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Lifewire / Yoona Wagener
Adjustable front light with blue-light reduction
Print-like reading quality
OverDrive library book borrowing built-in
Waterproof up to 6.5 feet
No Bluetooth or audiobook support
Shadows created by the front light
The Kobo Libra H2O isn’t quite pocket-sized, but it’s relatively compact, portable, and versatile enough for the enthusiastic reader.
We purchased the Kobo Libra H2O so our expert reviewer could thoroughly test and assess it. Keep reading for our full product review.
If you’re new to the world of e-readers or you’d like to explore other non-Amazon Kindle options, the Kobo Libra H2O could be an attractive starting point. It’s halfway between the diminutive Kobo Clara HD and larger Kobo Forma, both in size and price. But it shares with those products the array of reading customization options and in-unit storage capability that could free you up from the deliberation of which books to take with you on your next trip or how to make room on your bookshelves for more books. With this e-reader, you can take/have them all in this one small device. While it doesn’t boast a medley of wow-factor features, it gets the basics right.
If you’ve been considering the Kobo Clara HD, but wish it were waterproof, the Kobo Libra H2O provides a happy alternative. It’s rated IPX8, which means you can definitely take this with you in the bath or pool, and it’s safe to submerge in up to 6.5 feet of water for an hour if you feel like taking a dip with it.
Like its siblings, the Kobo Libra H2O features a responsive touchscreen that can handle touch commands without trouble. Page turns are fast and easy with either a touch or swipe action, and there’s also the option to navigate using the reading buttons located on the left edge of the device. This is the portion that’s slightly thicker than the rest of the e-reader: 0.30 inches versus 0.19 inches on the other sides. This extra area makes for easy one-hand reading as well as comfortable perusing in landscape orientation.
If you’re just considering dabbling in the e-book world, the Kobo Libra H2O is more than enough for what you’re looking for.
These multiple holding and page command options offer some flexibility for reading comfort based on personal preference. While it can’t fit in your pocket at 6.25 inches wide and 5.66 inches tall, you’ll have no trouble finding room for it in your everyday bag or carry-on. I also give kudos to the intuitive placement of the power button, which is located at the back right bottom corner of the device and requires little effort to engage. I found this much more comfortable than reaching to the bottom or the left edge of the device, which is what you’ll find on other Kobo e-readers.
The Kobo Libra H2O was basically ready to use right out of the box. The only other hardware is the micro USB cord used for charging the device and connecting it to a computer for file transferring. All I had to do was power up the Libra H2O, sign in with my Kobo account, and set up a Wi-Fi connection. There are multiple ways to sign in and initiate the device setup if you don’t have a Kobo account, but you will probably want one if you think you’ll be using the Kobo mobile app or purchasing e-books on the device itself.
You won’t find issues with fuzzy text on the Kobo Libra H2O. The 1689 x 1264, 7-inch screen sports a resolution of 300ppi, which is exactly the pixel density you want for crisp reading quality. Since it’s an e-ink reader, there is no backlight to interfere with content and create glare issues. In my experience, reading during the daytime was extremely pleasant with no need for strain or issues with visibility. As the sun went down, I experimented with the ComfortLight Pro front-light feature. This tool illuminates the screen when you need it with a handy swipe of the screen down or up for more or less light. It was very minor, but I noticed a faint shadow around the top and left edges of content with the front light in use. It didn’t detract from the reading experience, but I did find it distracting at times.
The Kobo Libra H2O has a fairly large screen, but it’s a bit cramped for anything beyond basic text.
I also chose to leave the Natural Light feature on by default, which gradually adjusts the amount of blue light on the screen as the day progresses. With the Natural Light setting off, I tested setting the color temperature, which ranges from a very bright white light to a warmer candlelight effect. I found the orange to be a bit too orange, but I appreciated the power to tweak this in instances when I didn’t want any blue light.
The Kobo Libra H2O has a fairly large screen, but it’s a bit cramped for anything beyond basic book text. If you purchase or upload a manga or graphic novel to the device, you might find it just a bit too small for that type of content. I tested this e-reader with some comic books and graphic novels that were converted to grayscale and found myself straining my eyes to read panels and feeling underwhelmed by the contrast in the illustrations.
If you purchase or upload a manga or graphic novel to the device, you might find it just a bit too small for that type of content.
Text size and font options, along with line spacing and margin choices could offer some relief or enjoyment if you have a strong opinion about font face and weight. I often adjusted the font to a sans serif font and increased the size, which was easier on my eyes. There’s also a large print beta feature, which I found to be slightly helpful when reading graphic novels. The other beta feature offered is a web browser, but this was very slow and underwhelming with no intuitive way to close out of the application.
According to the Kobo e-book store, there are over 6 million titles available—both e-book and audiobooks. In addition to this content, which has recently been enhanced by a partnership with Walmart to develop an e-book selection directly through the retailer—the Kobo Libra H2O supports a wide range of native file formats. In addition to standard EPUB, EPUB 3, PDF, and MOBI files, you can also directly load image and text files onto the device. That includes e-books from other stores. If those or any titles you purchase from the Kobo store are .ascm or Digital Rights Management-protected (DRM) files, you can still read them on the Kobo Libra H2O—as long as you register the device with Adobe Digital Editions, a free software that does the decrypting and loading for you.
Borrowing library books is easy and very fast and doesn’t require a visit to your library website.
Most titles from the Kobo e-book store won’t need these extra steps. And library books from your local library won’t require them either, thanks to OverDrive integration built right into the Kobo Libra H2O. Borrowing library books is easy and very fast (titles downloaded in a matter of seconds) and doesn’t require a visit to your library website. Another possible content bonus is the Pocket integration, which allows you to access any saved articles in a Pocket-enabled browser or the Pocket mobile app directly on the e-reader. I tried this out without any issues, but found this to be less exciting than book content. If you’re a regular Pocket user, though, this could be a way to seamlessly transition from articles to the titles you want to read without reaching for multiple devices or physical books.
The Kobo Libra H2O has a list price of about $170. Many of the top e-readers start around or just below $100 and go as high as $280. The higher price tags also come with assets like more memory, larger screens, and more bells and whistles. But if you’re in the market for an e-reader, chances are you’re interested in book content. In the grand scheme of things, the cost of buying books and making room for them could be more costly or inconvenient. Paying less than $200 for the chance to store up to 6,000 titles on your device could be the compromise you’ve been looking for—and well worth the initial investment.
It would be impossible to talk about e-readers without mentioning Amazon Kindle counterparts. The Kindle Paperwhite is probably the closest match to the Kobo Libra H2O. It’s also waterproof to the same rating and offers the same desirable 300ppi resolution. While it’s much closer in size with the Kobo Clara, the Paperwhite is about 1 inch taller and 1.65 inches less wide than the Libra H2O. There is no thickness gradation in this Kindle competitor. It’s .3 inches deep, which is the maximum thickness of the Libra H2O on the more substantial left side of the device.
The Kindle Paperwhite is also slightly lighter at 6.41 ounces versus the Libra H2O’s 6.77 ounces, but if you like the physical page-turn buttons, the Kobo takes the upper hand. As for price, the Kindle Paperwhite has an MSRP of about $150, which is about $20 cheaper than the Kobo Libra H2O, but you’ll also have Bluetooth connectivity for audiobook enjoyment, which the Libra does not support. The Paperwhite is offered with other extras like 32GB of storage, Wi-Fi with cellular data, and access to Kindle Unlimited titles, but all of that will cost you. On the other hand, the Libra H2O’s screen is 1-inch bigger and is capable of holding up to 6,000 titles. Amazon claims that the Paperwhite holds thousands of books but nothing more definitive than that. There’s also less support for native file variety than the Kobo Libra H2O.
Ultimately, though, it comes down to how dialed in you are to the Amazon atmosphere. If you don’t have heavy ties, especially to e-book content, and you’re already an active library visitor or would like to be, the Libra H2O could satisfy your needs. OverDrive integration on the Libra H2O is much more seamless and doesn’t require you to visit any external sites to borrow books.
A portable e-reader for the long-haul customer.
If you’re just considering dabbling in the e-book world, the Kobo Libra H2O is more than enough for what you’re looking for. But if you know you’d like to be all in for the digital reading game, this is one of the best e-readers for e-book fans. It’s small enough to travel with and versatile enough to flex to your individual reading habits.