Kobo Aura H2O review

Reading in the bath has never been easier

Kobo Aura H2O review
Happy come rain or shine

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With a high contrast, high resolution screen that does a complete refresh only every six pages, reading is easy, it feels natural, and it's very fast.

Navigating a book on the Kobo Aura H2O is intuitive and nicely customisable. A tap on the left of the screen turns a page back, on the right side forwards, and a tap in the middle brings up panels at the top and bottom of the page.

Kobo Aura H2O review

You can read without fear at the pool, in the bath or even at the beach

This is SimpleTurn, and it's well named. The panel across the top presents a home icon, options to change the brightness, check the battery, sync or access the settings menu.

However, it's the bottom panel of customisation options that helps the Aura H2O stand up to, and beat, any kind of Kindle and every single tablet.

Kobo Aura H2O review

Brightness settings and more can be accessed easily at the top of the screen

Someone at Kobo is clearly (and wisely) obsessed with typography, because hidden within the reading experience is TypeGenius, a chocolate box of tweaks to font sizes, line spacing and margin widths.

It's deliciously expansive, including 10 fonts – both serif and sans serif – from the classic Georgia and Malabar to the en vogue Gill Sans and one of Kobo's own, the terrific Kobo Nickel.

Kobo Aura H2O review

If you're fussy about fonts there are plenty to choose from

However, probably the biggest advance on previous Kobo ereaders in terms of reading quality is the speed of page-turns, but there's a lot more to the Aura H2O than that simple advance.

The screen itself has impressive contrast, with various shades of grey clearly distinguishable from the inky black fonts. It's possible to search within a book, move a slider to quickly reach other parts of a book, and to annotate a book with highlights and bookmarks.

Kobo Aura H2O review

The screen has impressive contrast

It's the lack of a backlight that makes any ereader a better place to read a book than a tablet or smartphone, and although the Aura H2O does have some illumination, it's done subtly and it's manual. Still, it's no match for the automatic brightness of the Kindle Voyage.

There are some pitfalls with PDFs. I found that several PDF books I had purchased, including some Lonely Planet guides, were loaded slowly. As well as taking about a minute to load big files, page turns took as long as seven seconds.

The screen lacks pinch-to-zoom capabilities, so PDFs have to be zoomed-in on using the slider at the bottom of the screen. It's a painfully manual hit-and-miss process, even getting back to the home page from a PDF takes about 20 seconds. PDFs are much better read on a tablet.


The Kobo storefront is bland. It's dominated by a carousel of book covers of random authors in random genres, and doesn't feel personalised at all.

The top billing given to the top 50 section underlines just how basic it is, though there are a few individual sections; a related reading tab that produces a carousel of books both by the specific author you're currently reading and other titles in the genre.

Kobo Aura H2O review

The Kobo store isn't the most exciting or personal

There's also a recommended for you section that presents one book at a time, complete with synopsis, and an option to tell Kobo that you've either read it, or you're not interested.

It's all rather time-consuming, and doesn't have a good enough interface for exploring books. Where are the comments by previous purchasers? There's just no conversational element.

Other tabs on the storefront include wishlist, categories, and reading lists, though reversing out of all of these sections is impossible, to exit necessitates going back to the home page and firing-up the storefront again. It's long-winded and seems unfinished.

Kobo Aura H2O review

However, actually downloading both books and previews is quick and easy, with the cover art for both immediately going onto the Aura H2O's home page.

It may have four million titles in it, but the way it's presented on the Aura H2O makes the Kobo Store look twee. Books also seem to cost more than on a Kindle.

Battery life

Although testing a two-month battery would take that long, I have my doubts that the Aura H2O really could keep going for the promised two months.

Perhaps if it wasn't connected to a Wi-Fi network, the brightness was disabled and all you did was plough through a book or three, the two-month claim would stand-up.

Kobo Aura H2O review

The battery lasts for a long time but unfortunately I wasn't able to test it for two months

However, during my test of the Aura H2O's main functions, involving a lot of restarts, software updates, testing the full brightness and, of course, a lot of reading of all kinds of files, the device went as low as 40% in just over a week. Though I did completely refuel it with a microUSB cable in less than 30 minutes.

There's no question that the Aura H2O beats any smartphone or tablet on battery power. I would be happy to embark on a two or even three-week trip without taking a micro USB cable, though I would load-up some books beforehand and switch-off the Wi-Fi.


All kinds of files are handled by the Aura H2O, from EPUB, PDF and MOBI books to TXT, RTF text files and CBZ and CBR comic books. But there's precious little media to consider.

It's impressive that virtually every photo file type we know is handled (JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP and even TIFF), albeit in mono only, however, there's no option to play MP3 music or to download audiobooks.

Kobo Aura H2O review

You can enjoy a game of chess on the Kobo Aura H2O but not audio files

Dive into the beta features section of settings though and there are a few games and experimental features. Chess and sudoku are slow but highly playable, sketch pad is imprecise but fun (rudimentary line drawings can be saved as PNG images). The web browser, however, is terrible.

Kobo Aura H2O review

Save your web browsing for your smartphone or tablet

It defaults to Google and loads mobile websites, but most pages refresh about 15 times as various content and adverts are loaded. On an e-ink screen a refresh is extremely distracting, which makes the web browser unusable. It's a beta feature for a good reason.

Jamie Carter

Jamie is a freelance tech, travel and space journalist based in the UK. He’s been writing regularly for Techradar since it was launched in 2008 and also writes regularly for Forbes, The Telegraph, the South China Morning Post, Sky & Telescope and the Sky At Night magazine as well as other Future titles T3, Digital Camera World, All About Space and Space.com. He also edits two of his own websites, TravGear.com and WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com that reflect his obsession with travel gear and solar eclipse travel. He is the author of A Stargazing Program For Beginners (Springer, 2015),