Kobo Aura H2O (2017) review

The waterproof wannabe Kindle-killer

TechRadar Verdict

Kobo’s latest ereader is a solid upgrade on its previous model. It’s waterproof, it’s compact, it’s light – and did we mention it’s waterproof? The Aura H2O is definitely a contender in the ereader market, but is waterproofing enough to see off the Kindles?


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    Clear, easy to read screen

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    Clever backlighting technology


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    Battery could be better

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    Expensive for some

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    Limited store

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The Kobo Aura H2O is a solid addition to the ereader market. It’s light, it’s easy to read, and it has decent battery life. However, all of this can also be said of the cheaper Amazon Kindle Paperwhite, so in a market where ‘Kindle’ has become a synonym for ‘ereader’, it’s vital for the Kobo to offer something that sets it apart. 

As suggested by the name, for the Aura H2O that trump card is waterproofing. The H2O is not just splashproof, it’s full-on waterproof. Drop it in the pool and it’ll be just fine. That is a serious bonus for people looking for a device to take on holiday, or for those who like reading in the bath. And waterproofing is something that Amazon hasn’t managed on any of its devices yet.

Of course, unless you spend half your life in the pool or in the bath, waterproofing alone isn’t enough to justify a purchase, and fortunately it’s not the only thing the Aura H2O has going for it. 

Kobo Aura H2O (2017) price and release date

  • Available now in UK and US, from July in Australia
  • It costs $179.99 (£149.99, AU$239.95)
  • More expensive than Kindle Paperwhite

The Kobo Aura H2O is currently available in the UK and US from the Kobo website and from select retailers. If you’re in Australia you’ll have to wait until July for it to be available.

The Kobo Aura H2O is a mid-priced device, both within Kobo’s own range and within the wider ereader market. The H2O is cheaper that Kobo’s flagship Aura One, but more expensive than the Aura, the Touch, and the previous model of the H2O. 

Set  against the Kindle range, meanwhile, the H2O is cheaper than both the top-of-the-range Oasis and Voyage, but more expensive than the Paperwhite and the Amazon Kindle (2016).

Key features

  • IPX8 waterproofing means you’ll never worry about water
  • Intelligent backlighting helps you sleep better
  • Anti-glare HD E-ink screen is a pleasure to read

As we’ve mentioned, the new Kobo Aura H2O’s waterproofing is incredibly robust. Kobo clearly realised that waterproofing was the previous H2O’s USP, and went to town when it came to designing the  2017 model. 

It’s rated IPX8, which means it can withstand up to 60 minutes under two meters of water. To test this feature we left the Aura H2O completely submerged for 55 minutes and it was perfectly fine when we took it out. 

This means that if you accidentally drop it in the swimming pool, it should still be okay even if you only realise 45 minutes later, and that’s a major draw if you’re the type of person who loves reading in the bath, or by the pool. It also means that if your Kobo gets covered in sand at the beach you can just wash it off.

The charging port doesn’t have any kind of cover;  we’re not entirely sure how it would react to getting filled with salt from seawater, but presumably a rinse under some clean fresh water would clean the port out. 

As day turns to night, the screen of the Aura H2O turns from a cool blue to a warmer orange hue. The reasoning behind this function is the same as for features such as Apple’s NightShift: blue light has a negative impact on sleep, so removing blue tones from screens before bedtime will help you sleep better. 

While we didn’t notice any significant improvement to our sleep when using the H2O before bed, we didn’t notice any sleep disturbance either, which is probably the desired effect. 

The only drawback with this feature is that at times the colored lighting felt artificial, and it could take some getting used to if you’re used to reading on paper.

That said, the ability to read in any lighting is a massive benefit of backlit ereaders, and  Aura H2O excels in this respect. The 6.8 inch e-ink display looks crisp and clear, even in bright direct sunlight.


  • Compact and easy to hold in one hand
  • Dimpled plastic on back for grip

The design on the Kobo Aura H2O is reassuringly solid without being heavy. The shape and weight of the device mean you can easily hold it in one hand, making it the perfect companion to take with you on public transport. 

We did notice that after about an hour of reading one-handed it became a little tiring on the thumb, but that’s not the biggest inconvenience.

At 8.9mm the Aura H2O is thicker than the Aura One (6.9mm), which isn’t surprising considering Kobo had a much larger body in which to spread the innards around with the One. 

Compared to its Amazon counterparts, the H2O is thinner than the Kindle Paperwhite (9.1mm), but thicker than the Kindle Voyage (7.6mm). 

It’s also worth noting that the H2O is heavier than both those Kindle devices, at 210g compared to the Paperwhite’s 205g and the Voyage’s 180g, but like we said we found the weight very comfortable, even when reading for extended periods. 

The back of the device is covered in a dappled plastic that aids grip. This is both a blessing and a curse – it helps you to grip the device, but it easily catches dust and dirt, so while the device is dust-proof it’s difficult to keep completely clean. We imagine this becoming more of an issue if you stash your Kobo in a sand-infested beach bag.

There’s only one button on the Aura H2O, a blue power button on the back of the device, leaving the front clear and uncluttered for your reading pleasure.

Andrew London

Andrew London is a writer at Velocity Partners. Prior to Velocity Partners, he was a staff writer at Future plc.