Kobo Aura H20 2017 review – Kindle’s distant rival provides a great read

£150
Price when reviewed

The press release that accompanied my review Kobo Aura H20 was fascinating. It boasted the ability to take up to 6,000 books with you and a battery life that lasts weeks. Those are impressive features, no doubt, but I imagine they’ve barely moved from the press release that accompanied the early Kindles a decade ago.

True, there’s extra stuff in there. This e-reader is IPX8 rated, so will survive a dunking in water for up to an hour in two metres of water and it has a backlight for reading in the dark but you see my point? Unlike the smartphone that’s always improving in small ways to make the next upgrade irresistible and inevitable, the e-reader has barely moved since 2007. I have a third generation Kindle, and while I’ve got through four smartphones in that time, I’ve never once considered getting a new home for my ebooks.

That life is even tougher for Kobo. As if the company didn’t have enough on its plate, being broadly recognised as Pepsi to the Kindle’s Coca Cola (or if you wanted to be mean, Dandelion and Burdock to Kindle’s Coca Cola), the Kobo Aura H20 has one major drawback that means it’s unlikely to be closing the gap on any Kindle anytime soon: it doesn’t connect to the Amazon Kindle store.

That, essentially, leaves it as a dead duck for most people, but for those who hate Amazon or anyone who just wants to load up their own files, here’s how the Kobo Aura H20 is to use.

Kobo Aura H20 review: Design

The Kobo Aura H20 is wholly unassuming to look at, just like most ebook readers. The front is dominated by a large 6.8in e-ink touchscreen, and it has a thick plastic bezel all the way around. The back is made from slightly curved plastic and rubberised offering a decent amount of grip, and the colour is all dark grey, aside from a single light-blue power button in the top right-hand corner at the rear.

That’s the only button on the whole device – everything else is handled by touchscreen, and it works pretty well. The Aura H2O is light enough at 210g that it’s comfortable for one-handed reading and there’s very little chance of dropping it. Personally, I miss the physical buttons for turning the pages that adorned the early Kindles and made a return on last year’s Kindle Oasis but doubtless I’m in the minority there.

There’s a microUSB port on the bottom both for charging and dropping files onto the device and, since the screen is an e-ink panel, the device will last for weeks on a single charge. There’s no easy way for us to test this but suffice it to say, this isn’t a device that’ll run out of juice quickly and the microUSB port means that when it does you shouldn’t struggle to find a cable to top it up quickly.

There is, however, no headphone jack so you can’t use this as an MP3 player or for audiobooks or audio narration. Presumably, that’s either because not enough people need the feature or it’s a necessary sacrifice to ensure the whole thing is waterproof for bathtime or pool-side reading.

Kobo Aura H20 review: Performance

As an ebook reader, the Kobo Aura H2O performs perfectly well. The screen is monochrome but with a pixel density of 256ppi images look perfectly sharp, like reading an old newspaper. It’s worth noting that every Kindle bar the entry model is slightly sharper at 300ppi but that’s because the Kobo’s screen is 6.8in across the diagonal – 0.8in bigger than any of the Kindles.

In practice, though, that difference it’s barely noticeable. Text is certainly sharp enough here, and it the reading experience is perfectly pleasant with page turns appearing swift enough not to require further analysis. It’s powered by a 1GHz processor, which is more than enough for something as basic as reading books, and there’s 8GB of internal storage for storing around 6,000 books.

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