Notice to our readers: CultureMass as a whole, and the Tech/Science column in particular, will soon be going through a refresh. Our column will be transitioning to just Tech, and our reviews will have two key changes: the specific product reviews will be shorter, showing more of an impression but keeping all helpful details; and we will add a single, constantly-updated comparison article showing the best in various categories (phablets, top-tier phones, budget phones, e-readers, etc.). To make that transition easier, the review below is an impression of the Kobo Aura H2O instead of our typical long(er)-form review. We hope this is a helpful transition, and look forward to your feedback and continued readership!
Books and writing have been around for quite a while and exist for a combination of educational growth and leisure entertainment. There have been several advancements in the written word to give those who enjoy the hobby an edge and make their lives easier. Most recently these advancements have been electronic books, or e-readers. E-readers allow us to carry thousands of books with us at one time in a small 179 x 129 x 9.7 millimeter, 233 gram case. The next milestone was the ability to read that book collection in the dark with an integrated LED backlight. Enter the waterproof Kobo Aura H2O and with it the 3rd innovation in the age of digital books.
Feeling the electronic book
The 6.8” backlit touchscreen of the Kobo Aura H2O is textured for an impressive feel when navigating menus and books. The external casing is also textured offering a comforting grip and a slick and edgy design. In a time when most of the new e-readers are opting to go with a more curved and rounded design, Kobo has decided to frame their books in a clean-cut, professional-looking tablet. The front of the device is completely smooth save for the gloss Kobo logo at the bottom. Up top is a single button for power and lock control, and on the underside is a protective cover for the micro-USB and micro-SD card slots not normally found on e-readers (more on that in a minute). Further differentiation can be found on the back panel in the form of angled sections similar to those found on stealth aircraft.
For fellow spec-nerds, more details on the internals include an impressive two month battery which is topping current industry standards. All that battery will certainly come in handy in tandem with the 4GB storage which will hold around 3,000 books. If that isn’t enough the aforementioned micro-SD slot can expand that collection a further 30,000.
All that is well and good, but what really sets the Aura H2O apart from all the rest is its IP67 certification. This is where that rubberized port cover comes into play because this certification means the device has been tested and is protected against water exposure up to 1 meter for an entire half hour. Reading at the beach, poolside, or in the bath is no longer an issue as any splashes will be quickly forgotten with a wipe of the towel. Now, water exposure does affect the reader’s ability to interact with the touchscreen; however, in the device settings (and enabled by default) is a configuration to detect water drops which helps counter their effect. Ultimately using the Aura H2O before, during, and after exposure to water is only identified by how wet your hand is when turning pages.
Despite offering a larger screen and body to the competition, the hardware is pleasantly lightweight. The 233 grams are evenly distributed across the device such that no one corner or edge feels heavier than the others. I typically find myself holding the device in only my right hand using my thumb to flip to the next page. It really is a most excellent experience.
Reading some words
As someone who has spent the better part of a decade reading on e-books; the Aura H2O reads superbly and is truly a top-tier reading experience. First and foremost, the list of supported file formats is most impressive, and best displayed in the form of a list table:
eBooks: EPUB, EPUB3, PDF, and MOBI
Images: JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, and TIFF
Text: TXT, HTML, XHTML, and RTF
Comic Books: CBZ and CBR
Also supports ePub and Adobe DRM to read books borrowed from your public library.
One would be hard-pressed to find a book they wanted to read that wasn’t offered in one of the above formats, and the included comic format support is especially impressive. Books not purchased from the Kobo store can be easily loaded on the Aura by connecting it to a computer via USB and copying the files over. Books copied or purchased show up instantly and are available to read straight away with no inherent discernible difference between formats. I did test this with a single book in both EPUB and MOBI having both load and operate identically.
While in a book, the reading view can be personally customised by using the included collection of 10 fonts and 24 sizes. These can be changed in pre-set configurations or manually tweaked for weight and size using the “advanced” menu. This is one of the first things I do every time I use a new e-reader simply because I don’t like reading in serifs, so being able to set all of my books to sans-serif is truly a wonder. However, for the purists out there an option is available to use the publisher default font settings, so if customization isn’t your thing it doesn’t have to be.
Reading controls are simple and also customizable by selecting one of three presets for where page and menu action occurs. I left mine on the default setting of left and right thirds changing pages while the bottom-middle opened the menu. This can be changed to slide one of the page actions to the middle if reading with one hand is more your style. Also included is a variable setting of how often to fully refresh the pages up to every 6. This is useful for faster page turns but does slightly (and I mean barely noticeably) affect the clarity of text on screen.
Invisible to the eye is a menu-less backlight slider that is the most welcome feature of reading on the Aura H2O. Sliding a finger along the left most edge of the screen will adjust the backlight level in real time, which I have used just about every night so as to not disturb others while reading in the dark. Backlight level is also adjustable in the menu; however, having this quick access option is immensely useful and one I didn’t know I needed.
As mentioned before, battery life on the Aura H2O is an advertised 2 months. Naturally this will vary from person to person based on several circumstances; however, I will say that over the last week of light reading every day (with the backlight on) I experienced barely a 10% drop. I am inclined to believe that for most the 2 month estimate is spot on or even slightly conservative.
Wifi is the connection method of choice for the Aura H2O and it is beautifully proficient in this regard. Connectivity has never dropped, and the included touch web browser makes connecting to public networks, such as Starbucks, simple. Download times are what you have come to expect out of 802.11n standard devices so there is no need to worry about waiting to download purchased books directly to the device.
It is worth noting that the Aura can be used completely independant of a computer, if that is your thing.
There are a few extra features tucked away on the Aura H2O that are most certainly worth mentioning. Included are a few games such as Chess, Sudoku, and Solitaire. All of which play well but are ultimately unsupported by Kobo if any issues arise. Reading is also quasi-gamified with the inclusion of “reading stats” like hours read, average minutes per session, page per minute, and a completion percentage of your library. These on top of Kobo’s account awards will give that little extra incentive to read when you might otherwise not.
Also worth mentioning is integration with Facebook and Pocket. Facebook account sync is used to share reading activity with friends who would be interested. While Pocket integration is quite useful for anyone who uses the service as it will sync any article saved to your account. I read a few things I had saved for later and was surprised at how intuitive and pleasant it was to read the articles on e-ink.
Whether you are in the market for your first device, looking to upgrade from an old model, or searching for that perfect book-worm gift, the Kobo Aura H2O is simply the best e-reader available to date. It may be a little more than a Kindle or Nook, but the stability, extras, and security of waterproofing are well worth the price of admission.