Last year I wrote a review of the Kobo Aura HD, a premium e-reader with an ultra-sharp display. Many people thought Kobo was losing it for releasing an e-reader that cost more than many tablets instead of focusing on releasing models cheap enough to be impulse buys. A year after the Aura HD and Amazon was in the premium game too, with the $219 Kindle Voyage. Rather than enter an all-out spec war with Amazon, Kobo opted for a different strategy with its followup: take the Aura HD and make it waterproof.
The company sent me a new Aura H2O to try out and I think they nailed it again.
I’m not going to get into the general look, feel and specs on this e-reader. You can read my review of the Aura HD for that if you’re interested. This new model is virtually identical (same 6.8-inch, 265 ppi display, same great ComfortLight illumination, same ePub support and a very similar physical appearance).
The big change is the addition of IP67 certification for being both waterproof and dustproof.
To me, the move was a stroke of genius. I love my Aura HD — the best e-reader I’ve ever owned — but every summer I’ve run into the same problem with my e-readers. Pools, beaches and consumer electronics do not mix, even though those are exactly the places where I enjoy reading. Sure, there are protective cases to help out, but that’s an awkward solution at best.
With the Aura H2O, it doesn’t matter if the e-reader gets wet or the wind whips up some sand. I even torture tested the review unit by submerging it in a sink full of water. Not only was it fine (a quick wipe with a towel and good as new), it was actually fully functional while under water.
So the way the premium e-reader market stands right now, you have the Kindle Voyage at $219 and the Kobo Aura H2O at $180.
The Voyage is slimmer, weighs a bit less (6.3 ounces vs. 8.2 ounces), has an edge in pixel density (300 ppi vs. 265 ppi) and its front light is an adaptive system with automation the Aura’s lacks.
The Aura H20 has a slightly larger display (6.8-inches vs. 6-inches), better customization options (10 fonts, 24 sizes plus weight and sharpness settings vs. 6 fonts and 8 sizes) and of course the waterproof thing. The Kobo also enjoys a $39 price advantage.
Outside of those areas, both devices offer very similar features, from Wi-Fi to expanded book views, social media sharing and continuation of e-books between devices.
The whole Kindle and Amazon’s proprietary e-book format versus Kobo and ePub argument I’m not even going to get into. Personally, I own devices from both camps and I prefer Kobo — that’s the platform I buy most of my e-books on. If you’re in the Amazon camp, look at the Kindle Voyage instead.
If there’s a hardcore reader on your holiday shopping list and they prefer digital to paper (but aren’t stuck with a big library of Kindle e-books), consider the Kobo Aura H2O. The reading experience is superior to a tablet — battery life, portability, outdoors use, no backlight shining in the eyes and free from distractions like Facebook — and considerably better than with a typical e-reader. By adding waterproof to its list of features, the Aura H2O makes a strong case for Kobo once again offering the best premium e-reader on the market.