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New Kobo Aura H2O Review (2017 2nd Edition model)

4.5

The Good

  • Water resistant
  • Improved eBook store
  • Decent features

The Bad

  • Dull interface

The all-new Kobo Aura H2O eBook reader is an updated version of the original waterproof H2O model, sporting a more compact design for easier packing. Here’s our review after spending some quality reading time with the new Aura H2O.

If you’re after a waterproof eReader for enjoying books in the bath or on the beach, your options are seriously limited. The latest Kindles won’t survive a dunking, which basically leaves you with the Kobo Aura H2O.

Kobo is a rival brand to Amazon’s Kindle family and the original Kobo Aura H2O was a solid device for avid readers. Beyond the water resistance, you get a backlit screen for night viewing and some funky bonus features, such as the ability to save and read web pages when you’re offline.

Now Kobo has updated the Aura H2O for 2017, in the form of the imaginatively titled New Kobo Aura H2O. This 2nd edition model offers many of the same specs, but a more compact design for increased convenience and comfort.

We’ve been getting stuck into some eBooks on the new reader and here’s our early impressions. If you're looking for a new eReader, check out our complete guide to the latest Kindle readers too.

New Kobo Aura H2O Review: Design

The main difference between the original H2O and this new edition is the design. While the first version was quite chunky, this model has shrunk somewhat (195x139mm vs 172x129mm). That said, the new 2017 model is actually thicker at 8.9mm.

That’s no biggie though and the redesign is a definite improvement, as you can now comfortably clutch the eReader across its back for one-handed use. At 210g it’s easily light enough for extended reading sessions too. No aching biceps here.

Like the previous Aura H2O, this new device is IPX8 water resistant. That means it can survive for up to an hour when submerged in two metres of fresh water. More than good enough for reading in the bath, shower, swimming pool or wherever else wet that takes your fancy. If the Aura H2O’s display gets wet it proves a little unresponsive to your pokes and swipes, of course, just like most smartphone screens. You’ll need to wipe it off before using it again.

Flip the Aura H2O over and you’ll find the back is constructed of a textured soft-touch plastic. This helps to provide some decent grip, always handy if your palms are a bit soapy and slippery. Of course, it also picks up grit, dust and muck rather easily. These particles get stuck in the grooves and can be a bit of a pain to remove unless you seriously scrub.

Around the back is where you’ll find the power button. That’s the only button on the entire device; everything else is accomplished using the touchscreen controls (more on these later).

New Kobo Aura H2O Review: Screen

Thanks to that reduction in size, this new 2017 edition sports a slightly smaller E-Ink display than the first Kobo Aura H2O. The 6.8-inch panel is still pleasingly crisp despite a dip in resolution, giving just 265 pixels-per-inch compared with 300ppi. Graphic novels look good, even if an all-colour tablet screen is much better suited to image reproduction. Text is presented with print quality, so even tiny fonts are easy to read.

As before, this is a fully backlit panel too. Night owls can get stuck into their books at all hours, with reduced blue light for a comfortable viewing experience.

You can boost or lower the brightness with a swipe of your finger up and down the left edge of the screen, which is a handy little shortcut. The touchscreen controls also allow you to skip through menus and your eBooks with a quick tap here and there. It's all very intuitive and works a charm, as long as the display isn't damp.

New Kobo Aura H2O Review: Performance and battery life

One of our issues with the original Kobo Aura H2O was its rather stuttery performance, which led to long pauses and jerky experiences when navigating around the interface.

Thankfully this doesn’t seem so much of a problem with the new 2017 model. It’s still not exactly nippy, but the pauses and waits don’t seem so bad. I’d say it’s on a par with the recent Kindle devices, in fact.

Battery life is just as strong despite that reduction in size. The new Kobo Aura H2O will last for a couple of weeks of heavy reading on a single charge; that includes a lengthy commute each day and reading in the evenings with the backlight turned right up.

New Kobo Aura H2O Review: Features

Kobo’s user interface is still rather stark and uninteresting, but at least it offers the major stuff you’ll need - namely, shortcuts to your library of books as well as the Kobo Store and the Aura H2O’s settings.

Poke the top or bottom of the screen when you’re reading a book and a pop-up menu will appear, showing a bunch of stats and shortcuts. This includes the remaining battery life, WiFi signal, font options and stats about your reading session.

Not only can you change the font size and line spacing to suit your eyesight, but the font type itself can be tweaked at any time. Georgia is the default, with ten options available in all. You can even mess around with the weight of the text, to make it lighter or thicker.

The Aura H2O shows you how far you are through the current book at a quick glance, but you can call up more in-depth info if desired. For instance, a handy counter displays the estimated time remaining for each chapter, which is particularly useful if you’re looking to take a break soon.

Poke a word in the text and you can see a dictionary definition, or look it up on Google or Wikipedia. You can also highlight sections of text and share online or add your own notes.

The new Aura H2O also allows you to save web pages to view offline, which is handy for catching up with news and the rest on your commute.

New Kobo Aura H2O Review: Kobo Store

One of our major complaints with Kobo eReaders in the past was the expense of the books themselves. Kobo’s online store, which can be accessed directly through the Aura H2O once you’re hooked up to WiFi, is the main method of purchasing eBooks. You’ll find a decent enough selection of titles covering most genres. That even includes graphic novels from the likes of Marvel. However, we’ve always found the prices rather steep, even surpassing the cost of books on Amazon’s Kindle Store (which ain’t exactly cheap).

Thankfully the situation seems to have improved in 2017. We had no trouble finding hundreds of books for one or two quid, while titles from popular authors such as J K Rowling and Lee Child can be snapped up for a fiver or less. Plenty of classic books from esteemed writers like Ray Bradbury can also be found for a respectable price.

New Kobo Aura H2O Review: Verdict

The new 2017 model of Kobo Aura H2O will be available to buy in the UK from May 22, with pre-orders already open at the time of writing via www.kobo.com. You can pick it up from £149.

If you have a deep love of reading in the bath, this device is a no-brainer. That water resistant design offers full peace of mind, while the improved performance and more compact build make it a more satisfying experience. Boosted by a well-stocked (and finally affordable) store, this new Aura H2O is a solid all-round eReader.

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