXT,RTF and other formats
- Battery rated at up to 2 months use
- 7.05 x 5.08 x 0.38-inches, weighs 8.2 ounces
See product page for full Kobo H2O specifications.
Kobo Aura H2O Review: Conclusion
At this point, comparing Kobo e-readers to Amazon Kindles is almost at the stage of the Apple (AAPL) vs Windows or iOS vs Android flame wars. Each side has its fans and there is no clear winner.
If you are already invested in Amazon’s Kindle ecosystem and want to upgrade to a premium e-reader experience, then you’re best served looking at the Kindle Voyage — non Amazon e-readers are incompatible with Amazon’s proprietary Kindle format.
However, if you already have a collection of EPUB e-books and own a previous generation Kobo or Sony e-reader (Nook and Apple e-books are EPUB, but have DRM that would have to be removed) then the Kobo Aura H2O is hands-down the best e-reader on the market.
If you’re on the fence, currently reading e-books on a tablet but looking to improve the experience with a premium dedicated e-reader, it largely comes down to preferred e-book source again. If you plan to buy from Amazon, you’ll need a Kindle; if not, then the Kobo Aura H2O is tough to beat.
In terms of physical capabilities, Amazon’s Kindle Voyage has the edge in resolution (300 ppi vs 265 ppi), but the Kobo Aura H2O has the slightly larger display, is waterproof and also has a price advantage.
What if you bought a Kobo Aura HD last year? The Kobo Aura H2O does seem to have greater contrast, but its key distinguishing feature is that waterproof certification. If water is the bane of your e-reading experience, it’s worth an upgrade.
Basically, if you’re in the market for an e-reader — a really good e-reader that also happens to be tough as nails — the Kobo Aura H2O would be at the top of my list.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.